Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Parallels with Vietnam

Interesting article about Iraq on the Beeb website.

"History does not repeat itself exactly, so what happened in Vietnam might not happen in Iraq, but there are parallels that are interesting to note

First there is the realisation in Washington that it is not winning. Mr Bush has admitted this himself

As students of History, and anybody who has ever played a strategic computer game know, winning requires set goals, or winning conditions. The mainstream media do not seem even vaguely interested in what the US winning conditions are. Here are some of my questions: would the MSM consider the US to be 'winning' if no US soldiers were being killed, but 100 Iraqis were dying every day? would they consider the US to be 'winning' if Iraq were completely peaceful but controlled by a Shia government that used militias as its means of exerting its power over all the other constituent groups in Iraq? would they consider the US to be 'winning' if the Sunni tribes regained control of Iraq, and a proto-Saddam re-imposed the kind of 'peace' that Iraq had under Saddam? Whereas the US government and President Bush have explained many times what their goals are for Iraq, it is completely unclear what the MSM want.

Second, there is a policy of trying to hand over responsibility to the local government in the midst of battle, not after it - this happened in Vietnam with the policy of Vietnamisation

There is no North Vietnam in Iraq. The South Vietnamese government was almost completely successful, but was destroyed by conventional and guerilla attack from the north. North Vietnam was sponsored by both Russia and China. The Shia are sponsored by Iran, who currently aren't even a regional power.

Third, there is the belief by the US administration that more troops are an important part of the answer

Yes? And? Anybody who can read, and takes a broadsheet newspaper could have told you that. More importantly than this belief, is what the US government wants to DO with the new troops. And that is break the back of the psychopathic religio/political militias ruining life in Iraq

Fourth, there is an opposite belief by others that the enterprise cannot work and that disengagement must be sought - US public doubt is a theme common to both conflicts

Why can't the 'enterprise' work? Such nation building exercises have been tried and succeeded all over the world. Of course it can work. It might fail, because thats how life is. But there is every reason to try. As for US public opinion, a large majority of Americans believe that Saddam Hussein was directly linked to Al-Qaeda and 9/11. Virtually no informed person believes that to be the case. American public opinion is highly volatile, and prone to swallowing naive and nonsensical propositions. But hey, its called democracy, and as Winston Churchill pointed out "Democracy is the worst of all forms of government, apart from the other ones that are tried from time to time".

Fifth, in Vietnam too the president consulted an outside group - they were called the Wise Men and, like the Iraq Study group, they too urged a policy designed to lead to withdrawal "

I can't discern any useful parallel from that at all. If America were a genuine empire, it might consider NOT leaving, but because it isn't every single plan devised by US politicians will envisage a day when US forces leave. Its not about if, but when. Every single US politician and high-rank military officer should understand the psychological importance of WHEN. Currently, many do not. If the US leaves now, they will be percieved by most of the world as losers and bail-out cowards. Thats what happened in Somalia. Only 18 US service personnel were killed, but because directly after those tiny skirmishes the US pulled out, it was presented by America-haters all across the globe as a humiliating disaster. Because the war on Islamism is much more about perception of strength and weakness than it is about who is actually strong, to leave Iraq before it is demonstrably a successful and viable state will be to present America-haters with a Somalia of gigantic proportions. As Mark Steyn says, the American moment would be over.

Of course, US success in Iraq is now clearly predicated on humiliating and neutralising Iran, the relatively frail and feeble sponsor of intra-community murder in Iraq. The main difference between Vietnam and Iraq is who is backing the continuation of conflict. There was no hope the US could 'take out' Russia and China, whereas there is every prospect of taking out Iran. Without its prospective nuclear weapons, Iran is a toothless beast with a flagging and inept economy, bolstered solely by its oil revenues. It only has lukewarm allies in Russia and China, both of whom do not want Iran stirring up Islamist insurrections within Russian and Chinese territory should Iraq fall under Irans orbit. When the stealth bombers start taking out the Iranian nukes, I imagine the Russians and Chinese will suddenly find they are very busy with other state matters, and won't be able to take Ahmadinejads phone calls.

Granted, the BBC article does go on to point out some of the objections to the 'parallels' that I have pointed out.

After many twists and turns, the Americans did withdraw, in 1973. On 30 April 1975, North Vietnam tanks entered Saigon and the South Vietnamese were defeated.
The policy of Vietnamisation had its limits.

But this conclusion fails to identify the single crucial fact- if North Vietnam had been beaten, and invaded and re-integrated into South Vietnam, Vietnam would be a non-communist, successful state today, probably broadly similar to South Korea. The reason that 'The policy of Vietnamisation had its limits' was that the North was never taken out of the war. If the US had gone full bore and conquered physically the North, they would have won. But it would have come at a much greater price than the actual US dead of 58,000. And the US was not willing to pay that price. Will it be willing to win this time?

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