sees some similarities between the Iraq and Vietnam wars, including
dogged insurgencies and an erosion of domestic support as each
conflict ground on.
But Commandant Gen. James T. Conway said he saw as many differences,
most notably the absence of a draft today, and he criticized the news
media for reporting a drumbeat of bad news out of Iraq and
"There’s a level of negativism in our press today that our young
troops find a little bit disconcerting," Conway said Tuesday night
while addressing several hundred members of the Marines’ Memorial
Club. "I’ve talked to very few troops who have come back from theater
who haven’t had to go through about a two-week transition of saying,
‘That’s not what I saw taking place, but that’s what the country’s
being shown every day.’"
Moreover, Conway said, terrorists are using the Western news media as
a vehicle for advancing their causes.
"When they were cutting off the heads of those unfortunate individuals
in the orange jumpsuits, that poor individual was the immediate
target, you were the real target," he said. "It is truly a tool in the
kitbag of the terrorist to have this repetitive battle damage
assessment broadcast on a 24-hour basis."
Conway offered an optimistic portrait of the Iraq war at a time when
even key allies of President Bush are abandoning the White House’s
stay-the-course strategy. "Incremental" progress is being made on a
number of fronts, including the training of Iraqi security forces, he
"The fact is, there is no civil war taking place," Conway said, while
allowing "there is certainly sectarian strife" inflamed by terrorists.
And he called for perspective on the U.S. death toll in the war, which
has surpassed 3,600. That is roughly the number of troops who were
dying in a 12-day period during World War II, he said.
"We as a nation need to take an objective look at where we are in this
struggle," Conway said. "We should not overestimate our progress made
or underestimate the momentum the enemy would gain if we were to
conduct an unabated withdrawal of forces."
Still, Conway, who commanded the Marine Expeditionary Force during two
tours in Iraq, said he would do a couple of things differently if he
had the war to do over.
He said he would have argued more forcefully against then-occupation
chief L. Paul Bremer’s decision to dissolve the Iraqi army; and he
would have tried to impress upon his superiors that they must take
Iraqis’ fierce pride into account as America waged war.
Conway was commissioned as an officer in 1970, during the Vietnam War.
Without invoking Vietnam, Conway used an argument that President
Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger used often as
they tried to maintain public support for the Vietnam War: "There is
something else, inextricably tied to our presence in Iraq, and that is
the credibility of the United States of America," Conway said.