Yet in significant respects Vietnam comparisons have become unavoidable. First, it is hard to believe that Washington’s objective – the creation of a viable local government and institutions to run Iraq as a unitary state – is achievable within an acceptable time-frame.
Second, intelligence is proving a critical weakness. Recently, I heard an American commander deplore the extraordinary paucity of information on the ground: “We spend all these billions of dollars on the CIA and your SIS, and we know next to nothing about what the other side is doing. We need less technology and more spies.”
Third, and most important, whatever military successes American forces achieve against the insurgents, there is no sign that they are winning the critical battle, for hearts and minds. The experience of ordinary Iraqis with the US military is at best alienating, at worst terrifying. There is no hint of shared purpose, mutual sympathy and respect between the armoured columns rolling along the roads, intermittently belching fire, and the hapless mass of local people, caring only for survival.
Hastings is a former newspaper editor, military historian and notedly conservative in his politics.