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Iraq and Vietnam: The Timely Appearance of “Ride The Thunder”

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As American troops prepare to turn over almost all combat duties to Iraqi forces this week, the first of what will certainly be a wave of “Iraq as South Vietnam” stories appears on schedule in the New York Times. Rod Norland’s “Ready or Not, Iraq’s Military Prepares to Stand on Its Own” uses the condensed, standard-version short-hand for what happened in Vietnam:

That thought inevitably invites comparisons to President Richard M. Nixon’s Vietnamization strategy, which lasted six years and was a great success at turning over the war effort to the South Vietnamese Army, but a complete failure at helping South Vietnam win.

Tens of thousands of American advisers remained behind, but their presence and high profile “gave the perception that the U.S. was in charge, undercutting the Vietnamese officer corps and creating an unconscious dependency,” Col. Dan Smith, a military analyst and critic of that war, has written. And once American financial, military and advisory support was withdrawn, as it was abruptly in 1975, South Vietnamese Army defeats rapidly became routs.

Next week a new book on the end of the Vietnam War, Ride the Thunder: A Vietnam War Story of Honor and Triumph by Richard Botkin appears that will be crucial reading for everyone watching and hoping for Iraq to succeed, and for the tens of thousands of American military advisors and trainers remaining with their Iraqi counterparts.

Ride the Thunder: A Vietnam War Story of Honor and Triumph

Almost everything most people think they know about the end of the Vietnam War is wrong, and thus the lessons about to be drawn from the years 1972 through 1975 and applied to Iraq are going to be wrong as well. Botkin’s book arrives at exactly the right moment to help prevent happening to the brave Iraqis who are taking on the lead role in their country’s defense what happen to the South Vietnamese Marine Corps in the aftermath of the collapse of American support for a free South Vietnam.

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