Monday, August 28, 2006

Lessons of Vietnam

W. Thomas Smith Jr.'s latest article is about the lessons of Vietnam and how we should learn from them. The big lesson? We shouldn't restrain our military and we shouldn't listen to the press or liberals.
What matters are that we were initially committed to the fight. We ultimately lost the war. The lives of 58,000 Americans were sacrificed without gain. And there are several reasons why (all of which violate the basic schoolyard lessons for winning fights).

- We went into the fight with no real intention of seeing the fight through to a decisive end.

- We went into the fight with our proverbial hands tied.
There's one he fails to put on his list because it would upset his narrative - we didn't know what we were trying to win. That's the different between the real world and the schoolyard. In the Schoolyard when a fight starts you just generally punch your adversary until he starts crying and runs away (or you start crying and running away). Wars are, in reality, a bit more complex than that.

What did we actually want to accomplish in Vietnam? We wanted to keep South Vietnam from becoming Communist. A strictly reactive goal. Perhaps if we had decided to invade the north and made our goal "One Vietnam, Capitalist" we would have done better - but of course that could have brought us into direct conflict with China which we didn't want to do.

He likens this to Iraq, and I see the parallels too. Our goal is to keep Iraq from crumbling into civil war and/or falling into Iran's sphere. Again, a completely reactive goal. I suppose we have the goal of defeating the insurgency, but given that they don't really stand up and fight us directly, that's a tough goal to achieve. Maybe we also want to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.

What I don't see, in either Vietnam or Iraq, is a clear and achievable military goal. In both cases I see governments willing to through men away for years for reasons they aren't willing to explain clearly.

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