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November 21, 2005

Vietnam Redux?

The left compares Iraq to Vietnam incessantly. Of course, they did that with our involvment in Central America in the '80s, the Gulf War, and Afghanistan, too. Bill Clinton got a pass, but one feels sure that if a Republican had sent troops to Kosovo it, too, would be "another Vietnam".

Iraq is not, and never was, "another Vietnam". The differences are many, and have been commented upon extensively elsewhere.

But now we have the incredible situation in which if Iraq isn't "another Vietnam", the Democrats, or some of them, anyway, are determined to make it one.

Mackubin Thomas Owens, in today's National Review Online, reminds us of just what did happen in Vietnam:

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."

Exactly. Many people seem to think that the South collapsed as soon as we pulled out. As Owens writes, this is not true.

It is just possible that if we pulled out of Iraq, and still committed substantial funding, continued training their army, and provided close air support, the current Iraqi government would survive.

But it is much more likely that Congress would cut off funding, forbid any but a few trainers (remember the restrictions on our trainers in El Salvador?), and through control of the pursestrings, eliminate the funds necessary to maintain air strikes. After all, prescription drug benefits and fiber to the desktop at your local public school are much more important than the lives of millions of Iraqis. And, bty, you can be sure I'm including Republicans as greedy in spending public money in order to get themselves reelected.

The result would be a massacre in Iraq well beyond anything we have currently seen. A four-way civil war would likely break out between the Sunnis, Shi'is, Kurds, and insurgents. Syria and Iran would certainly step up their involvement, even to the point of actual ground troops. We left Vietnam, cut off funding to the South Vietnamese government and failed to support them during the North's 1975 invasion, and the result was a bloodbath. Tens of thousands became known as the "boat people" as they fled in "the largest mass departure of asylum seekers by sea in modern history." Is this what the Democrats want? If not, why did they give a standing ovation to Rep John Murtha, who has not backed down from his call to withdraw troops?

Even if we continued the funding, training, and air support, it is highly likely that the government would devolve into a dictatorship, seeing democracy as an "unnecessary hassle" in the midst of a war.

In other News, the GOP Senators aren't Much Better

Mark Steyn reminded me this morning that

Last week, the Republican majority, to their disgrace and with 13 honorable exceptions, passed an amendment calling on the administration to lay out its "plan" for "ending" the war and withdrawing U.S. troops. They effectively signed on to the Democrat framing of the debate -- all that matters is the so-called "exit strategy." The only difference between Bill Frist's mushy Republicans and Harry Reid's shameless Democrats is that the latter want a firm date for withdrawal, so Zarqawi's insurgents can schedule an especially big car bomb to coincide with the formal handover of the Great Satan's guts.


The Marines are Still Doing What Marines Do Best

In other words, they're kicking butt. W Thomas Smith, Jr, describes in NRO what the Marines have been doing in Operation Steel Curtain. As for how the insurgents are doing:

In more than one instance — and to the delight of American and Iraqi troops — insurgents have been caught attempting to flee the battlefield dressed as women: Considered a particularly disgraceful act among Iraqis.

"They've proven to be cowards," says Kerr. "We found a number of them skulking among a flock of sheep trying to escape in Ubaydi, and there have been several instances of insurgents dressing up as women trying to escape."

I guess if I had the US Marines coming after me, I'd resort to desperate measures also.

The Larger View

I think this view of the situation in Iraq is a bit too optimistic, but then again James Dunnigan and Austin Bay of StrategyPage are pretty experienced analysts. You'll want to read the whole thing, but here's a taste:

If it weren't for Internet access to troops, expatriates and Iraqis in Iraq, you would think that coalition military operations in Iraq were a major disaster, and that prompt withdrawal was the only reasonable course of action. But the mass media view of the situation is largely fiction, conjured up in editorial offices outside Iraq, with foreign reporters in Iraq (most of them rarely leaving their heavily guarded hotels) providing color commentary, and not much else.

Posted by Tom at November 21, 2005 9:31 PM

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Gerald Ford has the staircase from the US Embassy in Saigon to remind him of how he wasn't able to help the people due to the congressional restraints.

Posted by: Anna at November 22, 2005 8:04 PM

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