And I thought that phrase sums up so succinctly the American political debate on Iraq - and all actual and possible overseas involvement. That is our perennial fear and the construct of every discussion we have about overseas military involvement.
Iraq, unlike Vietnam, is a heterogeneous country which was created by the British and held together by the authoritarian dictator they supported. Before World War II, Iraq as a nation - had never existed. It was land inhabited by multiple ethnicities and tribes who lived relatively unlinked to one another.
First under the rule of the Ottoman empire and later the British - Iraq lived under foreign authoritarian rule for centuries. When Britain set about divesting its colonies, it left a British- friendly monarchy in charge - which was later overthrown by Iraqi military leaders.
The modern nation-state of Iraq is the conglomeration of three former administrative districts under the Ottoman Empire. Three different peoples of three different provinces. Bound into a modern nation-state by the British Empire.
Vietnam - a homogeneous country with a common culture and history - was already in the state of civil war when the US became involved at the urging of France, the former colonial power of Indonchine. The US was not only invited, but considered Vietnam part of a larger strategy of global containment of Communism.
However, the two events begin to look similar in that ground involvement lasted far longer than expected, that obtaining a political solution before withdrawing was illusive, and that the support of the American people dwindled as Americans felt they had been deceived by their own government.
In Vietnam, we were supporting half of a country, containing the majority of the population - in fact Vietnamese fled from North to South to remain free. We were wanted by our local hosts - and asked to stay and support South Vietnam. Our involvement in Vietnam began small - as a military adviser- and remained so for almost a decade and a half until Johnson escalated our involvement, turning the US into a combatant.
In Iraq, no one invited us. We entered a war (whose validity has subsequently come under justified scrutiny and question) under the impression that it would be short, decisive, uncomplicated, and beneficial. And there's the rub....
But unlike Vietnam where we fought a single enemy dedicated to a cause, Iraq is a quagmire because removing Iraq's authoritarian dictator uncorked the bottle. Multiple ethnicities began vying for control of their state - and railing against the uninvited invading power.
The United States, fueled by a Wilsonian doctrine has attempted to organize democracy in a country that has never known it - among multiple cultures that even individually, have not known it. And, not surprisingly, Iraqis don't take easily to democracy. What they want and crave is security, prosperity and in most cases, the preeminence of their respective races.
In Vietnam, Nixon began a withdrawal, but refused to finally pull-out until he had a political settlement. The Paris Peace Accords of 1973 achieved a terms to a resolution to that conflict - even if the peace was short-lived and the US never returned to enforce its provisions.
In Iraq, there are no accords to sign - because there is no enemy. By invading a society, we went in and changed it against its will. We have done damage and created conditions that in many ways may be worse than before. There are places in the world where authoritarian systems function best.
There's no doubt that Saddam Hussein was an oppressive dictator. But he also kept the multi-ethnic volcano of Iraq from erupting. Like in other tense, post-colonial, multi-ethnic nation-states - including Yugoslavia and parts of the USSR - the tensions were kept in check only when an oppressive force kept everyone in line.
And now that force is gone. And the United States doesn't want to replace it. So, how do we get out of Dodge while maintaining some level of integrity and leaving with a real and functioning political solution?
I believe that instead of trying to turn current Iraq into a peaceful democratic government - which is highly unrealistic - we perhaps look to what happened after the decline of Yugoslavia and the USSR: Let each part go its own way.
Perhaps the Ottomans knew best when they had three provinces for the three ethnicities. Why not allow each their own, separate nation? Perhaps there's a place in the sun for everyone?
Oh, but wait - the oil. Everyone wants control of Iraq because who wouldn't want the oil?
I suggest the oil fields be carved out into some sort of "oil zone" much like the "Canal Zone" was to Panama - and have it protected either by some international force, or by a corporation owned equally by all three parties. Sure, such an arrangement itself would be a huge diplomatic and legal endeavor. But if the proceeds of the oil are split three ways, then there's less to fight over.
In the end, they can go their own ways. And we can then feel good about going ours.