Raznor's Rants

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

On Succeeding Unless We Quit

Posted by Raznor

Bush's comment in Vietnam (see the post below) was one of the most banal, idiotic, and, in this context, outright evil comments someone could make. What I never got was what would victory in Vietnam look like? What would victory in Iraq look like? Bush speaks of "one last push" and McCain says we need 20,000 more troups there because, I guess, when we get 20,000 more troups the magical Democracy Fairy will sprinkle her peace dust in the region.

But let's take a closer look at the lessons of Vietnam. I would say there are two lessons that directly relate strategically to Iraq.

1. The US military will win every major battle, but that is not enough

Really, the only major military battle the North Vietnamese Army won before their successful 1975 invasion of the South was Dien Bien Phu, which is the battle that essentially kicked the French out of Vietnam and led to the partitioning of French Indochina into North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Once the US military became directly involved, anytime the military faced NVA (North Vietnamese Army) or Viet Cong in open battle, the US won handily. The battle of Tan Bac, the first major conflict in between US and North Vietnamese, proved that the NVA could not hope to match the US militarily. And 5 years later, the Tet offensive resulted in decimating the Viet Cong.

But the problem is, winning the major battles wins the war if both sides are using conventional methods. In World War II, the battle of Stalingrad was the beginning of the end of the Nazi war machine, and the Battle of the Bulge was really the final nail in the coffin. But major battles like that made the difference in World War II because both sides were seeking to take and control territory militarily. Insurgencies are intrinsically different. The North Vietnamese wanted only to control all of Vietnam, and the US military's objective was to prevent the North Vietnamese from taking South Vietnam. But the NVA already had many supporters in the South, and had spent 15 years before America's involvement building a complex infrastructure of tunnels throughout South Vietnam. They couldn't win the big fights, but they could control the fighting. And with the population of North Vietnam, the NVA could add up to 200,000 fighting men to their forces per year. So long as they prevented taking casualties greater than that, they could keep going indefinitely. This brings me to my second point:

2. Without political solutions, you cannot win in counterinsurgency with superior military, you can only prevent defeat indefinitely

The last US troupes stopped fighting in Vietnam in 1973. In 1975, the North Vietnamese invaded the South. That interim of 2 years can be interpreted to mean two things: 1) that fighting against the US military had significantly weakened the NVA enough that it required two years for them to rebuild their forces to the point that they'd be able to mount an attack against the south, and 2) no matter how long we would have stayed in Vietnam, the NVA would have invaded and taken the South after we left.

This means that in Vietnam, and in Iraq, policy makers must make the cold calculus - is maintaining the status quo worth the cost in dollars, material, and lives it will take? In the case of Vietnam, and to Nixon's slight credit, the choice was made that it wasn't. In Iraq, I have a hard time believing that what benefit we can receive from maintaining a military presence in Iraq is worth the costs in dollars and lives required to stay there, not to mention the damage to our entire foreign policy that the loss in national credibility has created.

Bush has made the decision that his own ego and his insecurities are far more worthy of being taken seriously than our national security. And that will be the defining aspect of his presidency.

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