If Baghdad is indeed becoming Saigon — a city overrun by opposition and violence after the departure of the U.S. military — Peter Arnett would know.
He intimately knows both places. Working for the Associated Press, Arnett won the Pulitzer Prize in 1966 for his reporting from Vietnam. In spring 1975, Arnett witnessed the calamity that ensued when U.S. personnel abandoned Saigon just as North Vietnamese forces were overtaking the city. In the 1990s, Arnett became a household name to a new generation of Americans following his blow-by-blow coverage of the first Gulf War on CNN.
Arnett, now retired as a foreign correspondent, wrote in Monday’s Washington Post that a Saigon-like future “may be the fate that awaits Baghdad if the march of ISIS continues. The Sunni insurgency has already captured much of Iraq’s north (much as the Vietcong had) and is steadily pushing southward. If it reaches the city, what I saw unfold in Saigon nearly 40 years ago is probably a good proxy for what to expect.”
The picture Arnett paints is one dripping in pessimism, and understandably so. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, is a jihadist militant group that’s systematically taking control of wide swaths of those nations. Bloodshed is ubiquitous, the death toll rising. President Obama has sent military advisors and a few hundred troops to Baghdad to protect U.S. interests, including the embassy and its personnel.
Whatever unsteady peace brought through America’s years-long involvement in that Middle Eastern nation is rapidly dissolving.
Arnett admits that “crucial differences separate Vietnam and Iraq,” most notably the existence of three groups — the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds — who, as Arnett so bluntly puts it, “no longer wish to live within the antiquated borders devised by European diplomats 100 years ago.” Vietnam doesn’t suffer from that internal struggle of religion and violence.
A smattering of U.S. troops can’t glue together what’s coming apart in Baghdad. Arnett’s prediction of Iraq’s future may be more proof of the Iraq War’s undeniable folly.