Monday, November 21, 2005

Vietnam 1968 - Iraq 2005

Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha, in his heartfelt but completely wrong-headed demand that the United States withdraw its troops as early as practicable, has triggered a political brouhaha that has done nothing but encourage the terrorists in Iraq and anyone who opposes the U.S. We discussed it at length here. A few more points from folks who have since weighed in:

Mac Owens explains the perfect parallel of what happened in Vietnam vs references the Vo Nguyen Giap quote to Vietnam historian Stanley Karnow:

After 1968, the situation in Vietnam was very similar to the one that prevails in Iraq today. Trends were moving in the right direction for the Americans and South Vietnamese. The United States had changed its strategy after Tet 1968, scoring significant military successes against the North Vietnamese while advancing "Vietnamization." These successes helped stabilize the political and economic situation in South Vietnam, solidifying the attachment of the rural population to the South Vietnamese government and resulting in the establishment of the conditions necessary for South Vietnam's survival as a viable political entity.

The new strategy was vindicated during the 1972 Easter Offensive. This was the biggest offensive push of the war, greater in magnitude than either the 1968 Tet offensive or the final assault of 1975. While the U.S. provided massive air and naval support and while there were inevitable failures on the part of some South Vietnamese units, all in all, the South Vietnamese fought well. Then, having blunted the communist thrust, they recaptured territory that had been lost to Hanoi. So effective was the combination of the South Vietnamese army's performance during the Easter Offensive, an enhanced counterinsurgency effort, and LINEBACKER II — the so-called Christmas bombing of 1972 later that year — that the British counterinsurgency expert, Sir Robert Thompson concluded US-ARVN forces "had won the war. It was over."

But as Bob Sorley has observed, while the war in Vietnam "was being won on the ground... it was being lost at the peace table and in the U.S. Congress." First, the same sort of domestic defeatism that is endangering our effort in Iraq today impelled President Nixon to rush to extricate the country from Vietnam, forcing South Vietnam to accept a cease fire that permitted North Vietnamese Army forces to remain in South Vietnam.

Second, the Watergate scandal changed the makeup of Congress, which, in an act that still shames the United States to this day, then cut off military and economic assistance to South Vietnam. Finally, President Nixon resigned over Watergate and his successor, constrained by congressional action, defaulted on promises to respond with force to North Vietnamese violations of the peace terms. Only three years after blunting the communist Easter Offensive, and despite the heroic performance of some South Vietnamese units, South Vietnam collapsed against a much weaker, cobbled-together communist offensive. And South Vietnam ceased to exist, consigning millions of souls to communist tyranny and weakening the United States for a decade.

How did the North Vietnamese Communists pull this off? In 1990, North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap, confirming what he has written in his own memoirs, told Stanley Karnow that "We were not strong enough to drive out a half-million American troops, but that wasn't our aim. Our intention was to break the will of the American government to continue the war." [emphasis mine]

Robert Kagan and Bill Kristol argue that Murtha's primary thesis, that US armed forces have become the focus of the 'insurgency' is wrong:

Murtha, of course, claims that the U.S. occupation is the primary problem in Iraq and that "our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency. They are united against U.S. forces, and we have become a catalyst for violence." This is nonsense. For many months now, the insurgents have been shifting their attacks away from U.S. and coalition forces and directing them at Iraqis instead. Iraqis now make up the overwhelming majority of casualties resulting from insurgent attacks. This shift is evidence not only of the effectiveness of our protective measures, but also of the growing vitality of the Iraqi political process, which the insurgents, according to their own statements, fear and hate more than the U.S. military presence.

Fred Barnes notes how the noises made by Murtha, the Senate as well as Bill Clinton turning around on Iraq is telling the head-choppers:

What message did this package of events send to the insurgents in Iraq? Stay the course, the Americans may be going soft again, just as they did in Somalia a decade ago, in Lebanon in the 1980s, and in Vietnam in the 1970s. What other conclusion could the insurgents draw?

This leaves Bush, Vice President Cheney, and the entire administration with a larger task than refuting the trumped-up Democratic charge that they misrepresented intelligence on Iraq. They're already off to a good start in knocking down that canard. Now they must quash the idea of Vietnam redux.

Mel Laird, it turns out, isn't the only person who's been thinking about the parallel between Iraq and Vietnam. So has Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's deputy. In his intercepted email [July 2005, eds] to al Qaeda's man in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, he said, "Things may develop faster than we imagine." He wrote that "the aftermath of the collapse of American power in Vietnam--and how they ran and left their agents--is noteworthy." Indeed, and it is relevant.

It appears that any serious damage has been averted for now, even though many on the right are decrying the replacement Senate resolution for being too meddlesome and the House overwhelming rejected an immediate withdrawal by a vote of 403-3 though with the usual histrionics. However I'm worried that the recent recriminations not only strengthen the terrorists [who blundered badly in Jordan] and encourage them to step up their attacks on US troops over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. The feckless and addled ones in Washington have just told them at a repeat of the Marine barracks in Beirut 1983 would greatly help their cause.


UPDATE: Powerline has a letter from Lt. Colonel Joe Repya of Minnesota who, at age 59, volunteered for a return to active duty in Iraq:

Two weeks ago, as I was starting my sixth month of duty in Iraq, I was forced to return to the USA for surgery for an injury I sustained prior to my deployment. With luck, I'll return to Iraq in January to finish my tour. I left Baghdad and a war that has every indication that we are winning, to return to a demoralized country much like the one I returned to in 1971 after my tour in Vietnam. Maybe it's because I'll turn 60 years old in just four months, but I'm tired:

What is Repya tired of? Here's an example:

I'm tired that my generation, the Baby Boom - Vietnam generation, who have such a weak backbone that they can't stomach seeing the difficult tasks through to victory.

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