Democrats & Liberals Archives

Destroying Our Forces

This is the sad, sick thing about the Republican position on Vietnam: It ultimately makes the war a failure of disheartened soldiers and a people back home who couldn’t stick with it. Rather than blame the architects of the war for not getting it right, it is America itself which is blamed, and we’re supposed to spend the next decades apologizing to the politicians for failing to sufficiently support the war effort.

But the truth is, it was South Vietnam's war to win, not ours. Our failure was in letting them become dependent on us, for failing to create a decent government the people of the country could back, for failing to give them a sense of being a country in the first place- essentially for not making Vietnam a war of national spirit, rather than merely a Civil War where people would accept whatever outcome united Vietnam as a whole. The North had motivation, the South did not. That's why they won.

With such being the case, we had no way to truly win the war. We could prolong a stalemate, but that's it. What made it all worse was the poor flow of reliable intelligence and facts back and forth between Washington and Saigon, the sense of military fiefdoms, which today's Joint Chiefs Structure (the result of the Goldwater-Nichols reforms) was meant to counteract.

This is the context you have to put all the protests into, and in fact any reasonable view of the Vietnam issue.

The propaganda says America lost it because America lost heart. This only perpetuates Vietnam's errors because it compels us to support even lousily planned and executed operations, where the best option is to cut the old plan short, regroup, and come up with a better plan.

The truth is, Vietnam was lost because we picked lousy allies, and ineffective methods. This sensibility has two added benefits, besides putting the blame on those who deserve to be accountable : it focuses us on what we did wrong, and thereby provides us with the knowledge we need to do something about avoiding such errors in the future .

With the Republican position on Vietnam and now on Iraq, all you have to confront is a phantom fear of weakness and dissent, which only serves to create that in reality as we second guess our fellow Americans. This needless fratricidal attack, supposedly to pre-empt the feared weakness, only serves to break our nations unity. It does nothing to sell the cause to those who are skeptical of it. This paranoia about the support of our wars only helps our enemies.

This is a Democracy. We are not like Saddam Husseins regime where we have one decider, who everybody else has to agree with in order to be considered a loyal citizen. This government in Washington, by contrast, is supposed to represent us, to be us in a manner of speaking. Our opinions, varied as they are, must be the clay from which our approach as a nation is molded.

Our awareness of the wars we fight must be maintained. In fact, one of the big successes of the initial invasion was the embedded reporter program. People weren't put off by seeing war as it really was. They still aren't. Americans, now more than ever, are capable of being tough, of dealing with the realities of war. We're not children. There's a reason why the movie Saving Private Ryan was such a landmark cultural event, despite its graphic portrayal of war and our soldiers imperfections, a reason that it suddenly became popular to reflect back on the Greatest Generation: looking at what they did, we can only admire them, and aspire to their level of toughness and resolve to solve the problems of their time and fight the enemies that faced America.

The pessimistic Republican view has it that Americans when faced with difficult circumstances shrink back, and start looking for the way out. While that might be true of a small minority of people, overall it is slanderously false.

Americans hate being in a position where they can't do anything about their problems. That is why, despite the high numbers , most people don't feel we have a good economy going. They are loaded down with debt, often working jobs beneath their educational level, with fewer benefits, less job security, more expectations on them that instead of solving problems, they are supposed to be team players and just go along. This is why they hate the Iraq war, with the futility of the administration's approach becoming more and more etched in people's minds with each passing day.

This is why Bush and the Republican Congress have become such unpopular figures: in most American's views, they are part of the problem, and not part of the solution. They insist on getting in the way of other people's plans, other people's ideas, and on keeping power regardless of what the American people think of them.

Bush and this Congress have underestimated the American people badly. In their elitist disdain for the willpower and willingness to sacrifice of so many Americans, they have failed to take advantage of and properly use the strengths of this country. America doesn't need another Congress that's satisfied with being this president's team players. It doesn't need another wall to this echo chamber in Washington. It doesn't need more pious calls for support of the the troops that are really just disguised calls to support the divisive politics, the failed policies and the failed policy makers that got us into this mess in the first place. It doesn't need another war needlessly prolonged at the expense of the country.

Most of all, America does not need to feel guilty for failing its troops, for failing itself. The ones who need to feel guilty for their failure are the ones in leadership right now who ran and executed this war, and refuse to see their errors of their ways, regardless of what it costs us.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at November 2, 2006 8:17 AM
Comment #192631

Stephen you have everything right except one thing. It isn’t that we picked bad allies in Vietnam, we bought corrupt ones. The signs are there that we have bought corrupt ones again.

Posted by: gergle at November 2, 2006 9:11 AM
Comment #192656


Surprisingly when the Republicans talk about this war they try to hearken back to WW2, when the public was a bit more pliable.

Apparently they don’t get that during WW2 there were still switchboards for telephone service, there were no satellites, and television was still in it’s infancy.
Everybody got their news from the radio and the newspapers. The war didn’t come into your living room every night, and there was no “news at 11”.
The “digital age” was still 50 years away.

Everyone in government, from the President, down to the lowliest private in a foxhole, works for us. They are the face of America that the rest of the world sees on a daily basis.

We all know that in war, young people die. That is a given, and the Republicans have tried to remind us constantly of that with comparisons of D-Day.
Technology has lessened those deaths but it has also made our Military dependent on that same technology.
In WW2 there were Generals on the front lines, not comfortably at the rear looking at computer screens, or video read-outs from helmet cameras. War has become less personal and I think we all suffer for it.

The Republicans haven’t asked the people of America to join in this war, as we were asked to do our part in WW2. Instead of donating and rationing, we have been given tax cuts and asked to spend.

For all of our new found independence, we are far more complacent, than the “pliable” population of WW2.

Posted by: Rocky at November 2, 2006 10:51 AM
Comment #192685


Another excellent article. It really opened my eyes on both wars. I did not blame the American people, I blamed the leaders for failing to prepare the American paople. You take it a step further and point out that it is less about failing to prepare the American people, and more about failure of policy, leadership, and the accountability of our leaders.


Excellent points as well. We think of the WWII generation as compliant. But our generation is rolling over and playing dead for the neo-nazi… er… sorry… neo-cons. Maybe we are going to stand up at last on November 7 - lets hope.

Posted by: Ray Guest at November 2, 2006 12:00 PM
Comment #192703

Great article, Stephen! I agree completely.

Posted by: Adrienne at November 2, 2006 12:24 PM
Comment #192767

Books, of course, have been written on the Vietname War. A full discussion must include consideration of colonialism, our willingness to use force for essentially economic reasons while telling ourselves something different, the logic of incrementalism, etc. It must deal with ideology, and the peculiar blinders we must suffer when we cannot see past it. This discussion should involve much more than tactical considerations.

Posted by: Trent at November 2, 2006 2:02 PM
Comment #192773


The Tet offensive in 1968 was a debacle for the VC. They were never again able to mount a serious offensive. After 1968 Creighton Abrams employed a different strategy to the war, an ink blot strategy that extended safe zones instead of trying to secure every place at the same time. We also got the Vietnamese to fight more of their own battles. By U.S. combat troops dropped from 550000plus in 1968 to 30,000 in 1972.

In spring 1972, the NVA invaded the South. They were sure that they could win now that the U.S. was almost out. The South Vietnamese beat back the North. The U.S. provided critical air support, but the Vietnamese did most of the fighting. It cost S. Vietnam 40,000 casulties (these are the bad allies you are talking about). They inflicted 100,000 on the NVA and pushed them back.

During Watergate era the Congress passed resolutions limiting U.S. aid and eventually forbidding it. In 1975, when the NVA came again, there was no U.S. air support. N. Vietnam still had the support of their communist allies. The South fell. I may have some of my exact dates and numbers wrong, since I am writing from memory, but it sounds to me as if this WAS mostly a lack of U.S. follow through. The tragedy is that the better (if not good) guys had essentially won when we decided to give peace a chance.

During the next years the rest of Indochina collapsed. About 4 million Cambodians were murdered by thier local communists. In Vietnam the number is maybe 2 million. Thousands of people took to the sea in small boats rather than be part of the new socialist paradise.

Meanwhile the Soviet Union felt confident in the weakness of the U.S. expanded their influence, using Cuban mercenaries in the horn of Africa and Angola. They invade Afghanistan. The world was really going to hell by 1980. We were able to recover, but it was hard work. I think a loss in Iraq would be worse.

Posted by: Jack at November 2, 2006 2:10 PM
Comment #192783


During the next years the rest of Indochina collapsed. About 4 million Cambodians were murdered by thier local communists. In Vietnam the number is maybe 2 million. Thousands of people took to the sea in small boats rather than be part of the new socialist paradise.

Yes, genocide occurred in Cambodia, but your recollection of the sequence of events and those responsible seem somewhat muddled. Want to source any of that fiction you just posted?

Posted by: gergle at November 2, 2006 2:26 PM
Comment #192812

I think it is naive to put blame of Vietnam on anyone other than the Veitnamese.

Fact, had they been less passive about a leader who was a known threat, the war would not have started.

Fact, had they not given their enemy their military surplus, the war would not have started.

Fact, had they not released to responsibilty of taxation to a general of their enemy, the war would not have happened.

We need to keep in mind always that the only real solution to a problem is prevention. Anything else is promotion.

On that same subject…

Fact, had Bush Sr. not signed unreasonable agreements with the Iraqis, this war would not have happened.

Fact, had Bush Sr. not have continued an already won war in Kuwait onto the soil of Iraq, this war would not have happened.

Fact, if WE had not trained Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein to fight the Cold War, WHICH DID HAPPEN, depsite knowing that they did not like us and give them our weapons and give them our tactics for urban warfare and promise them financial support after the Soviet fell from power, WITCH IT HAS, this war would not have happened.

I truely and honsetly believe Bush Jr. to be stuck in his father wake, and no matter how many times media says that the Iraq war is a result of Afghanistan, it is not true, we still would have been there, even with out 9-11, even with a democratic president, even with my hero Clinton still in office, we would still be fighting this war.

This war did not start in the new millenium, it started in the 60s.

All wars take decades to become violent, it doesn’t happen over night, never has, never will.

Bryan Kennedy

Posted by: Bryan AJ Kennedy at November 2, 2006 3:07 PM
Comment #192832


I reread what I wrote. It could have been unclear. I did not mean to say that the Vietnamese communists were responsible for the genocide in Cambodia. Indeed it was the Cambodian communists who were not on good terms with the Vietnamese. But the collapse of the U.S. in S. Vietnam and the isolationism made it impossible for us to influence events so it is related.

It is a similar geopolitical story with the Soviets in Afghanistan. Had the Shah remained strongly in power, they probably would not have invaded Afghanistan. Weakness is like a vacuum that pulls in strength or at least agression.

The boat people and refugees did come from Vietnam after the fall.

I do not think I wrote anything besides that that is not fairly common knowlege and straight forward. Although most people have forgetten the 1972 NVA defeat. I googled for that and you can follow this link.

Many people have a deterministic view of history; sort of what happened had to have happened. I don’t think so. Had we supported S. Vietnam in 1974-5, I think we would have achieved a better result. It probably could not have been much worse. Luckily Ronald Reagan brought us back.

Posted by: Jack at November 2, 2006 4:11 PM
Comment #192844

The Great DISCONNECT between politicians and the American people is this simple piece of logic.

The American people, aware of our preeminent position as the greatest military power on earth, expects that when we invade a country vastly inferior in military strength than our own, that we go in, kick ass, clean up, and come home in short order. Protracted and costly wars, in the mind of the majority of Americans, is reserved for global axis wars like WW1 and WW2.

Politicians refuse to accept the will of the people on this, from the Korean War, Viet Nam, to Iraq, politicians have failed the expectation of the American people. And frankly, I side with the American people on this.

Marshall plans are fine for world wars. Not for rogue nations. The people expect nation building and peacekeeping to fall to coalition organizations like NATO and the UN.

The great disconnect is alive and well in this White House, still today.

Posted by: David R. Remer at November 2, 2006 4:52 PM
Comment #192882

Your statement that not making Vietnam a war of national spirit was part of the problem is crap. Let me ask you what was the national spirit of Japan directly after there government surrender to United States military? To win the Vietnam War or any war requires complete destruction and humiliation of the people you are fighting. You do not incorporate any of the native people from the country you are fight to be part of the allies. The formula for victory in war has not changed in the history of War. World War Two or the Vietnam War it is all the same. It has nothing to do with technology or smart weapons it is all about kill and humiliating people and putting them into submission. After you have completely destroyed your enemy’s armies and equipment and broken the spirit of the people to the point that resistance is futile you slowly bring those people back into civilization on your terms and at you pace.

Posted by: Mr. Right at November 2, 2006 6:26 PM
Comment #192901

This is the sad, sick thing about the Republican position on Vietnam: It ultimately makes the war a failure of disheartened soldiers and a people back home who couldn’t stick with it. Rather than blame the architects of the war for not getting it right, it is America itself which is blamed, and we’re supposed to spend the next decades apologizing to the politicians for failing to sufficiently support the war effort.
Posted by Stephen Daugherty at November 2, 2006 08:17 AM

Great article as usual Stephen. It reminds me of Hitler, confined to his bunker while Berlin crumbled around him, concluding that Germany and Germans were not worthy of him.

Jack, let’s not forget the US support for the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot after the Vietnamese ousted them in 1979. These were the very same people you recognise as having committed genocide against their own people. US history in that part of the world is not a proud one. I was in Vietnam early tnis year, and it’s interesting that the Vietnamese speak not of the Vietnam war, but the American war. And they have an American War Crimes Museum in Hi Chi Minh city with some very gruesome exibits. Indeed, not a very proud history at all.

Posted by: Paul in Euroland at November 2, 2006 7:02 PM
Comment #192902

Interesting contribution Mr Right. I imagine that’s exactly what Hitlers view would have been also. No price is too high to pay to ensure victory eh? It brings to mind the saying ” We had to destroy the vill to save it”

Posted by: Paul in Euroland at November 2, 2006 7:05 PM
Comment #192909

Abrams ideas would have been of much more use if you weren’t starting with Vietnamese Anti-American sentiments high, with people at home disgusted with the incompetence and dishonesty of those leading the war effort, with the economy tanking because of the deficit spending trickery put into the war, and with Nixon himself running on a policy to draw down the war.

The mistake is to think that the unwillingness to continue the war came before the other factors. It took an awful lot of bad news and strategy futilely adhered to to break people of their good opinion of the Vietnam War.

The conservatives try and pin the blame on that, but they put the cart before the horse. America spent six or seven years involved in vietnam, three or four at full scale, before it turned decisively against the war.

Americans are willing to support wars, when they see the necessity for it, and when they feel that we have something to gain by continuing the fight. We spent four years fighting WWII, but support remained fairly high on a constant basis for that, because nobody screwed around on making progress, and Americans of all walks of life were involved and had a stake in it.

Americans are not ones to wait forever for results. Promises fulfilled must accompany promises made. People must know what the difference between success and failure are, and move deliberately to create success, or else people will see the endeavor as fruitless and abandon it.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at November 2, 2006 7:19 PM
Comment #192911

Wasn’t it Nixon that “cut and ran” in Vietnam?

Posted by: Rocky at November 2, 2006 7:21 PM
Comment #192944

Mr. Right-
A name change is in order, for reasons I will explain.

You need to read Von Clausewitz. The truth about war is that it’s not all about attrition, and the destruction of equipment. Destroying forces in the Von Clausewitz sense means simply taking away the enemy’s ability to continue the fight.

You take an M1 Abrams tank. Beautiful fighting machine. It’s turret and ammunition are so advanced that when it was first used in Desert Storm, the Iraqi’s thought it was some kind of new missile. It can fire while moving, it can run at thirty or forty MPH, it’s got nigh inpenetrable armor, etc…

But it’s a hell of a gas-guzzler, so guess what follows behind? A gas truck. So, the insurgent goes after the Gas truck. Wonder Tank becomes multi-ton stalled vehicle.

It’s size means it can only go on certain roads, certain bridges. You have to transport it specially to get it to the front.

If an enemy wants to defeat our advantage with these machines, they cause problems at this point. They don’t necessarily have to destroy the vehicle.

Every military unit and piece of equipment depends on something else. Artillery is useless without ammunition, as are all guns large and small. Vehicles need fuel. Men need food, shelter, communications, supplies, etc. If you can successfully interefere with these, you can win a battle.

Von Clausewitz talked about centers of gravity, places where these crucial elements converge. That’s where good strategy aims. If you can hamstring your opponent, it’ll be far easier to face them properly. Problem is, we get so big on our strength and power, that we make it more difficult for ourselves than its really necessary.

In truth, it’s incredibly difficult to win by sheer attrition. You have to get a lot of people together in one place and surround them, or you have to commit yourself to a long bloody slog which will likely cost you much in blood and treasure. If they can recruit and re-equip better than you, you’re only doing yourselve harm in the long run.

So, I think your perspective is wrong. It doesn’t work in the real world, and fortunately, it doesn’t need to, because there are easier and better ways to fight a war.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at November 2, 2006 8:54 PM
Comment #192973


They would know about war crimes.

American history is full or mistakes and outright crimes. But what we need to resist is the lack of perspective. In isolation, we can always strive for perfection, but in the real world we have to compare options. The people the U.S. was fighting against in the Vietnam War were many times worse than the U.S. You may well argue that we had no business there and that we could not win. But there really is no doubt that if we HAD accomplished our objectives, it would have been better.


You have to remember how the war ended. It ended with an invasion of the South by the North. The people of S. Vietnam might have been apathetic, but THEY did not overthrow their government nor did they cooperate significantly with the invaders. On the contrary, when Saigon fell, thousands tried to hop on anything getting out and later many more thousands took to the sea in leaky boats to escape.

Before Bush was elected, many Dems promised to decamp to Canada because of the hard conditions they anticipated. As far as I know, none actually left. Maybe these fair weather headonists should consider the decision of people who had to flee their country in dangerous little boats. Maybe we should not question their commitment at least until we understand our own.

Posted by: Jack at November 2, 2006 10:32 PM
Comment #192986

I know how Vietnam ended, but you miss the point: if Vietnam had been properly waged as a war, we could have left the Vietnamese to their own devices and that invasion would not have succeeded. The question was why they were apathetic. It all goes back to one significant fact: The people of North Vietnam could see all of Vietnam as theirs. For them, this was a nationalistic fight, and South Vietnam was more or less just a colonial construct, with the South Vietnamese who ran it just being collaborators with the Western powers.

We never, working with the South Vietnamese, created a good answer to this. Without that good answer, there is no real South Vietnam.

Look at what happened on 9/11, and you’ll see what a nation acts like when it feels that its soil has been violated. It didn’t matter what party you were in that that day, you felt angry, and you knew you had to get back at those people who violated your ground.

That is key to any nation’s defense. That is key to Iraq’s ongoing violence, of people against us and between the different sectarian groups.

The key here is a sense of cohesive identity Without it, South Vietnam was just a fiction waiting for the North Vietnamese to march over it, and Iraq is nothing better than a failed state. Speaking of that, I believe it was Philip Zelikow, who in a classified report to Condi Rice basically said outright back in 2005 that Iraq had become a failed state.

I think a few people threatening to move to Canada (most idly) hardly reflects much on the character of the Democratic party. There’s hardly been the kind of migration to justify that assessment. Democrats are happy with their country. It’s their President and Congress they’re unhappy with. If anything about the last few years indicates anything, it’s that we’re committed to standing our ground.

As for those people in the boats? I can understand their position. These people truly did have commitment, and its nothing to minimize what they did. However, the tendency of the South Vietnamese Armed forces are sadly well documented. The ARVN did not stand and fight many times. They hid behind our soldiers untill the point that we had to start doing most of the fighting. Otherwise, we would have remained advisors. Because your focus is on willpower, persistence is a virtue. But persistence in the Vietnam war, persistence without progress, was antithetical to the real purpose we went there for in the first place.

You can’t win these types of wars simply by being stubborn.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at November 2, 2006 11:54 PM
Comment #193108

Excellant points, Stephen, Thanks.

Posted by: gergle at November 3, 2006 2:16 PM
Comment #193143

You’re welcome. I wrote this article mainly out of frustration with all the pessimistic appraisals I hear about Americans and wars. I think we have our weakness on these matters, but I think a good leader can overcome these things in the pursuit of the right cause. Von Clausewitz made a point of emphasizing that critical link. It’s Bush and LBJ who failed to form their wars around a true, integral cause that would stand the wear and tear of close examination. You can’t expect people to rally so strongly around your war when your last great cause for it has been shown to be fundamentally hollow.

Theoretically, one could convince people to support any war, and keep on supporting it, but reality has a way of soaking through theories (or hypotheses if we want to be correct about the useage of that word) and corroding the ones that aren’t well formed.

If our leaders mean to lead us to a war, they’ve got to do more than simply market it to us. They’ve got to found it on a real need. Then people will make any sacrifice necessary to achieve the mission.

Once you’ve done this, though, whatever legitimacy you have in a war will also be tested by your progress in fighting it. Even a good war can be fought poorly. Many people died on Omaha Beach on account of somebody’s screwups. A well organized plan, and a well trained army will be able to think around such things, and come up with new avenues of action.

The Bush administration would have had only a black eye if it had managed the war better. The real, lasting damage that its inflicted on Bush and his supporters was screwing up the execution; such failures resonate across party lines, because whether we’ve picked the right fight or not, we’d rather win than lose.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at November 3, 2006 3:57 PM
Comment #193355


Lets not forget the US entered the Vietnam war under false pretenses as we did in Iraq. This effects continueing support. Americans do not like to be fooled. We were also on the wrong side of history. It was a time when the old model of colonialism was being swept away. We tried to pick up where the French left off. You are correct that our cause was flawed. We were trying to prevent a national referendum where Ho Chi Mihn would have been elected. In other words we were trying to prevent democracy. Our cause in Iraq is also flawed. Securing oil supplies is not worth it and any other retorical reasons for the invasion are just that,retoric. Would we be there if there was no oil? I think not.

Posted by: BillS at November 4, 2006 9:50 PM
Comment #193377

The differences that I see in this war and WW II is that; First, as said above there were no German or Japanese troops as allies. Second, warfare HAS changed, there is no way that the U.S. could have beaten the British if the British had not fought in the conventional style of the time which was to line up, not take cover and keep firing row after row in very bright red coats. We are now fighting an enemy that doesn’t wear a uniform, where every enemy looks just like the next civilian, where they can run into a Mosk or home and blend in. Third, the death rate is an ongoing story with the media. At last count more people died in 9\11 than in five years of war, that’s not too shabby. More soldiers died in a week, sometimes in a couple of days than in this whole war. In WWII I have seen many newsreels but rarely did they mention American death counts and never an ongoing total.
Osama bin Laden said himself that if we can cause enough casualties the U.S. would leave and go home.
And last, to the media nothing could ever go right in Iraq because it would not sell as many papers and get as many viewers if the news were good. In a night of local news you get six or seven bad news stories with the hardest hitting being first then at the last you get a happy story where a puppy was saved from a burning house. Something I cannot stress enough is that MEDIA IS A BUSINESS simple as that, they don’t cause wars and hurricanes but they know that they will ALWAYS happen and they can make a profit. It seems that they report all the atrocities the U.S. cause but hardly any that the enemy causes except maybe a beheading once and awhile. I don’t know about you but I would rather be waterboarded and that country be reprimanded by the rest of the world than be beheaded and know no repercussions will come to that army by any other country.
Both Clinton and Bush said there were WMDs, maybe they both lied or maybe not. Clinton told that FOX reporter that he had an obsession with bin Laden when he was President, why if there were no reason, if bin Laden were not a bad person? It’s not Bushes war it is a war against infidels, anybody that is not an extremist Muslim, and I do not mean a devout Muslim, I mean a Muslim that wants to kill anybody that is not of that faith or anybody that will not kill in the name of that faith.
To play Monday quarterback and say “if” is a cop out because you really don’t know what would happen. I could say if 9\11 didn’t happen then we would not be in a war but I don’t know that or if we would be in N. Korea or Iran or fighting Canada. I would not know the turn of events that might have happened in the meantime because the devil, “place name of your most hated politician here”, never sleeps.
To Stephen,
Could you please tell me of any war that was won by the theory of Mr. Von Clausewitz??
And by the way Paul, I can tell you for a fact that winning at all costs was the way Hitler would have done it, Napoleon too I’m sure. Also Churchill, Franklin, Washington, Lincoln, J.F. Kennedy, Truman, and Wilson both republicans and democrats just to name a few. Wanting to loose is a concept that has only reared its head in the last 50 years.

Posted by: DoughBall at November 5, 2006 1:07 AM
Comment #193518

I think you’re taking oversimplified views of both wars. I honestly think the Neocons thought they would find something. Unfortunately, they didn’t apply the right kind of intellectual discipline to figuring out what was happening. They started their momentum going before they knew what they were actually headed for.

Moreover, they sold the public on the war on grounds that weren’t in line with their actual goals. That cognitive dissonance might not have troubled them, but it stuck a stick in the spokes for many Americans.

What got us on Vietnam, was more or less the attempt to win a war of nationalism without a strategy to reinforce people’s sense of their nation. Additionally, We made the mistake of fighting the war for them. That should never have been our job. We should have remained in a support role. To remain in that support role, we needed to have created a government capable of garnering public support. Diem just got things off on the wrong foot, and the generals didn’t do much better.

In Iraq, the question is how to get people together in a Democracy like ours, where the diversity doesn’t badly fragment our political system. Unfortunately, its much harder to make sure people’s rights are observed in a war-zone. The Bush Administrations problem in Iraq is the opposite: people are too territorial, too willing to fight and die for their chunk of land. We got to get them to integrate at least somewhat into each other’s communities before we cut them loose (a reminder to Republicans: to be a free democracy, somebody has to cut you loose).

No Japanese or German troops as allies? You think? At least we had allies picking up part of the burden.

Warfare has of course changed, but not the needs to underly it. Whether you’re a Napoleonic commander with a bunch of cannons or a Modern general with Jet Aircraft, you need supplies, you need munitions, you need somebody to give orders, and a means to get those orders to you.

In terms of the British Lining up, there were places where we did the irregular actions, but in all actuality, we only started succeeding after we became capable of those line ups. The trick to those was that muskets were not terribly accurate. If you didn’t line people up in a firing line, it was much harder to hit the other side, whatever coats they wore.

Speaking of coats, its true that the people melt away into the population. The trick here is that you talk about a new kind of war, but I don’t think you understand what this means. You think it means let things go on because they’re so tough. Your average soldier knows better: the way to deal with soldiers that melt into the population is to get the population on your side. If you understand that, you understand the damage that Abu Ghraib and Haditha do.

You can also understand the damaged from constant raids after insurgents, especially when that’s coupled with a chronic lack of translators.

We’re not going to win this with just brute force. We need political solutions as well, because guerilla warfare can only be really stopped by folks choosing to cease their support for the people doing the damage.

As for the death rate? First, you’ve got medical advances to thank for that, advances that have cut the percentage of wounded who die from 25% to 10%. If you want to know what kind of difference that makes, imagine making your claim with numbers like 7400 instead of 2818. Second, to compare any modern war to WWII is to forget the greater scale of that war. We’re only in one country, not dozens, and we’re technically superior to our foes.

Also, you should remember that we started this all with maybe about a hundred dead for the entire invasion. We could have kept that number down had we been prepared for more than just what the wishful thinking of the Neocons would have had for us. Instead, we spent far too long playing catch up on reconstruction, and far too long gearing up for a broad based insurgent war.

As for what Osama says, fuck that. We do what’s in our best interests regardless of whether he jumps for joy or not.

As for the media? The media reports the dramatic. Dramatic losses, dramatic victories. You should remember the impression that the inked thumbs made following the election. Improve your policy, and the coverage will follow.

As for WMDs? First, Clinton suspected he was hiding weapons, but for Clinton, suspicion did not rise to the threshold of being worth starting a war over. Second, when we invaded, we did so with not one confirmed WMD site, not one site where we could say we know WMDs are there for sure. Since our war was predicated on pre-empting such a threat, the certainty and credibility of our position on his WMDs was crucial to making this a justifiable war. Pre-emptive war is like a police officer shooting a suspect when he reaches for a gun in his jacket rather that waiting for it to be drawn. If the suspect didn’t have a gun, it complicates things greatly for the officer.

As for whether Bin Laden is a bad person? Good heavens. It’s amazing how many common-sense attitudes in Liberals get chalked up to political motivations. You think we support Afghanistan and nag Bush on the continued freedom of Bin Laden just because we want votes? We’re a bit more than two dimensional, thank you very much. We recognized his danger long before you guys were willing to admit that terrorism was anything but a nuisance.

As for Von Clausewitz, well, he’s the guy who said War is politics carried out by other means. He’s the guy who brought The Fog of War and Centers of gravity into the modern military vocabulary. His work On War is a landmark work in military strategy.(This links to an actual online translation of his work)

But if you need to understand just what his work is about, It comes down to this: What is your intent? What do you wish to bring about? The means you employ will affect whether you can win the war. Your clarity of thought on what you wish to do, and how you wish to do it weigh heavily on your chances of success. So does your ability to deal with chance, with the emotions of war, and with the logical and intellectual challenges of things.

This administration wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein, but prepared for little else. If occupation of Iraq had been among their goals, they might have brought along sufficient forces to keep order. Goals interconnect. Virtually every other element of our strategy in Iraq has suffered because of a lack of security, and in turn each problem helps to make security more of a problem. Unfortunately, the Bush administration showed up to a long term war thinking they could repeat the performance of the last major war we went through. The difference there is that we knew what we wanted, we had the forces, the means and the political will to do it, and we knew precisely when the war was over, and so did Saddam.

Here, nobody gave much thought to anything about how this war would end, to what our endgame would be. The Bush admininstration was expecting things to take care of themselves. They should have never done that! The world does not slavishly follow our wishes.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at November 5, 2006 10:34 PM
Comment #193617

You said “The way to deal with soldiers that melt into the population is to get the population on your side.” Part of the reason we can’t get the population on our side is that in the first gulf war, we ended our mission and left. Saddam Hussein turned around and killed thousands for helping the U.S. To be able to fight this war with any help we had to insure that we would not leave them hanging. Abu Ghraib and Haditha didn’t help any I admit, but as I said the media won’t report (for long) the atrocities and beheadings, they won’t even show the civilians jumping to their deaths on 9\11.
We can’t fight a war where the captured enemy gets better food and accommodations like at Guantanamo Bay than they would at home. Abu Ghraib now is many times better than when Hussein was in charge of it.
Also you stated that “We only started succeeding after we became capable of those line ups. The trick to those was that muskets were not terribly accurate. If you didn’t line people up in a firing line, it was much harder to hit the other side, whatever coats they wore.”
Tell that to the civil war reenacters, the civil war was one of the deadlyest. Oh, that’s right - they didn’t have the medical skills we have now, but Viet Nam wasn’t that long ago and it was much, much deadlier than Iraq.
“You think we support Afghanistan and nag Bush on the continued freedom of Bin Laden just because we want votes?” Actually, don’t know that lib voters feel that way, but I do think that the politicians think that will get them votes. I have noticed that several liberals even have a hard time stating who they would like to win the war, Rosie Odonell and David Letterman most recently and there are others.
At one point you say “As for WMDs? First, Clinton suspected he was hiding weapons, but for Clinton, suspicion did not rise to the threshold of being worth starting a war over.” Then in the next paragraph you state “We recognized his danger long before you guys were willing to admit that terrorism was anything but a nuisance.” Being one of the misinformed, let me make sure I understand, you are saying that Clinton knew of all the dangers but was too busy with other things, or after Blackhawk Down and bombing an aspirin factory he just didn’t have the heart to fight anymore.
I gotta go for now but, could you tell me who or what Neocons is\are.
Also, you never did tell me a (just one will do) war that Von Clausewitz helped to win.
Thank you, Doughball

Posted by: Doughball at November 6, 2006 1:38 PM
Comment #193647

Doughball: How many Americans were killed in the first three years of the Vietnam war? How many Americans do you suppose will be killed if we stay in Iraq as long as we did in Vietnam? How many Americans had a leg, arm or half their brains blown out on 911? What is your opinion of the millions of civilians killed in Vietnam or the possibly hundreds of thousands killed in Iraq?

What do you think about President Reagan’s decision to cut and run from Lebanon after his policy got more than 200 marines killed in their barracks?

Posted by: jlw at November 6, 2006 3:41 PM
Comment #193650

The American People turned against the Iraq War for the same reasons that they turned against the Vietnam War; Lies by our political leaders and a lack of progress.

Posted by: jlw at November 6, 2006 3:47 PM
Comment #193699

There was a component to the immediate Shiite response to our invasion that came of wariness from the last time, but that wasn’t what created the problem. The problem was, nobody planned for the possiblity of an insurgency, that Saddam would take a dive on the initial war and fight a guerilla campaign.

That’s where the necessity of immediately establishing law and order came in, and that’s where troop levels were important. It wasn’t about not leaving them hanging, it was about countering a strategy that aimed less for the defense of the state, and more for the eventual defeat of the enemy, after which we would see Saddam step back into power. (That was the plan at least!) Still, he succeeded in creating an insurgency.

As for what the media shows? You’ve watched American television long enough to know that they don’t like to show graphic death. The Arab media shows a lot more blood and gore. We’re kind of squeamish, or at least our broadcasters are.

On the subject of the prisons, brutal methods aren’t necessarily useful or productive. These guys come in expecting that sort of crap from a culture where torture is to be expected in interrogations. We’ve found it much easier to play good cop and get results than bad cop. People who expect interrogation to be an ordeal prepare for that and when you break them the problem remainst that those broken generally end up saying what the torturer wants to hear, regardless of its truth.

Instead, the CIA has found that they got better results playing mindgames with them, playing on weaknesses, rivalries, dissents, obsessions and the like. Those who think non-torture interrogations merely consist of polite question asking are badly misinformed about the nature of getting information from people. All kinds of things can motivate people to give up information. Love. Jealousy. Being passed up for the promotion. Being dismayed with the course of a campaign.

These are people who should know. The CIA has operated for half a century building up sources in places by playing on such weaknesses. Nobody beats an agent into spying for them. You bribe, you blackmail, you play on loyalties, you do things for people, etc, etc. What we want aren’t more martyrs for the cause, prepared to die. What we want are intelligence assets, willing to talk.

In terms of muskets, I was speaking of the Revolutionary War, more than eight decades prior. I think the toll in the Revolutionary war was about five thousand. Most wars in our history resemble the one we’re in rather than the big three of recent history- Vietnam, Korea, and WWII.

And yes, the Civil War was one of the deadliest, in no small part owing to the rise of industrial warfare, and the fact that every soldier who died was American. But that was an open war with pitched battles and open confrontations. Additionally, they were still using many of the old fashioned firing lines, but the weapons were much more advanced, and the supporting weaponry suitably advanced.

As for what Liberals think? First, you should know that Letterman is not far left by any stretch of the term. he’s actually center to right, and supported the war in the beginning. But of course, anybody who opposes the war automatically gets dumped to the left. Its easier than actually considering that your problem may not simply be a bunch of revolutionary leftists polluting the political discourse.

As for WMDs, we recognized Bin Laden’s danger a long time before you fellows did. At least when we attacked that factory, we made a point of doing so based on real evidence. Questions may exist as to the case, but at least in Sudan’s case, we knew Sudan definitely harbored terrorists, and we had physicial evidence from on site to demonstrated the likelihood of the WMDS.

As for Blackhawk Down, nobody knew of al-Qaeda at that point, and the mission in Somalia had already creeped far beyond its original parameters. We weren’t supposed to stick around their forever anyways. We were supposed to be relieved by the UN eventually. Clinton stuck around six months before pulling our soldiers out, and he did so successfully, with no casualties on our side.

We couldn’t have impressed Bin Laden by any other means than flattening Mogadishu. Given that we were on a humanitarian mission, that might have crept a little outside the bounds of what we were supposed to do.

As for Neocons? Neoconservatives. Former Democrats who became hardliners on defense issues. They also tend to be big on taking Israel’s hardline as well. They more or less follow a sort of ethic of using America’s might to confront evil in the world, but in their zeal to provoke such confrontations, they tend to make poorly backed claims of great danger or rising threats. They claimed the Soviets were stronger than ever in the Seventies when in fact they were starting their decline.

As for Von Clausewitz? There isn’t a war between the early 19th century and the present day that hasn’t been influence by his military philosophy. The wikipedia article on Military Strategy calls him “The father of modern strategic study”.

In that case, we can say that he’s helped strategists win every war that modern strategic study has shed light on. He asked basic questions about what the purpose of war was, what constituted the end of a war (a good question for occasions when a leader believes the mission is accomplished, yet the enemy has other ideas…) and other fine points of means and their employment. Someone said asking what his influence was is like asking what Darwin’s influence on biology was.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at November 6, 2006 7:56 PM
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