As United States military personnel are beginning to make the departure out of Iraq, one can liken it to an event that occurred nearly 40 years ego: the United States’ exit out of South Vietnam. Although the two events came under different circumstances, and had different goals and aims, there are many similarities that can be drawn between the United States’ exit out of Iraq and Vietnam.

United States soldiers leaving bases in Iraq

By 2012, United States soldiers will be out of Iraq, and combat operations will be officially over, marking an end to the somewhat cloudy occupation that has been taking place for nearly the past ten years. President Obama announced in 2009 that he would begin gradually withdrawing troops in 2010, and that he will have all troops home by December 31, 2011, in accordance with the agreement signed by former President Bush in 2008. Although US soldiers will be gone, large private security forces will remain in Iraq protecting thousands of people working for the State Department and contractors. The United States will be handing over it’s bases to the Iraqi government, as well as billions dollars worth of equipment that will now be under the control of the Iraqis. This comes under much speculation, as critics wonder whether or not the past nine years of American intervention will pay off in to the formation of a functioning democratic Iraqi government. Many people also wonder how effective Iraqi security forces will be, and if terrorist groups will “take over” after American forces leave the country.

Famous photograph of last American workers evacuating the US embassy

The United States’ exit out of Vietnam, like Iraq, completed a long awaited departure that left many Americans with a bad taste in their mouths. As things were beginning to appear that they were not going to go for the side of the Americans, President Nixon announced that American troops would begin being withdrawn. In 1971, many US forces were removed from the area, and bombings were suspended as peace talks were taking place. In 1972, the Paris Peace Accord was agreed upon, and the “end of war” had been reached. In accordance with the agreement, which the South Vietnamese President was reluctant to sign, US forces would leave South Vietnam. After the US forces left, the NVA launched a major offensive, known as the Tet Offensive, against the South, and captured the capital city of Saigon in just 55 days. The last American personnel were evacuated as the NVA were on the outskirts of the city, as well as many South Vietnamese who were employed by the US government. There were many that were simply left behind for their fate to be determined, as there was not enough room for all of them.

US helicopters were pushed overboard to make room for the evacuated refugees

As you can see, in both circumstances there was no clear cut victory for the Americans at the time of their departure. Sure, in Iraq, Saddam was removed from power, but are the Iraqi people safer now that he is gone? In both of these events, it is tough to analyze whether or not the American intervention really had a lasting effect. In the case of Vietnam, it’s pretty apparent that while it delayed the communist takeover, it certainly did not stop it. In the case of Iraq, time will have to be the judge.

Another idea is the notion that we abandoned the peoples of these nations. In Vietnam, we extracted as many South Vietnamese refugees as we could, but most of them were left behind for their hated enemies to decide their fate. Also, we left behind the South Vietnamese army, which was obviously undermanned and underpowered. In the case of Iraq, the Iraqi people will no longer have the protection of US forces. Iraqi security forces, who will soon be in charge of the welfare of the country, already have questionable effectiveness.

Do they really have a chance of protecting and maintaining stability in their country? The people South Vietnam certainly didn’t, but only time will tell.