Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Recycling Can Be fun...and Informative

I am re-playing my third post, which I originally published January 9th...how's that for leading edge...
All the recent Vietnam comparisons deserve to be courntered. Here I focused, not on Iraq, but the factors about our participation in Vietnam, that eventually made it what it became...use your own adjective here. This is meat and potatos, no fluff...I love recycling.

Iraq Is Not Another Vietnam


While I am sure most to the American population has this figured out, it pains me every time I hear an analogy, a reference, or a prediction that Iraq is, or will turn out like Vietnam.Iraq is not like Vietnam:The terrain in Iraq favors the conventional forces. The terrain in Vietnam favored an asymmetric or guerrilla strategy. The almost contiguous cover afforded to the Viet Cong and the NVA was ideal for insurgency ops. It provided cover for MSRs, staging areas, and nearly all troop movements. It mitigated the effectiveness of our technical advantages and leveled the playing field for the enemy forces. Although the foreign insurgents in Iraq are taking cover in the cities, the lack of secure mobility and their inability to mass forces at critical junctures will keep the insurgency in its current stages. Iraq may be unpleasant, but it is not like Vietnam.

The insurgency in Iraq is not a popular rebellion. The seeds of the NVA victory in Vietnam were planted in the early 1920’s when nationalistic movements of all types were hatched in Europe. The Viet Minh, as did the Communists in China, gained momentum out of their efforts in fighting the Japanese in World War II. Both were modestly successful, but there were no other viable political or military organizations in existence, so they each became the preeminent forces within their countries, regardless of the desires of the US and the rest of the world. The post World War II agreements that attempted to restore French colonialism to Vietnam and the subsequent agreements that divided Vietnam, sealed our eventual fate. The NVA had gained valuable experience fighting the French. They had a safe operating base in the North, and at worst, they had the support of 50% of the entire population of the combined Vietnams. The insurgents in Iraq are largely foreign fighters intent on disrupting the democratization efforts. They have, at best, tepid support from 13% of the population. They are also not a viable political force, which in the end, regardless of the casualties they inflict, will never give them clout in the political arena. They may kill people, but they won’t be a political success.

Our entry into Vietnam was clouded and ambiguous. Our entry into Iraq was clear and purposeful. We were hip deep into Vietnam even before the dubiously credible Gulf of Tonkin incident. President Johnson worked overtime to keep our depth of commitment and troop strengths hidden from the American public. In the end, the depth of our commitment could not be hidden, and the public rightfully became angry at what had been perpetrated. Regardless of if you are for our involvement in Iraq, or against it, President Bush was straightforward in telling the public what he was doing and why he was doing it. Debates about the viability of specific intelligence reports may linger, but there has been no repeat of the rampant lying that hindered our effort throughout the Vietnam War.

The quality of our forces far outstrips the quality of the forces we had fighting in Vietnam. I am not a believer of the “every soldier a druggie” crowd post-Vietnam, but I saw first hand what low morale and poor leadership had done to the USMC on my very first day of duty in MCAS El Toro in 1979. In barracks drug use, unscheduled intramural boxing matches, and complete disrespect for officers and Staff NCOs was common. Those Marines were the remnants of the Vietnam era Corps, and they were a mess. Units failed to meet basic training requirements, such a going to the rifle range…my unit was NOT the exception. It took a long view and hard work to revive the professionalism that had once been the hallmark of our services. Our forces excelled in Afghanistan, a country once thought impervious to outside military operations. They rolled through Kuwait in 1991 and Iraq in 2003 with unmatched speed and precision. They are arguably the best forces this world has seen. While individual soldiers and Marines in Vietnam may have been every bit the match of today’s troopers, collectively they were not nearly the cohesive force we have today.

There are clearly major differences in our involvement in Iraq and our participation in Vietnam. Calling a donkey a horse does not make it one. There is no excuse for the shallow and off base analysis that is nearly continually comparing these two military operations. Let’s learn from the mistakes we have made in the last twenty months, not from a completely unrelated excursion 30 years gone by.

We clearly need to guard against a protracted low-intensity conflict in Iraq, but the final solution will ultimately be a political one. The Iraqis will have their freedom, and hopefully they will have the will to keep it. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, our participation in Iraq will reveal itself to be less a post-colonial folly, and more a necessary attempt to fight the next battle in the war on terrorism, a battle that is effectively reducing the capability of terrorists. At its worst, it has been a battle that has stopped the murder and torture of hundreds of thousands, and freed millions in the process.

Iraq is Iraq. Vietnam was Vietnam.

Got History?

Reference material: Vietnam, Stanley Karnow. A Bright and Shining Lie, Neil Sheehan, In Retrospect, Robert MacNamara. The Best and the Brightest, David Halberstam. Dereliction of Duty, H.R. McMaster. And about 20 others

1 comment:

Mixed Humor said...

Good points Mike, I've always found the comparisons to be driven by critics of the war desperate to spread doom and gloom.

I've got a small collection of quotes on pre-Iraq election rhetoric that includes some of the references to Vietnam...5 Days into the war!!


Good analysis overall Mike

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