Saturday, August 13, 2005

Political Wars

I enlisted in the Air Force in November of 1995. I shipped off to Basic Training the week the government shutdown ended. While there, I received the training so many other airmen received. Once, while we were in the Bob Hope Theatre, someone asked our TIs what happened to us in Vietnam (why didn't we win?). The answer given to us was that there were too many limits placed upon the military by our government. We knew where the VC were, but we couldn't attack them for fear of upsetting the local population and turning them against us. We couldn't invade North Vietnam for a similar reason.
In a recent Newsweek article, Gary Berntsen, a career CIA officer, confirmed allegations given by John Kerry during the election campaign that we had Bin Laden at Tora Bora in December 2001 but he got away in part due to a decision to not send in conventional forces, and instead let local soldiers pursue. He has a book coming out called "Jawbreaker," which is awaiting approval from the CIA (this is standard for intelligence officers who write about events as this), where he criticizes Donald Rumsfeld and the defense department for not giving enough support. This sounds very similar to what we were told regarding Vietnam - politicians and politics getting in the way of the war's objectives.

I know a lot of people disdain the comparisons between Vietnam and Iraq, but there are similarities, especially concerning the approach to the situation. In Vietnam, the plan was to "Americanize" the war - U.S. troops would fight and defend. Then, there would be a transition period, where the Vietnamese soldiers would be trained and brought up to date on equipment and whatnot. Then, there would be a "Vietnamization" of the war, where the Americans would be taken out and replaced by well-trained Vietnamese troops who could take care of themselves and handle their own situation. Compare to Iraq, where foreign troops are occupying while the Iraqi soldiers receive training, after which the soldiers will be gradually replaced by indigenous troops who will be able to handle their own situation. Sometimes the comparisons are inevitable.


Cassie said...

It is important to study our history so we can make the right decisions for our future. History repeats itself, in some cases that's good and in others it's not. I think we ought to make all politicians take an American history classes while they are "serving" us.

Bookworm said...

The irritating comparison is the "since we lost in Vietnam, we will henceforth lose in all wars" argument. to turn our back on the real combat lessons we learned from Vietnam, though, is just silly. As my parents always said, you fight wars to win. We understood that through WWII. We seem to have had a hard time with that concept since then.

Interestingly, I've been reading Natan Sharanksy's book, which has been very painful, since he shows Israel committing suicide by deciding to prop up Arafat. One of his interesting discussions, though, goes to the imaginary Jenin massacre, a phantom that the world press used to paint Israel in Nazi-like terms.

The truth was that Israel, rather than taking the easy way of simply using aerial bombing against known enemy strongholds, elected to send in foot soldiers in order to decrease civilian casualities. 29 Israelis died, as did 52 (or 59) armed Palestinians.

The Israeli families are now suing the government for putting the enemy's safety ahead of the safety of its own soldiers. Israel shows that, not only must you fight wars to win, but that, even if you try to fight wars so as not to hurt the other side, your efforts will not be appreciated.

Steve said...

Bookworm, your post underscores a very important point, and one that I hoped I had made - a war is supposed to be fought for a win. You can't win a war if you're trying to placate those you're fighting. If you try to win the hearts and minds of the enemy, then you're bound for failure. It's a lesson that should have been learned in Vietnam, yet it's repeated itself since then.