The Documentary “The Vietnam War”: Artistic License as History
As time creeps or races by, those who experienced the Vietnam War are fading from the scene and it’s becoming increasingly important to record a history of that war that is truthful. Increasingly, the written word is being tossed aside in favor of film and the “documentary” – both allow for “artistic license” instead of facts.
Ken Burns and Lynn Novick took $30 million and ten years and used only 80 interviews that, like some others have said, tell how America was wrong, while the communist bloc with the American protestors and politicians were right all along.
Was the American soldier (using this as an all-encompassing term) always right, always moral, always politically correct (especially by today’s standards)? Of course not. Among the many things missing from the documentary were the answers to these same questions of the VC, NVA and the North Vietnamese Government who habitually violated all their agreements, including the Geneva Conventions.
The documentary cherry-picked American actions during the war – just as many predecessors have in books and films. But this was, unfortunately, predictable and expected.
Even before the first show aired, some in the press claimed the documentary to be a masterpiece, blah, blah. Now that they may have seen it, they won’t change their evaluations, egg on their faces are not something they know how to handle.
Too bad the documentary will be pushed as history – accuracy used to be something the press strove for, “but that was yesterday and yesterday’s gone.” A major problem will be in our schools, however, where accuracy will be presumed.
Just ask the 1-2.5 million persons who entered in re-education camps and listen hard for the whispers of the 165,000 who died as a result of the North’s inhumane treatment, though in the Paris treaty, they promised no retribution.
Months ago, Burns and Novick were interviewed with the last question asking if the war could have turned out differently? In reply, everything was the fault of the U.S., of course. When you set out to prove a point and you use only highly selective items to show how balanced on the subject you have been, then guess at the result.
Vietnam remains a communist country today because the military was not allowed to fight and win because the politicians knew best. Then, they sealed the fate of the Vietnamese by letting South Vietnam die on the vine, with nary a word by the press.
The Soviet effort was very much a scorched earth approach. They deliberately attacked the fragile irrigation systems and scattered millions of butterfly mines among the rural inhabitants so as to depopulate the North and East of the country.
As to the strategic reasons for doing so, who knows. Certainly the average conscript had no idea as why they were in Afghanistan.
The most plausible reason IMHO is they (as did everyone else) feared a Khomeini like revolution across the entire region. Subsequently the Soviet Army positioned itself at the rear of Khomeini's forces and forced the Mad Mullahs to eventually sue for peace with, our then ally, Saddam Insane.
That flags all manner of implications as to the nature of our support for the Muj.
Certainly the timing of Khomeini's 'drinking poison ' peace declaration to end the Iran-iraq War and the immediate announcement of the Soviet withdrawal, bolster this possibility, but who knows?
The Romans called it vastatio, the Koranic term is Ghazi, the Normans harrying, French chevauchee and the Punjabi - never to be overlooked - Ganimi Kava.
No matter who, when or what the important issue is that at no time was the plight of the natives of any concern to the instigators.
The leadership of the Talibs and their Punjabi masters are not stupid. In my experience I found them much more intelligent than our leadership - especially so in matters of strategy.
The moronic Talib foot-soldier was/is designed to create nothing but war, famine pestilence and death. At that they are masterful.
The only agreement the Punjabi want with the inhabitants west of the Indus is exactly what the Talibs are doing now and have always done.The Punjabi hostility towards the ethnic Persians who inhabit the TO predates the Great Pyramid.
Naked aggression -borne out by 5000 years of hostility - does not inspired peace negotiations, prisoner exchange, lines of control, DMZs whatever.
Needless to say a nuclear exchange is an apocalyptic obscenity but it is my view if we continue to refuse to shape our strategy around the first, foremost, supreme question Pakistan will succumb to the choke-hold their military and political elite has on the country's economy and a nuclear IED disaster will be an unavoidable outcome.
As to who,where,when a NIED strike/s occurs/s - DHL have that bit covered. Not sure about the 'Excellence' but targeting will certainly be as simple as it is deliverable.
"nor the very different approach made by the U.S./the West."
You can't describe the U.S.-led effort as a scorched-earth campaign heavy on the use of firepower compared to the Soviet conduct of their war. The Soviets did not invest $140 billion in Afghanistan's development with the partnership of 60+ nations and the United Nations. Yes, it actually is a very different approach. Also, a decade is far too short a timeline, especially considering how Iraq sucked up so many resources at the expense of Afghanistan, to render a final judgement. By many metrics of human development and governance, Afghanistan has actually improved remarkably, but the sustainability of that progress is in doubt because the key metric of sustainable security remains in doubt.
"(Which occur whether the "heavy-handed" Soviets/communist approach to "modernization" was applied -- or whether the U.S./the West's more nuanced approach is employed.)"
This is what I've been trying to prove is false all along. You are assuming that the transformation is so extremely alien as to generate sustained resistance, or at least the main body of sustained resistance. If you have David Petraeus saying he is okay with local shuras adjudicating disputes outside of the normal government's justice system then that is but one stated policy that respects local customs and recognizes them as an asset to be left alone.
To restate my previous point: "...such a strategy is doomed to failure if it does not properly involve the population as a stakeholder and if they are not properly involved in formulating and executing a strategy it will fail because it will not be sustained by the population once the intervening powers leave. That is an absolutely critical point in making sense of these wars, and the Afghans have been heavily involved in deciding their own future."
The U.S. has striven to thoroughly involve the native population in these conflicts though it certainly has been imperfect. If the native population is actively included in the decisionmaking of the international coalition at all levels of operations, then things that endanger popular support such as "profane" and "alien" transformations will be shaped by the input of those that represent the native population so that they would be made more acceptable. Solutions that are not acceptable to the population will not last, this is what you are arguing after all, and the international coalition fully knows it and puts this principle into practice.
Re: your notions of the Taliban, you might wish to consider this:
Re: your thought here:
"While I know far less about the Soviet war in Afghanistan than the present effort, I know that it was far more a scorched-earth campaign, heavy on the use of firepower, and not nearly as focused on development and governance as the current effort is. The character of the means employed were wildly different between the two conflicts."
As per your such (accurate I believe) thought, you might wish to reflect on why -- neither the Soviet/the communist approach you noted above -- nor the very different approach made by the U.S./the West -- why NEITHER of these approaches proved successful after over a decade of effort.
Herein, I am suggesting, of course, that there is some common matter/some common thread (specifically, and in both cases, a foreign intervening power's attempt to "transform" the state and societies of Afghanistan more along alien and profane political, economic, social and value lines -- and, thus, against the will of the population -- who are willing to fight and die to prevent same) which, most likely, explains these common, negative, results.
(Which occur whether the "heavy-handed" Soviets/communist approach to "modernization" was applied -- or whether the U.S./the West's more nuanced approach is employed.)
(dfil: If you should wish to pursue these matters further, then might I suggest that we move over to some Afghanistan War thread [of your choice] here on Small Wars Journal -- and no longer work, on these Afghanistan matters, here at a thread which is focused on "The Documentary of the Vietnam War?")
"with their version of "good governance." Good governance in most respects is going to be good governance anywhere, regardless of culture. There are numerous metrics of governance and human development - life expectancy, access to clean water, the ability of the government to collect taxes, those are fundamental across human civilization because it is about providing basic security and prosperity for a people and culture does not change this. The point on changing the role of women is certainly valid, but governance is far more about providing for the population more than it is about basic value or cultural issues such as gender roles. Insurgencies and civil wars do not break out in developed countries because 1) Their political decision-making process is inclusive in nature and allows for the competition for power and resources to happen peacefully 2) Good governance (which includes the previous point) provides for the people's needs (to include security), limiting grievances they would have against the government.
So why has Afghanistan experienced such sustained conflict despite major (though obviously insufficient) gains in governance? Because the Taliban is an extremely powerful and experienced insurgent movement with a safe haven in Pakistan that cannot be contested by the Afghan government or international forces, a safe haven that allows for a steady base to project power from. This allows them to sustain the conflict irrespective of all the major gains in governance Afghanistan has experienced since 9/11 (as evidenced by many metrics as can be found on the UNDP database), because they are based out of a territory that cannot be subjected to that same campaign effort. The Taliban fights the internationally supported Afghan government primarily due to their desire to be the ruling authority in Afghanistan and this desire is due to their experience being that authority in the 90s but then suffering the setback of the U.S. removing them from power after 9/11. The reason the war has gone on for so long is less a factor of the population's grievances and more a function of lacking governance with respect to security, policing, and connecting rural populations to the national government. Grievances of the population against the international coalition and Afghan government can certainly be capitalized upon by the Taliban, but it is not the basis of their resistance.
"This, even though our enemy invaders had taken exceptionally great pains NOT to allow civilian casualties." " Transform these outlying states and societies more along, in this case, alien and profane."
It is more than just rules of engagement and the discriminate use of firepower. It is an entire strategy that is predicated on helping the population. But such a strategy is doomed to failure if it does not properly involve the population as a stakeholder and if they are not properly involved in formulating and executing a strategy it will fail because it will not be sustained by the population once the intervening powers leave. That is an absolutely critical point in making sense of these wars, and the Afghans have been heavily involved in deciding their own future. Just because a country is occupied does not guarantee that its people have been totally cut off from government decisionmaking, it is a nuanced relationship. Some had even argued Afghanistan and Iraq were allowed too much sovereignty with respect to certain decisions because there were so many decisions that were made by their leaders that clearly harmed good governance, such as overt corruption and sectarian policies of discrimination. For example, the U.S. once threatened to intervene when the Prime Minister of Iraq angrily threatened to march on the Kurds during the Iraq War. That is not "transformation among alien lines", it is preventing something that would have clearly harmed the security and unity of the country by any measure.
While I know far less about the Soviet war in Afghanistan than the present effort, I know that it was far more a scorched-earth campaign, heavy on the use of firepower, and not nearly as focused on development and governance as the current effort is. The character of the means employed were wildly different between the two conflicts. There is no viable comparison to be made between a hypothetical Red Dawn situation with the U.S. versus Afghanistan because the U.S. is not a failed/failing state that has experienced decades of sustained conflict and is home to a major insurgent movement that draws fears of regional war with neighboring nations while also facilitating transnational terrorism thus drawing the concern of the international community. The Taliban, the main anti-government insurgent force in Afghanistan, is not from Afghanistan itself, and can't be assumed to represent the popular will of the people. There would still be widespread war in Afghanistan due to lack of good governance even with no international presence, as was seen in the 90s.
"a. The exceptionally well-known "civilian casualties gives rise to militancy" concept? (This, even though our enemy invaders had taken exceptionally great pains NOT to allow civilian casualties.) And not, as it were,"
"Via a theory that suggests that our civilizations' people would rather fight and die; this, rather than be "transformed" more along alien and profane political, economic, social and value lines (thereby, becoming "governed adequately"/"governed properly," in the foreign invading powers eyes)?"
Of course these factors can sustain an insurgency. There is no debate there, save for the point that in the specific case of the Taliban their resistance comes from wanting to be the ruling authority rather than popular grievances of those they seek to rule. But what I am arguing against is the simplistic conception that an intervention that conducts a nation building project is inherently against the will of the people. Consider what I've already mentioned below:
"If the intervention respects the rights and culture of the people and demonstrates an interest in their self-sufficiency then there can be healthy dynamic between foreigners and indigenous populations in this context." (My point on the absolute necessity of including the population in strategy formulation and execution ties in to this.)
"In regard to Afghanistan, neither the Taliban nor international forces are native to the country. Yet why do 92% of Afghans prefer the internationally supported Afghan government compared to 4% supporting the Taliban?"
"The fact that in both Iraq and Afghanistan that the anti-government insurgencies have caused the overwhelming majority of civilian casualties (as recorded by every organization that has made such tabulations) guarantees an enormous amount of animosity toward the insurgency from the civilian population."
"General David Petraeus gave an interview as CENTCOM chief that revealed one way this principle was put into practice, that he was fine with Afghans using local shuras to arbitrate disputes despite the fact it operates outside the Afghan state's democratically-modeled justice department which doesn't necessarily make it incompatible with broader goals."
"This is after all about rehabilitating failed/failing states (which is completely different in nature than imperial conquest) and can present an opportunity to the indigenous population. Afghanistan is one of the poorest nations in the world, yet they have been given tens of billions to rebuild their nation, and for that they are thankful."
Insurgency is the most-common and longest-lasting form of warfare in human history. Some insurgencies last decades, it is not surprising at all that the Afghanistan war is lasting as long as it has. Since the war on terror is around a dozen such insurgencies happening across multiple conflicts, it's easy to see why this has been called a generational struggle.
dfil: Above you said:
The "all-encompassing" strategic dynamics are indeed failed and failing states, that is what all insurgencies have in common, a lack of governance.
So, given my comparison to our operations in Afghanistan now, as being comparable to those of the Soviets/the communists in Afghanistan in the 1980s, then:
a. The insurgency that developed in the 1980s -- and versus the Soviets/the communists back then (an insurgency that the U.S./the West came to support?) --
b. This insurgency came into being because of (a) the "weak, failing and failed states" thesis and because of the associated (b) "lack of governance" phenomenon associated with same? This, allowing that:
1. The Soviets/the communists back then could -- quite honestly, honorably and correctly -- (a) intervene (as necessary -- does not have to always be invasion and occupation -- can be more like our operations in places such as Africa, etc., today?); this, to:
2. Transform these outlying states and societies more along, in this case, alien and profane Soviet/communist political, economic, social and value lines?
Herein, (a) PROPER "governance" being adequately provided/restored and, therefore, (b) the native populations having no right to be pissed off? (For example, for the reasons noted below -- which seem to apply to both the Soviet/the communist "provide proper and adequate governance" case in the 1980s -- and the U.S./the West "provide proper and adequate governance" case today?)
The overt attack on Afghan social values was presented, by the resistance forces, as an attack on Islamic values. This was also seen as an attack on the honor of women. The initiatives introduced by PDPA (the communist Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan) -- to impose literacy on women and girls -- inevitably raised questions as to the potential role of women outside the home. This provoked defensive actions from men, concerned with protecting the honor of women with their families, and to also ensure that traditional roles of women within the domestic sphere continued to be performed. It also generated fears that the important roles of women, as the primary vehicles for passing traditional and Islamic values from one generation to another, would be undermined if they were exposed to external and, particularly, non-Islamic values. This enabled the exiled radical Islamic parties to claim leadership of the resistance and to also declare a jihad.
(Item in parenthesis above is mine.)
http://www.amazon.com/Afghanistan-Armies-Empires-Peter-Marsden/dp/184511... (On Page 58, in Chapter 4 entitled "The Soviet Military Intervention."
Bottom Line Thought -- Based on the Above:
Thus: If a "Red Dawn" situation developed in the U.S. (invasion by a foreign power -- bent on providing the U.S. with their version of "good governance.") And if this U.S./Western insurgency showed that it had both "teeth" and, indeed, "legs" (the ability to seemingly replace every member taken off the battlefield with two more to take their place -- some of these being "foreign [i.e., other "western" -- maybe from Canada?] fighters"), then in this case, also, this phenomenon could only be explained by:
a. The exceptionally well-known "civilian casualties gives rise to militancy" concept? (This, even though our enemy invaders had taken exceptionally great pains NOT to allow civilian casualties.) And not, as it were,
b. Via a theory that suggests that our civilizations' people would rather fight and die; this, rather than be "transformed" more along alien and profane political, economic, social and value lines (thereby, becoming "governed adequately"/"governed properly," in the foreign invading powers eyes)?
The "all-encompassing" strategic dynamics are indeed failed and failing states, that is what all insurgencies have in common, a lack of governance. But the strategy to deal with threats emanating from such states need not always mean intervention or imposing a way of life onto people. Has the U.S. launched any full-scale interventions on the scope and scale of Iraq and Afghanistan in Africa, where millions died as a result of failed states in the 90s? No, but that is the center of gravity of the world's development assistance efforts. PEPFAR and PMI, programs passed by the Bush administration, have saved millions of lives (read the fact sheets if you don't believe me) in Africa by helping those at risk from HIV/AIDS and malaria, respectively. Security cooperation measures such as military-to-military partnership and training is another major line of effort in Africa. And the list goes on, but it does not conform to your conception that the U.S. strategy or main means to address this problem is to foster democracy via military intervention.
The national security thinking you cite compliments my original argument, that the purpose of these efforts is to contain insurgency and conflict, and not your original argument of proliferating democracy. Again, democratization is a means to that security goal, and the reason failed and failing states present security challenges is that they foster conditions from which insurgent movements and civil wars can spread (poorly executed intervention, if it fails to produce lasting stability, can cause the same problems). If an international coalition of nations is going to conduct regime change, it could only replace it with some democratic system and no other form of government for lack of alternatives. That does not guarantee that democracy cannot accommodate a large variety of cultures or cannot be made compatible with certain customary methods of governance. General David Petraeus gave an interview as CENTCOM chief that revealed one way this principle was put into practice, that he was fine with Afghans using local shuras to arbitrate disputes despite the fact it operates outside the Afghan state's democratically-modeled justice department which doesn't necessarily make it incompatible with broader goals.
"The problem, of course, is that many of these folks would rather fight and die -- so as to prevent these such alien and profane transformations of their states and societies."
In regard to Afghanistan, neither the Taliban nor international forces are native to the country. Yet why do 92% of Afghans prefer the internationally supported Afghan government compared to 4% supporting the Taliban? Probably because the Taliban failed miserably at governing the nation when they had control, put millions of women out of work, and could not make lasting peace with ethnic minorities. Compare that to the international effort, which has put more money ($140+ billion) into rebuilding Afghanistan than was invested in the reconstruction of Western Europe in the immediate aftermath of WWII. Afghans (and Iraqis) regularly have a higher turnout in their democratic elections than many developed Western nations (including the U.S.) which doesn't do well to support the argument that these processes are alien and unwelcome to them. The fact that in both Iraq and Afghanistan that the anti-government insurgencies have caused the overwhelming majority of civilian casualties (as recorded by every organization that has made such tabulations) guarantees an enormous amount of animosity toward the insurgency from the civilian population.
Ultimately this idea that the U.S. war machine is trying to force foreign culture and norms down the throats of people, and that these recent anti-government insurgencies are simply popular resistance to this effort, is a massive misconception devoid of nuance. In fact, I will have to go the extra mile and remark that it reveals that you've spent next to no time actually taking the time and making a serious effort to understand these conflicts. Anyone who has studied Iraq and Afghanistan wars will know that the vast majority of anti-government insurgency for most of the duration of the wars was from forces that did not reflect the popular will of the people or adequately represent their interests, whether it be extremist Shia militias supported by Iran, ISIS/AQI, or the Taliban. Now of course there can be popular revolts against foreign intervention, but it not some guaranteed thing that will always be the case. If the intervention respects the rights and culture of the people and demonstrates an interest in their self-sufficiency then there can be healthy dynamic between foreigners and indigeneous populations in this context. This healthy dynamic in recent wars is readily revealed by numerous primary source accounts that describe the grassroots-level partnerships between Afghans/Iraqis and foreign troops/civilians. This is after all about rehabilitating failed/failing states (which is completely different in nature than imperial conquest) and can present an opportunity to the indigenous population. Afghanistan is one of the poorest nations in the world, yet they have been given tens of billions to rebuild their nation, and for that they are thankful.
It is all the more remarkable that you are making such comments on what is perhaps the #1 site out there in terms of featuring literature on how cultural intelligence, respect for human life, and fostering host-nation self-sufficiency has played a role in recent counterinsurgent wars. This comment is especially revealing: "for every enemy taken off the battlefield, two or more seem to emerge to take their place?" The inherent logic between civilian casualties giving rise to militancy is something that has been extremely well-understood by the U.S. military in the latter halfs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as evidenced by the counterinsurgency field manual, top-level guidance from senior commanders, and an endless amount of methods and techniques that are predicated on respecting this dynamic. These methods and techniques have been extremely well-covered and discussed on this site, it is in fact the entire point this site even exists in the first place.
From its first page, the National Security Strategy focuses attention on the dangers posed by failed states: “America is now threatened less by conquering states than we are by failing ones.” In his letter introducing the NSS, President Bush elaborates: “The events of September 11, 2001, taught us that weak states, like Afghanistan, can pose as great a danger to our national interests as strong states. Poverty does not make poor people into terrorists and murderers. Yet, poverty, weak institutions, and corruption can make weak states vulnerable to terrorist networks and drug cartels within their borders.” ...
How to defeat terrorism: Intelligence, integration, and development
President Bush is correct to focus on the problems posed by failed and failing states. The NSS also represents a new direction for this administration, which had not previously emphasized concerns about failed states in explications of the U.S. national interest. During his campaign, President Bush disparaged “nation-building.” In this new NSS, the Bush administration strikes a note of continuity with President Clinton’s last NSS (issued in December 1999), which identified failed states as among the threats to U.S. interests. President Bush has taken this concept a step further, stressing the direct threat such states pose to U.S. national security.
In their compelling book Fixing Failed States, Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart offer a sobering prognosis for global stability and human security. They assert that “[f]orty to sixty states, home to nearly two billion people, are either sliding backward and teetering on the brink of implosion, or have already collapsed.” This reality has profound implications for the future of foreign interventions for the purpose of nation-building. What might this entail for Australia? And what is involved in nation-building in failed or failing states? According to Ghani and Lockhart, the situation “is at the heart of a worldwide systemic crisis that constitutes the most serious challenge to global stability in the new millennium.”
(You may wish to note that the "Ashraf Ghani" -- noted in the quoted item immediately above -- is [a] the current President of Afghanistan, [b] has a "development specialist" background and [c] worked at the World Bank. https://president.gov.af/en/page/8262/8263)
Bottom Line Thought -- Based on the Above:
a. Thus, such things as "nation-building" -- in places such as Afghanistan --
b. These can, and indeed are, often seen in broader, more all-encompassing "strategic dynamics" terms, to wit: in terms larger than simply quelling the Taliban insurgency -- or even "defeating terrorism" more generally?
(Herein, our overall goal would seem to be to [a] transform these outlying states and societies more along our, often alien and profane to them, political, economic, social and value lines and to, thereby, [b] cause these such states and societies to become less of a problem for -- and more of an asset to -- the U.S./the West and the Western-led global economy. The problem, of course, is that many of these folks would rather fight and die -- so as to prevent these such alien and profane transformations of their states and societies. [Explains today, much as the case with the Soviet invasion earlier, why -- today as back then -- for every enemy taken off the battlefield, two or more seem to emerge to take their place?] These such horrible transformations, in their eyes, being for the purpose of better satisfying the wants, needs and desires -- not of the native populations [THEY did not initiate these alien and profane "modernization" campaigns] -- but, rather, of the alien and profane foreign states and their societies.)
"would not seem to be best understood in such limited and myopic terms. (Thus to note that we did not initially "go into Afghanistan" as you suggest "to contain an insurgency" but, rather, to facilitate one; herein, using the Northern Alliance to overthrow the Taliban government."
"More in terms of the larger, more all-encompassing and more enduring Acheson/Rice "ends" that the U.S./the West seeks to achieve throughout the world; yesterday and today?" No, No, No, ten million times No, I am really running out of ways to say the same argument I have made all this time. You are cherrypicking statements of grand strategic vision and applying them in a blanket manner as a catch-all explanation. Just because Acheson/Rice or whatever other thing you cite states that the United States wants to foster the rise of democratic institutions in the world does not actually mean that is the entire point or ultimate logic of any or every given action or intervention. To copy and paste from my previous comment "You need to realize that these issues have their own strategic dynamics unique to themselves and can be independent of an overarching vision."
The desired end goal really is as narrow as I describe (or "myopic" as you say), as evidenced by numerous policy documents on Afghanistan. The threat of a major insurgent movement in South Asia has been more than enough reason to motivate 60+ nations (and the United Nations, and a massive constellation of NGOs) to maintain involvement in Afghanistan even after all these years and all this expenditure. The international community, not just the U.S., totally recognizes that insurgency will be an enduring element of the world as it always has been, but the Taliban movement just happens to be one of the most powerful and resilient insurgent movements in modern history. That threat was enough to prompt this scale of action, and is a major dynamic that dozens of world leaders felt need be dealt with, hence an issue that has its "own strategic dynamics unique" to itself.
In regards to using the Northern Alliance to overthrow the Taliban government, that was but the first phase of the operation, not the strategic end itself. Once the Taliban were overthrown, institutions would need to be created in order to prevent its return and limit the Taliban's ability to grow in influence.
Your comment that "much as our experience in Afghanistan today indicates, is often more likely to cause/create -- rather than cure -- an insurgency?" is completely false because the Taliban movement predates efforts to foster democracy in Afghanistan. The intervention could not give rise to something that predates it, especially when the Taliban was at the height of its power prior to intervention. Intervention (and anything else that can cause a lapse in stability) can certainly give rise to insurgency if that intervention is poorly executed and lacks whole-of-government design. ISIS as the direct product of a poorly conceived and executed intervention would be a proper example, but the Taliban is not.
"Rather, might we agree that, both in Dean Acheson time and today, the (forced when necessary) installation of democracy in foreign lands, by the U.S., et al; this is a not a goal in-and-of-itself but, rather, a means to an end."
This is where Ms Rice demonstrated either a lack of appreciation for history, or simply ignored the realities to make her point. Acheson's policy of containment didn't send the U.S. into foreign countries to recraft them internally. U.S. policy was to support and assist in defense of non-communist countries. You could argue the point wrt the Bay of Pigs invasion (although could just as easily say it supported reversing the overthrow of a non-communist government) and some of the Reagan-era adventures in Central America, but even there we tended to be hands-off about the internal workings.
The closest you might come in U.S. history would be the invasion of the Philippines during the Spanish-American War, and the subsequent adoption of the islands as a U.S. protectorate evolving to self-rule and post-WWII independence. But that relationship was also the product of making it up as we went along, rather than the product of a deliberate strategy.
No more of this until after the New Year....
First, might we agree, that no government of the United States -- yesterday in Dean Acheson's time or today -- were and/or are in the business of "building democracy for the sake of building democracy."
Rather, might we agree that, both in Dean Acheson time and today, the (forced when necessary) installation of democracy in foreign lands, by the U.S., et al; this is a not a goal in-and-of-itself but, rather, a means to an end.
This, "end" it would seem, in Truman/Acheson's day, and in our present era also -- while certainly extending to "containing/making a state more resilient to an insurgency" when and where such was and/or is considered necessary -- would not seem to be best understood in such limited and myopic terms. (Thus to note that we did not initially "go into Afghanistan" as you suggest "to contain an insurgency" but, rather, to facilitate one; herein, using the Northern Alliance to overthrow the Taliban government. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7249/mg595osd.11?seq=5#page_scan_tab_con…)
Thus, to see the true goal of "building democracy," etc. -- back in Truman/Acheson's day, and in our current era also -- in larger, more all-encompassing and, indeed, more ENDURING terms? Such as:
a. Those addressed in my discussion of then-Secretary of State Acheson and NSC-68 below? And
b. Those addressed by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice above?
(These, in truth -- given Secretary of State Rice's "picture hanging" and related comments above -- to be seen as, if not exactly the same, then certainly similar to and compatible with one another?)
Thus, to see the ISIF excerpt and document above:
a. Less in your myopic, limited (and thus erroneous) "containing/curing insurgency" terms.
(Herein to suggest that the attempt to install democracy, much as our experience in Afghanistan today indicates, is often more likely to cause/create -- rather than cure -- an insurgency?) And,
b. More in terms of the larger, more all-encompassing and more enduring Acheson/Rice "ends" that the U.S./the West seeks to achieve throughout the world; yesterday and today?
(Which accepts that [a] such things as insurgency will be a common problem/a frequent "cost of doing business" and, thus, that [b] such things as SFABs will be needed to see these projects through?)
"Next, a question: Is it not in this context (see the Acheson/Rice nexus above) that we should see and understand such things as -- cir. 2008 -- this "ISAF Strategic Vision" document, and specifically therein, the excerpt I provide below?"
That is correct, this is not the context of that document. The reason to go to Afghanistan was not to build democracy for the sake of building democracy, it was to contain insurgency. And by building democratic institutions, the Afghan state becomes more resilient against insurgency. Therefore democratization is not the goal, but the means.
dfil and Warlock:
Given that I have noted Dean Acheson and NSC-68 in my comments below, I thought that you might find the following items interesting:
First, from then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cir. 2005:
Soon after arriving at the State Department earlier this year, I hung a portrait of Dean Acheson in my office. Over half a century ago, as America sought to create the world anew in the aftermath of World War II, Acheson sat in the office that I now occupy. And I hung his picture where I did for a reason.
Like Acheson and his contemporaries, we live in an extraordinary time -- one in which the terrain of international politics is shifting beneath our feet and the pace of historical change outstrips even the most vivid imagination. My predecessor's portrait is a reminder that in times of unprecedented change, the traditional diplomacy of crisis management is insufficient. Instead, we must transcend the doctrines and debates of the past and transform volatile status quos that no longer serve our interests. What is needed is a realistic statecraft for a transformed world.
President Bush outlined the vision for it in his second inaugural address: "It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." This is admittedly a bold course of action, but it is consistent with the proud tradition of American foreign policy, especially such recent presidents as Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan. ...
Next, a question: Is it not in this context (see the Acheson/Rice nexus above) that we should see and understand such things as -- cir. 2008 -- this "ISAF Strategic Vision" document, and specifically therein, the excerpt I provide below?
1. We gather in Bucharest to reaffirm our determination to help the people and the elected Government of Afghanistan build an enduring stable, secure, prosperous and democratic state, respectful of human rights and free from the threat of terrorism. ...
Bottom Line Thought -- Based on the Above:
If we believe that we made a mistake (or not) in Vietnam. And likewise believe that we made a (similar?) mistake (or not) in Afghanistan and Iraq. Then should we not consider some of the potential parallels and similarities that may be associated with these such conflicts -- parallels and similarities such as those I attempt to explore here and elsewhere?
Again attempting to come full circle: Herein, should we say that our "Documentary on the Vietnam War" adequately addressed the -- enduring it would seem -- "Open Door" aspects of America's post-World War II grand strategies (see my by Bill C. | December 15, 2017 - 11:41 am comment below); enduring aspects of America's post-World War II grand strategies which seem to get us in trouble again and again?
Certainly...if you read the *whole* thing, instead of cherry-picking parts and taking them out of context, it's talking about a) maintaining the institutions of the United States within the United States, and b) rebuilding the economies and institutions of Europe -- "...those parts of the free world which have been so badly shaken by war...." Again, there's nothing in NSC-68 that supports your theory of U.S. strategic conspiracy to force the whole world to look like us. Much the same sort of language permeates the recently released National Security Strategy: "encourage," "promote," and so on.
Give Huntington a rest for the holiday.
Banjo RantCorp and Warlock: Re: your thoughts and questions below: Might the following help:
Even if there were no Soviet Union we would face the great problem of a free society, accentuated many fold in the industrial age, of reconciling order, security, and the need for participation, with the requirement of freedom.
While Truman Administration officials were certainly concerned with the Soviet Union ... Rather their gravest concern was with rebuilding the global economy in the wake of the Great Depression and World War II. Virtually every move the Truman Administration undertook aimed at this effort. Part of that required containing communism, but, as Acheson told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, "Even if there were no Russia, if there was no communism, we would still face very grave problems in trying to exist and strengthen those parts of the free world which have been so badly shaken by war and its consequences, the two world wars and the consequences of both of them."
If for argument's sake we accept the existence of Grand Strategy purported in your quotation it strikes me that we did not remotely adhere to its sympathies when we started out on our Vietnam adventure in 1953.
I would suggest Ho et al would have traded with us, exchanged full diplomatic, economic ties etc. etc if our primary motive was as you oft insist.
Unfortunately we did nothing of the sort.
We instead insisted on imposing a colonialist model of elitist Catholicism on a Buddhist population; firstly with European masters, and after that failed, proping up the Catholic lackery of the vanquished French - within the boundaries of a fictitious 'nation' - into which we threw 500K round-eye troops for good measure.
I mean to ask could it get more un-American and more economically ruinous than that. Personally I couldn't imagine a worse approach if a merchantist Grand Strategy was a primary motivator.
When the going started to get tough our leadership cited the danger of the possibility that the PAVN leadership would entertain replacing French colonialism with Chinese hegemony!
That lunacy convinced the PAVN (and the PLA for that matter) that we were liars or insane or both.
IMHO drawing lessons from such a cacophony of strategic mindlessness offers up very little insight into our current difficultlies in Afghanistan and Iraq.
I mean to say nobody is suggesting we impose Christianity on either country , we have very few troops on the ground and as to how we might recoup the treasure we expended; in both Afghanistan and Iraq -every road, track and goat trail would have to be paved in solid gold just to pay the interest on our outlays.
You need to reread this point I made until it is fully understood: "The U.S. (and dozens of other nations) is clearly there to contain an insurgency (as evidenced by numerous official policy statements and documents), and democratic institutions just happen to compliment that effort. You are clearly reading certain statements of strategic vision and applying it to everything in a blanket manner."
Perhaps I need to clarify the point on "numerous official policy statements and documents" I reference. I am talking about policy statements and documents ON AFGHANISTAN. Please take the time to read any one of the numerous 100+ page policy documents that have been published by the U.S. government that provide an overview of the war in Afghanistan so that you may come to understand the intent of that effort as it has actually been expressed for years. Then you will realize why the U.S. (and dozens of other nations) are there.
The "information" you have provided above is still the "certain statements of strategic vision" that I am referencing. You cannot simply cite something on grand strategy and then assume it is the context of all decision-making. That is catch-all logic. You need to realize that these issues have their own strategic dynamics unique to themselves and can be independent of an overarching vision.
"Do the above explanations help re: the questions in your comment below? As to your specific thought that only the threat posed by the Soviet Union drove the NSC-68 "Open Door" strategic train, did you not see the quoted item which I provided from NSC-68, wherein, a clear statement to the contrary is put forward (see: "a policy which we would probably pursue even if there were no Soviet threat.")"
Again, you're taking words from a document, putting your on interpretation on them, and declaring that viewpoint is the one and only truth. I agree there are some people out there who share your interpretation, and your belief that this somehow automatically drives the U.S. to intervene. That doesn't make it correct, let alone smart.
As Williams put it, the goal of U.S. grand strategy has been to create an "Open Door world" -- and international system, or "world order" -- made up of states that are open and subscribe to the United State's liberal values and institutions and that are open to U.S. economic penetration. An Open Door world rests, therefore, on two pillars: the economic Open Door (maintaining an open international economic system) and the political Open Door (spreading democracy and liberalism abroad). These pillars are linked by the PERCEPTION that "closure" abroad threatens the survival of American core values -- what policymakers call "the American way of life" -- at home. ... In other words, U.S grand strategy is based on the Open Door-derived assumption that political and economic liberalism cannot flourish at home unless they are safe abroad. This deeply rooted belief was reiterated by President George W. Bush in his second inaugural address, when he declared, "the survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands." ...
(See Pages 30 and 31.)
America's involvement in Indochina in the late 1940s and early 1950s -- the first step down the "path to Vietnam" -- is a good example of how the link between economic openness and grand strategy not only requires the United States to defends its allies from direct threat but to guarantee their economic access to the periphery. ...
Although Indochina's intrinsic strategic value was minimal, it became important because Washington viewed it as a firewall to prevent the more economically vital parts of Southeast Asia from falling under Communist control. The United States crossed the most crucial threshold on the path to the Vietnam War in the early 1950s, when Washington concluded that the strategic requirements of economic openness -- specifically Southeast Asia's economic importance to Japan and Western Europe -- necessitated that containment be extended to that region. The progressive U.S. entanglement in Indochina that culminated in the Vietnam War was the logical consequence of Washington's commitment to the economic Open Door.
(See Pages 128 and 129.)
(From Christopher Layne's 2006 "The Peace of Illusions: American Grand Strategy from 1940 to the Present.")
(Slapout: Re: your thoughts below on our Constitution: Note that the preamble to our Constitution will be specifically quoted and discussed in NSC-68 -- the "Open Door" document whose rationale for intervention seems to extend even unto our present time [see President Bush above and, accordingly, our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq today].)
(Warlock: Do the above explanations help re: the questions in your comment below? As to your specific thought that only the threat posed by the Soviet Union drove the NSC-68 "Open Door" strategic train, did you not see the quoted item which I provided from NSC-68, wherein, a clear statement to the contrary is put forward (see: "a policy which we would probably pursue even if there were no Soviet threat.")
(dfil: You said: "To also say that Afghanistan is part of some grand democratization project is also frankly absurd." dfil: Do you want to reconsider this and your other thoughts -- based on the information that I have provided above?)
(COL Jones: Note that this book by Christopher Layne seems to, in general I believe, both agree with and support certain of your ideas and contentions.)
Attempting to come full circle now:
Should we say that our "Documentary on the Vietnam War" adequately addressed, rather glossed over, or, indeed, completely ignored -- the compelling "Open Door" aspects of America's, enduring, post-World War II grand strategy outlined above?
I believe that premise is fundamentally flawed. There is no mandate per the Constitution to go abroad and enforce our will on other systems of government in order to remain safe. What the Constitution does mandate is a requirement to defend the USA, which as President Reagan so aptly understood, we should install a peace shield around our country not constantly provoke adversaries with a threat of invasion and occupation.
This fundamentally flawed understanding of the Constitutional mandate and the resulting Foreign policies are the root cause of the security issues we face today.
"The objectives of a free society are determined by its fundamental values -- and by the necessity for maintaining the material environment in which they flourish."
Where in this statement does it mandate running around reorganizing and changing other countries? It certainly provides a rationale for opposing the Soviet Union, which at the time was, with varying levels of success, trying to bring more and more of the world under its exclusive influence and control -- a credible, existential threat to U.S. relationships with other countries, U.S. allies, and to the U.S. itself. Nowhere does anything say "maintaining the material environment" equates to "organize, order and orient other states and societies so as to best provide for the wants, needs and desires of the U.S./the West."
There's also certainly nothing in the above quote that's at odds with this one:
"Moreover, absent a reversal in Russia, there is now no near-term threat to America's existence. ... Above all, we are threatened by sluggish economic growth, which undermines the security of our people as well as that of allies and friends abroad. ... America's challenge today is to lead on the basis of opportunity more than fear."
That all said, your two suggested policy objectives are good ones, so long as your realize there are many roads to get there that don't involve taking over the Soviets' old role to transform the world economic and political system.
"Fear, pride and confusion" -- "over what conditions we need for national success" -- these WOULD NOT seem to be our primary motivation. Rather, something akin to "properly understood need, necessity and opportunity;" THESE, in stark contrast, would seem to drive our anti-self-determination efforts; yesterday as today.
First, as to actual "need" and "necessity" (rather than as to "fear, pride, and confusion") -- from the Old Cold War and NSC-68:
"The objectives of a free society are determined by its fundamental values and by the necessity for maintaining the material environment in which they flourish. ... Our overall policy at the present time may be described as one designed to foster a world environment in which the American system can survive and flourish. ... a policy which we would probably pursue even if there were no Soviet threat."
Next, as to actual "need" and "opportunity"(and not so much "fear, pride, and confusion") -- from the Post-Old Cold War and former NSA Lakes's introduction to then-President Clinton's Engagement and Enlargement Strategy:
"Moreover, absent a reversal in Russia, there is now no near-term threat to America's existence. ... Above all, we are threatened by sluggish economic growth, which undermines the security of our people as well as that of allies and friends abroad. ... America's challenge today is to lead on the basis of opportunity more than fear."
Bottom Line Thought -- Based on the Above:
Above all, I am impressed with the honesty -- and the clarity -- which is to be found in the above quote from NSC-68:
"The objectives of a free society are determined by its fundamental values -- and by the necessity for maintaining the material environment in which they flourish."
Herein, to understand that states and societies which are not organized, ordered and oriented more along modern western political, economic, social and value lines; these such states and societies are thought to deny the U.S./the West this such "material environment" which we require.
Thus, the requirement to deny "self-determination" -- and to organize, order and orient other states and societies so as to best provide for the wants, needs and desires of the U.S./the West -- this seems to become something of a sacred duty for American foreign policy.
Finally, for a possible proper context/a possible proper perspective:
The principle (of self-determination) has been followed when it does not conflict with higher priority United States objectives or in those instances when following the principle adds rather than detracts from the ability of the United States to satisfy even more fundamental objectives of responsible policy.
(Item in parenthasis above is mine.)
My suggested examples -- of "higher priority U.S. objectives"/"more fundamental objectives of responsible policy?"
a. Achieving and maintaining the "material environment" by which our fundamental values are maintained. And, correspondingly,
b. "Fostering a world environment in which the American system can survive and flourish."
One would do well to consider that the US did not "defeat" the Soviet Union or Communism. Communism collapsed of it's own weight; and the Soviet's were never defeated - their government quit. The net effect is a "win," but it is a very different type of win than comes with far less privilege than one gets from imposing a defeat.
Equally we should not take too much credit for increasingly empowered populations and enlightened societies turning to some variation of democracy.
We're not a bad nation - but we've allowed our fears, our pride, and our confusion over what conditions we need for national success to rationalize some very bad decisions and behavior.
The problem here appears to be that:
a. The "tragedy of those three failures" (Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan); these WOULD NOT seem to "loom large" -- as a reason for "changing, "evolving," etc. -- this, when compared to:
b. Our amazing successes, to wit: the fact that -- via our anti-self-determination approaches post-World War II ("containment of communism" during the Old Cold War; "advancing market democracy" in current age) --
1. The threat of communism and the Soviet Union was largely defeated/curtailed/overcome. (Herein, only communist N. Korea causing us significant problems today?) And:
2. Our "enduring interest" -- of "fostering a world environment in which the American system can survive and flourish" -- significantly advanced. (Herein, 87 new democratic nations being added to our roster since 1974.)
Thus, it is these amazing and many "successes" -- rather than those few "failures" -- seeming to validate and, thus, still drive, our anti-self-determination strategies, etc., "train?"
(Thus, when I tuned into C-Span recently, and watched LTG Michael Nagata, Director, Directorate of Strategic Operational Planning at the National Counterterrorism Center; John E. McLaughlin, former Acting Director of the Central Intelligence Agency; Jon Alterman, Senior Vice President and Director of CSIS's Middle East Program; and Christine Wormuth, former Deputy Undersecretary Department of Defense for Strategy, Plans, and Force Development -- watched these folks discuss [a] terrorism in N. Africa, etc., and [b] the best approach to same -- these folks seem to conclude, near the end of their such discussion, that:
a. Our anti-self-determination approach was still the best way to go [our "whole of government" efforts to be understood in this context]; this, given that:
b. Such was the manner by which we [a] ultimately brought communism and the Soviet Union to its knees and, thereby, [b] advanced our ongoing effort to "foster a world environment in which the American system can survive and flourish.")
https://www.c-span.org/video/?438027-5/security-threats-north-africa-pa… (Note: One can go in -- to about the 40 minute mark -- to see what appears to be this/these conclusions.)
(Note: The only "change"/"evolution," that I seem to be seeing re: our current anti-self-determination approaches, is the acceptance of that fact that, post-the Old Cold War, [a] our "soft power" has failed us in certain parts of the world and, thus and accordingly [b] our installation of and/or support for authoritarian governors/governments -- before conflict if possible but after conflict if necessary -- may be needed; this, to transform outlying states and societies more along modern western lines.)
I did not say we were a failure as a nation. I said we failed in how we understood, framed and approached those three situations.
If a man lives to be 100, but gets divorced three times for making the same mistake of having an affair with his mother-in-law; you don't rationalize that he had an enduring interest to engage in that flawed behavior; and that overall his life was a success.
Armed with a better sense of the nature of those three situations; Armed with a better sense of how the dynamics of major power intervention into the political dynamics of others was evolving in the post-WWII (accelerating in the post-Cold War) strategic environments; Armed with a better sense of our own truly vital interests; Armed with greater confidence in the power of self-determination and the ability of our own system of governance to survive in a world where others might decide to take paths better suited to their own cultures. Armed with these things, we could have avoided the tragedy of those three failures.
We would do well to appreciate and accept that self-determination is the ultimate expression of "democracy" - even if a population opts to adopt a communist or Islamist flavored, autocratic approach to governance.
Are you not clearly wrong -- to suggest that the U.S./the West has "failed" -- herein, you (improperly?) focusing on certain battles (such as the Battle of Vietnam and/or the Battles of Afghanistan and Iraq); this, instead of focusing on:
a. The Campaigns (to "contain communism" in the Old Cold War and to "advance market democracy" in the Post-Cold War era) and
b. The Long/Generational War itself (to "foster a world environment in which the American system can survive and flourish"); a war which, properly understood, transcends both the Old Cold War and Post-Old Cold War periods?
Herein to suggest that, as to both "a" and "b" immediately above, the U.S./the West would not appear to have "failed" but, indeed, would appear to have "succeeded" -- or, at least -- "made significant and measurable progress." Yes?
Over the past quarter-century, a large number of nations have made a successful transition to democracy. Many more are at various stages of the transition. When historians write about U.S. foreign policy at the end of the 20th century, they will identify the growth of democracy--from 30 countries in 1974 to 117 today--as one of the United States' greatest legacies. The United States remains committed to expanding upon this legacy until all the citizens of the world have the fundamental right to choose those who govern them through an ongoing civil process that includes free, fair, and transparent elections.
a. As to this exact such perspective (we may have lost/may be having difficulties as to certain battles -- but we have clearly won/are clearly making progress as to the Campaigns and as to the "Long/Generational War" itself; a war which, properly understood, transcends both the Old Cold War and present Post-Cold War eras). As to this exact such perspective:
b. What great and/or significant reason do we have to "change"/to "evolve?"
Bottom Line Thought -- Based on the Above:
a. Denying self-determination (as our "successes" in the Campaigns and in the Long/Generational War seem to indicate?),
b. This seems to have "worked?"
(Our belief in "our power, our goodness and our rightness," thus, to be understood more in terms of our such successes?)
America does have a handful of enduring vital interests, such as:
1. Maintain access to resources and markets;
2. Do not allow an enemy power, or coalition of enemy powers, to dominate the Eurasian landmass.
The liberal, post-cold war fluffiness found in National Security Strategies are a great deal like reading Clausewitz. Clearly true and important, but of little help in making practical decisions.
Making the same mistake repeatedly, while rationalizing away failure to any number of factors beyond our control, however, does not an "enduring interest" make. We as a nation are still too convinced of our power, our goodness and our rightness to see things as they actually are. So why evolve when the failures of these operations were never our fault?
(Edited and added to from my initial offering):
First, from a COL Jones comment below:
Self determination. A simple concept that the founding of America is premised in, and that many revolutionary movements seeking support have turned to America, only to be denied because we valued some perceived interest of the day over their inalienable right. Don’t twist history to appease our conscience. We made a mistake in Vietnam. We exaggerated our Fears; we let our Honor fix us to our mistakes; and we created false Interests to validate our decisions. Admitting this does not dishonor those who served our nation in that tragic conflict; But ignoring it dishonors those who are sent in their footsteps...
Note here that -- in denying other peoples their right to self-determination -- COL Jones suggests that this such action was/is undertaken because we valued some perceived "interest of the day" over other peoples' such inalienable right.
Given, however, that -- now 50 years after the height of the Vietnam War -- the U.S./the West continues to deny other peoples their right to self-determination, then can we honestly say that these such "denial" efforts were, then and/or now, undertaken because, as COL Jones's suggests, of some perceived "interest of the day?"
Or, based on the enduring nature of our such denial of other peoples' right to self-determination, should we not agree that:
a. Not our "interest of the day," per se, was and/or is the driving force behind our such "denial" actions and activities. But, rather,
b. Our "enduring interests," best described and articulated -- then as now -- in NSC-68:
Our overall policy at the present time may be described as one designed to foster a world environment in which the American system can survive and flourish. ... a policy which we would probably pursue even if there were no Soviet threat ...
Thus, while we might argue that denying other populations their right to self-determination (for example, the communists back-in-the-day and/or the Islamists today) was and/or is "a smart" and/or is "the best" way for the U.S. to achieve its such enduring interest (to wit: "fostering a world environment in which the American system can survive and flourish"); one certainly would not seem to be able to argue, as COL Jones does below, that this/these such actions/activities (denial of other populations their right to self-determination) this was then -- and/or is now -- being done because of some perceived "interest of the day." Yes?
Bottom Line Question -- Based on the Above:
Given that, then as now:
a. "Enduring interest" appears to drive America's strategies ("containment of communism" during the Old Cold War; "advancing market democracy" in the current age); given this such understanding,
b. What now are our thoughts on these and on subordinate/corresponding matters?
(Thus, a possible better way of looking at these matters:
In the "Long War" -- to "foster a world environment in which the American system can survive and flourish" -- the U.S./the West, post-World War II, has engaged in at least two major campaigns:
a. First, the Cold War Campaign; wherein, [a] the strategy of "containment of communism" is formally adopted and, wherein, among others, [b] the "Battle of Vietnam" takes place.
b. Second, the Post-Cold War Campaign; wherein, [a] the strategy of "advancing market democracy" is formally adopted and, wherein, among others, [b] the "Battles of Afghanistan and Iraq" take place.
Herein, and in such a "Long War" -- which now finds itself running for over 70 years -- the U.S./the West consistently determining [rightfully or wrongfully] that [a] the "self-determination" of other countries and peoples; this [b] was not, and still is not, compatible with our "enduring interest" -- of "fostering a world environment in which the American system can survive and flourish?")
I agree with much of the comments made by the author. The media was prejudiced against America's involvement in the war and the peace movement that has been unduly glorified was actually more of a draft resistance movement. Where are the huge anti-war protests since the reformation of an All-Volunteer Army?
One only has to follow the story of General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan summarily executing Nguyễn Văn Lém. It was a legal execution, Lem was a terrorist murderer, killed women and children, families he had been tried in absentia and no one denies his guilt. The American war resistance to this day describes it as an act of wanton
murder and proof of widespread war crimes.
There are authors who claim 2 million civilians were killed by the US the fact is the NVA and VC raped, tortured and murdered with impunity, by and large American forces followed prescribed articles of war not to say the fighting wasn't brutal but what the war resistance did was blame all civilian casualties on the USA. The USA is to blame simply by the fact it attempted to help the South Vietnamese defend itself from a Communist insurgency and an invasion from the North.
Saigon did not fall because of a popular uprising, the VC were largely destroyed when they attempted a main coup on Tet. It was only after the US 113th Congress reneged on its promise of military aid did Saigon fall and that was by an invasion straight down the highway from the North.
Even the widely dispersed photo of a young girl caught in napalm was falsely reported by the "liberal" media in the USA. I heard her speak to my Unit she was grateful, , the napalm burned her but destroyed the NVA trying to murder her; she was saved from what the NVA would have done to her, rape torture death.
It was not a phobia or false hysteria that sent millions of Vietnamese into pirate infested waters braving high seas in leaky boats to escape the brutality of the Communists, and nearly a million died.
5 years ago in Hanoi over 100 Christians peacefully protesting for religious freedoms were shot down by the same sort of communists who brought so much destruction to their own country 50 years ago.
I know personally of dozens of NVA and vC atrocities, I did not witness the thousands are even a handful of atrocities committed by US troops. My response to such propaganda is if Senator Kerry witnessed these crimes while serving as an Officer in the US navy why didn't he try to stop them, doesn't that make him an accessory after the fact or just a plain old liar?
The last veteran I had a discussion with after he claimed to have thrown POWs off a helicopter ended when I proved he couldn't have done so, the fact was he didn't even recall the proper or general safe way to even get on a Huey. He might have been a veteran but I still don't get why he would confess to committing a crime he didn't commit? Why would he think that was a good thing?
Agree with Bill C. on this one, I think most of knew we were talking about the grand strategy of containment, and from that optic Vietnam was a protracted battle. Also, from that optic it can argued that we both won and lost. Ultimately we lost the battle, but we demonstrated our political will to oppose communist expansion (contrary to the arguments to the contrary). After Vietnam, we continued to oppose communism aggression around the globe with diplomacy, economic levers, information, the CIA, and Special Forces as the key means for implementing that strategy. We rightfully avoiding getting our conventional forces stuck in an expensive and protracted fight that would over time put us in a bad light (instead of the solution, we became the problem). As the former Singapore Prime Minister Lee often repeated, he believed the Vietnam War gave Asian nations a breathing spell to subdue local communist insurgencies. PM Lee had a nuanced understanding of Asia, especially SE Asia, so I don't take his comments lightly.
Paradoxically, our initial involvement in Vietnam, from a Cold War perspective, had little to do with Vietnam and SE Asia, and much more to do about Europe. There are no simple models that explain the complexity in the world. As one wise man said, all models are wrong, but they're still useful. We could view the Vietnam War through 6 different models, and each one would explain an aspect of it, but they all would fail to explain the whole.
To Warlock's point, it does the American people are easier to manipulate with sound bytes than I'm comfortable to admit. It seems the early genre of Western movies reflected our national view of the dividing the world into good and bad. The frontier lawman versus the outlaws, and the cavalry versus the Indians. Complexity doesn't resonate with the larger population, explanations must quickly define the challenge and our approach to it as good or bad. Our wars are generally perceived as good until they're not. Equally troubling, there has always been element in the American population that reflexively believes America is always wrong. Regardless of who we're fighting or why we're fighting we're automatically wrong. I don't think it is possible to move beyond this dynamic, people are either too busy, their views of the world are too engrained, or they just don't care to gain a more nuanced understanding. This is understandable, but also a shame when we give wide latitude to politicians to commit our forces and treasure to a war.
Perversely, the post-WWII American population and their Congressional representatives has been reasonably enthusiastic about going to war (or some facsimile) so long as a) we're winning, and b) it's relatively short and doesn't demand much sacrifice in terms of American blood and treasure...any conflict we're involved in becomes an "American people's war" simply by virtue of our being there, even if we're in the minority. Korea was popular, until it started dragging out into a stalemate and sucking up lots of troops for no apparent gain. Ditto Vietnam. Ditto Afghanistan. Ditto Iraq. It's no accident that Afghanistan and Iraq were funded by borrowing, and troop surges were hotly debated...levying a war tax would have dampened voter (and donor) support, and sending more troops is always a tacit admission that Things Aren't Going Well. I know this is an extremely cynical view, and would be happy to be proved wrong.
You make an important point about American crises often being collectively self-inflicted.
Kennedy certainly escalated U.S. involvement in Vietnam, raising the military personnel numbers there from 900 to 16,000. Although Kennedy had refused to send in ground forces and had planned on withdrawing 1,000 advisors from Vietnam prior to his assassination, you will note that Johnson only sent in major ground forces after relying on a combination unconventional warfare and airpower for over a year. Despite posthumous myth-making about Kennedy, the evidence suggests that he would have escalated in the manner that Johnson did.
There is a considerable delay between events occurring and events being popularly understood to be occurring, for both cognitive and emotional reasons. The Soviet Union was presented as an ally during World War II in U.S. propaganda films, and it was difficult for the U.S. government to reveal not only that its "ally" was an aggressive and totalitarian state not unlike those that it had defeated, but that Soviet intelligence had deeply penetrated U.S. government and society. The determination of 1964 was in fact twenty years too late.
Yet Vietnam was hardly an "American people's war" as most of the killing and dying was done by the Vietnamese. However, there was a 5-year surge that exceeded the levels of troops deployed during the Korean War.
If I recall this documentary on the Vietnam War correctly, I seem to remember seeing interviews/excerpts therein, where, both President Kennedy and President Johnson say, that in order to get re-elected/elected, they would need to -- despite their misgivings -- take a clear pro-Vietnam War/clear anti-communism stance. (Or words to that effect.) The implication being, that this is what the American people wanted, needed, expected and required of their presidents.
Do I recall these parts of the documentary correctly?
In consideration of the above, and looking at the Gallup poll provided below, can we say, then, that the Vietnam War was more of an American people's war -- a war that the American people, themselves, (at least until Tet) wanted, needed, expected and required -- and no so much a war of either President Kennedy or President Johnson?
("Blame," etc., thus, to be allocated accordingly?)
Every military conflict is different in character as you rightly point out, but the causal nature of conflict can also be different.
I mean to ask was it within normal German nature to push a Jew into a gas chamber. That would suggest a young German today is perfectly capable of murdering a Jew for no reason whatsoever and fascist ideology had little influence.
Was it the Japanese nature to celebrate the beheading of Chinese by putting the 'score' of the leading Japanese officer executioners on the front page of leading Japanese daily newspapers - wherein the populace marvelled at it like a batting average?
Starving to death 30 million fellow Chinese in Moa's 'Great Leap Forward'? Stalin having 600K innocent people shot, Pol Pot, Turk massacre of the Armenians etc.
Hitler,Tojo, Moa,Stalin, Pol Pot etc probably never murdered anyone. Folks as normal as you and I did the deed. Something has to undermine human nature for this to happen and I would argue it has little to do with natural urges.
Within a more imaginable/respectable lens- it defies human nature for a twenty year old airman with 18 missions under his belt to climb into a B-17 knowing there is zero chance of him coming back. Equally inhuman is to get the same spotty kid to drop incendiary bombs and kill thousands of innocent women and children cowering in their basements. We even call the men who survived the ordeal the Golden Generation.
More pointedly placing IEDs at random that have a 90% chance of killing an innocent Afghan civilian, walking into mosque and blowing to pieces 300 innocent people, emptying a full mag of 7.62 from PKM into a dormitory of sleeping school children.
This is not a fulfillment of self-determination any more than it be the consequence of RRE.
In the war against the Soviets the notion of the Muj randomly blowing up civilians, suicide attacks on mosques, machine-gunnning school-children would have been rightly condemned as lunacy - but you expect us to accept the Muj and the Talibs are driven by the same natural human motivators.
Andrew Mack, in his "How Big Countries Lose Small Wars," appears to give credit for how the Vietnam War was won by our enemies -- not to communism -- but, rather, to our enemies' use of guerrilla/asymmetrical warfare; this, in pursuit of their nationalist objectives:
A cursory examination of the history of imperialist expansion in the nineteenth and early twentieth century reveals one thing very clearly: Third-World resistance, where it existed, was crushed with speedy efficiency. In terms of conventional military thinking, such successes were not unexpected. Indeed, together with the Allied experience in the first and second World Wars, they served to reinforce and to rigidify the pervasive notion that a superiority of military ability (conventionally defined) will mean victory in war.
However, the history of a number of conflicts in the period following World War II showed that military and technological superiority may be a highly unreliable guide to the outcome of wars. In Indochina (1946-54), Indonesia (1947-49), Algeria, Cyprus, Aden, Morocco, and Tunisia, local nationalist forces gained their objectives in armed confrontations with industrial powers which possessed overwhelming superiority in conventional military capabilities. These wars were not exclusively colonial phenomenon, as was demonstrated by the failure of the United States to defeat its opponents in Vietnam.
For some idea of the degree to which the outcome of these wars presents a radical break with the past, it is instructive to examine the case of Indochina. The French successfully subjugated the people of Indochina for more than sixty years with a locally based army only fifteen thousand strong. The situation changed dramatically after 1946, when the Vietnamese took up arms in guerrilla struggle. By 1954, the nationalist forces of the Vietminh had forced the French -- who by this time had deployed an expeditionary force of nearly two hundred thousand men -- to concede defeat and withdraw their forces in ignominy. Within twenty years, the vast U.S. military machine -- with an expeditionary force of five hundred thousand strong -- had also been forced to withdraw.
Given that this (guerrilla/asymmetrical warfare) also appears to be a/the manner by which our present-day enemies (both large and small and both state and non-state actors?) appear to be waging war against us (the goal being political attrition -- destroying our will to continue our efforts to "transform and incorporate" the outlying states and societies of the world?), just how much credit should we give to this such suggestion/observation?
Does our opponents' use of guerrilla/asymmetrical warfare stand alone as the reason for "our" loses and "their" (our enemies') gains -- yesterday and today?
Or is the "toxic cocktail" (as far as the U.S./the West is concerned) BOTH:
a. THEIR use of ideology, religion, culture, history, etc., AND
b. THEIR use of guerrilla/asymmetrical warfare, etc.; these to:
1. Achieve THEIR nationalist/independence goals. And to:
2. Thwart OUR "transform and incorporate" ends?
In the Napoleonic era (i.e., Clausewitz); tactics were strategy because battle was war. In warfare between nations it is a more comprehensive matter than that of a French nation against various kingdoms, or between kingdoms. Likewise, revolutionary conflict within a single nation, is not really war at all, but more an exercise of illegal democracy. Most of the recent conflicts we've injected ourselves into are a blend of war and revolution and that has to be accounted for in one's strategy. We don't make that distinction, we trust our "mark one eyeballs" to be able to assess intent from action (they can't), and the results speak for themselves.
I don't own any soda straws, I'm just looking past the character of specific conflicts to assess the underlying nature of the same. I don't see a lot of that in what Rant, Azor or Bill M. are arguing. Without appreciating the underlying nature, you are just executing tactics and hoping your desired end will result. That isn't strategy.
First, from Niall Ferguson's "Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire:"
"I set out to write this book in the belief that the role of the United States in the world today could be better understood by comparing it with past empires. I understood well enough that most Americans feel uneasy about applying the word "empire" to their country, though an influential minority ... are not so inhibited. But what I had not fully understood until the first edition of "Colossus" was published was the precise nature of "imperial denial" as a national condition. It is, I discovered, acceptable among American liberals to say that the United States is an empire -- provided that you deplore the fact. It is also permitted to say, when among conservatives, that American power is potentially beneficent -- provided that you do not describe it as imperial. What is not allowed is to say that the United States is (a) an empire AND (b) that this might not be wholly bad. ... Empire, however, denotes something more sophisticated still: The extension of one's civilization, usually by military force, to rule over other peoples."
Next, as to this "extension of one's civilization" -- and the United States' participation in same -- aspect of "empire," from Hans Morgenthau's "To Intervene or Not to Intervene:"
"The United States and the Soviet Union face each other ... as the fountainheads of two hostile and incompatible ideologies, systems of government and ways of life, each trying to expand the reach of its respective political values and institutions and to prevent the expansion of the other."
(dfil: Thus to see that the "grand democratization project" [a] clearly exists and [b] clearly has "legs;" this, given that it transcends both the Old Cold War and the present era?)
Now, as to the selfish -- yet at the same time perceived of as benevolent -- reason to engage in such "imperial" activity (done right), from Franklin Delano Roosevelt:
"Imperialists don't realize what they can do, what they can create! They've robbed this continent (Africa) of billions, and all because they are too short-sighted to understand that their billions were pennies, compared to the possibilities! Possibilities that MUST include a better life for the people who inhibit this land."
Finally, again from Niall Ferguson's "Colossus::
"The United States today is an empire -- a but a peculiar kind of empire. It is vastly wealthy. It is militarily peerless. It has astonishing cultural reach. Yet by comparison with other empires it often struggles to impose its will beyond its shores."
(Much as we saw in Vietnam in the past, and much as we are seeing in Afghanistan and Iraq today?)
(Note: All items in parenthesis [except "Africa"] -- in all areas above -- are mine.)
Bottom Line Thought -- Based on the Above:
Q: What new understanding -- and what related new activity -- is the United States contemplating today; this, to address our inability to (a) "impose our will beyond our shores" and to, thereby, (b) advance our way of life, our way of governance and our values, etc., throughout the world? (For the selfish-imperial -- yet at the same time perceived of as benevolent/philanthropic -- reasons noted by FDR above?)
A: As to this such new understanding and related new activity, this would seem to be that:
a. Given the failure of our "soft power," in many parts of the world post-the Old Cold War, the United States -- now in peacetime, in war and indeed, in war's immediate aftermath -- has determined that we may need to install and support "interim" authoritarian rulers and regimes. These:
b. To "force" the modernization (more along modern western political, economic, social and value lines) of "resistant"/"uncooperative" states and societies; states and societies who -- of their own will, volition, ability and/or desire -- seem to have no great interest in, and/or who are vehemently opposed to, making the transition that both we and they require. Likewise, in specifically this exact same such "our soft power has failed us/thus our hard power is now required" imperial light, to:
c. See and understand such things as our decision to establish and deploy our "Security Force Assistance Brigades" (again: "hard power"), etc.; these, to deal with both the state and non-state actors who, together and/or separately, stand in our -- and thus "progresses' " -- way?
I think I'm starting to perceive that you think the United States is an empire of sorts.
For example, "...often diametrically opposed to the desires of other populations." Those who know the recent history of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will know that during the occupations the governments of those countries were granted plenty of sovereignty. In fact, they were granted so much sovereignty they shot themselves in the foot in innumerable ways such as in corruption, failed military operations, and matters of governance. Wikileaks hammered the U.S. over the Iraq War logs for not reporting torture for detainees turned over to Iraqi police and security forces. But when you are respecting a state's sovereignty (on some level), they have the jurisdiction over detainees and the right to deal with them in their own justice system. But it's Iraq, so it's pretty likely they will get tortured in the process. When it comes to Afghanistan, there was enormous friction between Hamid Karzai and his American counterparts. You cannot assume (at least I think you may be assuming this) that simply because a country is under occupation, that all its government and people are being told what to do. At a strategic level, if the U.S. feels compelled to conduct regime change, it has no choice as a democratic nation but to lay the foundation for democratic institutions in place of whatever system it is replacing.
Gen. Petraeus also said in an interview as CENTCOM chief that he was perfectly fine with local shuras adjudicating disputes in Afghanistan, even though it was an alternative system of governance to the Afghan government, because it was local custom and enjoyed a high level of trust by the people. Democracy is not the same in every country, and nobody with a brain is going to think that Afghanistan or Iraq are going to become developed democratic states overnight.
In regard to Afghanistan specifically, the Taliban has a single digit approval rating among the Afghan people, which is obviously not the same for the Afghan government. It would be extremely disingenuous to suggest that the war in Afghanistan is somehow against the better interest and the will of the Afghan community. The Taliban is not even from Afghanistan originally. What do you think the choice of the Afghan should be, side with a 60+ nation coalition, including the United Nations and large constellation of development NGOs, all of whom have invested tens of billions into Afghanistan's development and economy in past years, or the Taliban, who put millions of women out of work, have always committed the vast majority of civilian casualties in the past 16 years of war, and earned international condemnation when they were in power in the 90s?
To also say that Afghanistan is part of some grand democratization project is also frankly absurd. The U.S. (and dozens of other nations) is clearly there to contain an insurgency (as evidenced by numerous official policy statements and documents), and democratic institutions just happen to compliment that effort. You are clearly reading certain statements of strategic vision and applying it to everything in a blanket manner. The impetus to go to war in Iraq or Afghanistan has its own organic strategic and policy considerations (such as containing an insurgent movement that could turn an internal state conflict into greater regional conflict). Going to war in Afghanistan to establish a budding market economy is about the worst justification there could possibly be considering it's one of the poorest countries on the planet and whose government has next to no self-sufficiency. Trillions of dollars have been spent on the endeavor without a commensurate economic return, and this will not change for the foreseeable future.
It also seems painfully obvious that you believe that the U.S. is advancing democratization by empire. You also do not seem to recognize that democratization support does not have to come at the expense of the free will of foreign populations, and democratization support does not always take the form of forceful means. I urge you to learn more about the U.S. State Department and what it does every single day to build and foster trusting relationships with other nations. It's a shame how little is known about the day-to-day diplomatic and development operations between states. USAID and State play the leading role in democratization support for the U.S. government, and the means they employ are not exactly insidious.
Re: "strategy," etc.:
a. With regard to Vietnam, et al., and U.S. activities during the Old Cold War more generally, why have we not seen the words "containment" and/or "roll back" (of communism) more frequently, if at all, in this most recent discussion? Likewise re: strategy:
b. With regard to Iraq, Afghanistan, the Islamists, etc., and in the case of U.S. activities post-the Old Cold War generally, why have we not see the words "advancement" and "enlargement" (of, in this case, the world's market-democracies)?
(In this latter case, to consider the following from Anthony Lake, then-National Security Advisor to President Clinton:
Throughout the Cold War, we contained a global threat to market democracies; now we should seek to enlarge their reach, particularly in places of special significance to us.
The successor to a doctrine of containment must be a strategy of enlargement -- enlargement of the world's free community of market democracies.
As to "policy objectives"/the "policy ends" of the U.S. -- which strategy was/is supposed to serve both during the Old Cold War and again today -- might we consider these such "policy ends" as being somewhat consistent, then as now:
a. First, from NSC-68 of 1950:
II. Fundamental Purpose of the United States:
The fundamental purpose of the United States is laid down in the Preamble to the Constitution: ". . . to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity." In essence, the fundamental purpose is to assure the integrity and vitality of our free society, which is founded upon the dignity and worth of the individual.
Three realities emerge as a consequence of this purpose: Our determination to maintain the essential elements of individual freedom, as set forth in the Constitution and Bill of Rights; our determination to create conditions under which our free and democratic system can live and prosper; and our determination to fight if necessary to defend our way of life, for which as in the Declaration of Independence, "with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor." ...
VI. U.S. Intentions and Capabilities--Actual and Potential
A. POLITICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL
Our overall policy at the present time may be described as one designed to foster a world environment in which the American system can survive and flourish. It therefore rejects the concept of isolation and affirms the necessity of our positive participation in the world community.
b. Next, from testimony before the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Subcommittee, Committee on Appropriations, U.S. Senate, by former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, on Tuesday, May 9, 2017:
... America has always been about its principles. Its history has been the record of its struggle to realize these principles at home and to advance them abroad. ...
Political democracy and free markets were at the core of the rules-based international order that America and Europe created in the aftermath of World War II. And every war that America has fought since that time has been fought in the name of advancing the cause of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
America has never accepted the idea that it had to choose between its democratic principles and its interests. This is a false choice. Advancing freedom and democracy in the world also advances American interests. For a world that reflects these principles, is more likely to be a world in which America -- and Americans -- can thrive and prosper.
Bottom Line Thought -- Based on the Above:
COL Jones, it would seem, is most concerned -- re: this and other discussions -- with (a) the wants, needs and desires of other populations and with (b) the manner by which these such populations seek to achieve their such ends.
While this is important, I think that -- to better understand our conflicts yesterday (to include Vietnam) and today (for example Iraq and Afghanistan) -- I believe that we must, first and foremost, come to better understand and acknowledge:
a. The -- often diametrically opposed to the desires of other populations -- wants, needs and desires of the U.S./the West (we will only allow activities that are seen as being consistent with "creating/fostering a world environment in which the American system, and thus Americans, can survive and prosper"). And come to better understand and acknowledge:
b. The manner by which we seek to achieve our such desired ends (during the Old Cold War, by "containing" and "rolling back" communism; in the post-Old Cold War era, by "advancing" and "enlarging" the number of market-democracies in the world -- see our recent such efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan).
(This, especially if we are going to discuss such things as "strategy," "policy ends," "political objectives," "tactics," etc. Yes?)
This is true, and furthermore Bob and others are far providing a strategy, they're simply critics of existing policy. While policy ends are a key component of strategy, a strategist must also address means, ways, and balance risk. Policy makers weighing the risk for engaging in Vietnam viewed risk from a perspective that had little to do with Vietnam itself, so Bob's tactical explanation of legitimacy explains little from a strategic perspective. That is viewing strategy through a soda straw. It is the same explanation we have heard for decades from multiple so called explainers. We need to hit the refresh button and view it within a larger context without discarding deep understanding of local conditions. A strategist would seek to leverage local conditions to advance their interests. That is when tactics become nested to strategy. Otherwise they're just tactics.
'We are good at putting together vast tactical assessments and calling the lessons strategic.'
I would argue that we are lousy at tactical assessments. The simple reason being we fail to accept and/or understand the effects of tactical actions - whether they be ours, theirs or neutrals. Impoverished by this shortcoming, we then compile vast assessments based on lousy, wrong or non-existent effects.
Like the man said -
'Strategy is the use of the engagement for the purpose of the war'
Clausewitz's engagement is a human act. Strategy is also an exclusively human activity and like every human action, it lives or dies at the tactical level.
If you misunderstand the net tactical effect of the engagement your Operational Art will have little or no positive consequence, even less strategic effect and before you know it you've screwed the pooch.
No amount of firepower, blood or treasure can redeem the situation if you fail to grasp the net effect of your tactical actions.
The connection between the humble tactical effect and a lasting political End is a direct one. A winning strategy merely resources / shapes/ facilitates the bridge between the engagement and the political Ends.
IMHO only the Mark One Eyeball can gauge the true tactical effects of the mano o mano action. At this embryonic stage ground-truth will readily determine if your chosen strategy has aligned Operational consequences sufficiently to achieve the desired Strategic effect.
If your Strategy bridge is of a sound design and resilent enough to cope with the inevitable missteps, your positive tactical effects will build Operational and Strategic momentum. This Strategic momentum builds over time until the desired political Ends becomes a foregone conclusion.
There are two types of biases: cognitive and emotional. When confronted with another’s biases, and we all have them, the best approach is to adapt to the emotional and moderate the cognitive ones. U.S. combat operations in Vietnam were the logical consequences of the grand strategy of containment, and were undertaken after non-military means had seemed to have been proven ineffective. Unfortunately, the intervention itself was poorly planned and executed at all levels. Yet when major ground forces were deployed to Vietnam beginning in 1965, the U.S. government probably had a better understanding of the target country and region than they had prior to any previous intervention. For reference, the British lost the plot in Northern Ireland when the Troubles began, despite having more than four centuries of experience there.
The issues in civil-military relations and within the military itself are constants and were as salient in victory as they were in defeat. Despite the head start given by the British, the fact is that the American system has been the most effective strategically and the most beneficial to humanity than those of any great powers past or present. However, fear of decline is a key driver of American success, resulting in excessive scrutiny of failures such as Vietnam and Iraq. Perhaps that collective anxiety is preferable to the confident complacency that brought down the European empires?
So, not a real psychologist, but you play one on tv?? No worries, that assessment is no more flawed than your strategic ones have been.
I think the real issue of perspective is one of nature vs. character. You appear to focus on the facts of the conflict within the context of the character of that specific conflict. That is sound tactical thinking. I don't disagree with your facts or your tactical characterizations.
Nature is the art of how conflicts are the same. Character is the art of how they are unique. The first is the key to strategy, the second is the key to tactics. One really needs to try to do both. Americans in particular, and the West in general, are handicapped in this process as we tend to think "war is war" and attempt to shoehorn all manner of political conflict into a Clausewitzian context. Where I differ from the accepted norm is that I have come to believe that political conflict within a single system of governance is fundamentally different from political conflict between two or more systems. Our doctrine does not make that distinction. To further complicate matters, the two forms of conflict often take place in the same time and space, do not look much different on the ground, so must be accounted for in one's strategy and campaign design. We don't do that.
What I attempt to do is focus on the facts of the conflict within the context of the nature of political conflict in general. To me, this is the key to sound strategic thinking. And if we are to derive strategic lessons from our tactical actions, this is the critical step. Frankly it is a step that Americans as a society do not seem to be very good at. We are good at putting together vast tactical assessments and calling the lessons strategic. We are good at adding up tactical metrics and calling our conclusions strategic. But we are not good at thinking about conflicts in fundamental terms and deriving strategic lessons or assessing them in strategic terms.
This does not make me emotional, biased, or entrenched. Nor does it tie me to three of a million other experiences that shape my thinking. Quite the opposite. Cognition is what one knows. That is level one thinking. Wisdom is in what one understands. That is a much harder journey that one can strive for, but rarely achieve. These are "the understanders" and the military does not encourage or reward this behavior. But one must strive, and not just sit comfortably in a box of cognition, facts, school solutions and doctrine. These are "the memorizers", and the military loves a good memorizer. Most are not comfortable stepping outside of that box, or with those who do.
I am afraid that you are up against emotional biases so entrenched, that there is no allowance even for the mere moderation of cognitive ones. Most people are very averse to chaotic complexity, and therefore strive to conceive of the world in ordered and simple terms. Unfortunately, this proclivity applies as much to combat veterans of the war as anti-war activists who never served. Historical events are debated with such ferocity for two reasons: to find meaning in the event, and to connect the past with the present.
With respect to Bob, he is an Army Special Forces Colonel (ret.) who served in Afghanistan and the Philippines during OEF, providing him a front row seat for the circus of American CT/COIN/FID efforts being conducted in corrupt and weak states. I also understand that RC served in Iraq after the 2003 invasion in a similar unconventional capacity. There is no question that successive U.S. presidential administrations have subjected diplomats and warfighters to extreme stress for almost fifteen years as they pursued multiple and concurrent military campaigns and state reconstruction initiatives that were deliberately under-resourced. Therefore, I cannot fault any veteran of these conflicts for leaning towards the perspective of Engelhardt and his group of similar-minded veterans affiliated with “The Nation”. Yet the quest to draw a clear line from the Spanish-American War to Operation Inherent Resolve, in which the Vietnam intervention plays a central role, is a march to folly.
In AF/PAK I went searching for the Revolutionary and Resistance Energy (RRE)that Bob rightly (IMHO) argues were the root-cause cause of our failure in Vietnam.
Our efforts in AF/PAK were failing and I was convinced the root-cause for failure would be the same or similar to those in Vietnam.
It was my experience that it was not.
My search for answers to the first and foremost task then changed tack and I pursued the more obvious primary driver and approached the belief in a supernatural being as a primary motivator.
Among a populace wherein 90% couldn't write their own name in their native tongue and 99.9% could not comprehend a single sentence of Quranic script I expected to encounter a widely varying degree of religious motivated energy.
It was my experience that there was not.
There was the considerable amount of the human fantasy one would expect in a normal peace-time Islamic culture but very little of this civilian devotion was carried into the battle ecosystem.
The surprising degree of cynicism devotees (who upheld a strict civilian observance) embraced when they found themselves at the sharp was something I found difficult to come to terms with and/or explain.
It took a year before I was willing to accept the RRE and religious energy I had convinced myself were playing a significant role were, for the vast majority, of little or no significance as to why the 'jihadi' was fighting.
The best simple description I ever heard was the natives considered it as paid farm-laboring but with guns and considerably greater risk.
I already knew this to be the case from the Iran - Iraq War but the sanctions and Iran's international pariahic status kept their brand of fascism - dressed as Islamic fundamentalism, to remain a purely Iranian disaster - or so it was until the recent strategic lunacy.
The most sobering peculiarity among the natives - be they Pak, Iranian or Gulf Arabs was nobody was under any illusion that it was a purely economic inspired choke-hold, prosecuted by a fascist elite, that blighted not only their own political, economic and spiritual lives but any other nation that had the misfortune to be their strategic neighbor/s .
When they hear us regurgitate their elite's fascile ruse that it is Islam that is the root-cause of all their woes, as well as our own, they are completely dumbfounded that we could be so misguided.(The Domino Theory returns to haunt us)
The enemy are perfectly aware of the trauma our strategic failures in Vietnam has had on our current military’s intelligentsia and take great care in maintaining the spiritual/supernatural narrative that we struggle to recognize for the deceit that it is designed to achieve.
The 'jihadi' has taken on the gravitas we appropriate to the 'Strategic Corporal'. However, unlike the strategic ramifications of the genuine physical act by a single individual the 'Strategic Jihadi' is an elaborate myth. We punch and counter-punch and are transfixed by our failure to land a telling blow on their cleverly conjured ghost.
Among the shadows the enemy watches us punch ourselves out on their apparition, thereby freeing them to further their fascist interests, address their fascist fears and satisfy their fascist 'honor'.
I think that more important than decision makers not perceiving options, or not understanding the region, was the fact that what we attempted to do in Vietnam would have worked 50 years earlier.
But the world had changed, power was shifting, and the ability of a great state power to simply impose their will upon a population and place was becoming increasingly obsolete. Britain, far weaker than the US coming out of WWII, quickly came to realize that they could not simply impose their will onto others any longer, so they converted from colonies to the commonwealth, from control to influence. That is the strategic lesson of Malaya (and Kenya, India, N. Ireland, etc.).
The US however, was at our peak power, so we ignored the strategy of Malaya and only borrowed the tactics. We were not just powerful, but "exceptional," so we convinced ourselves that our actions were not just feasible, but also good. We were wrong. Today this policy is even less feasible as power continues to shift, but we remain confident in our power and exceptionalism, and refuse to evolve.
As has been observed before, "Americans will always do the right thing - after we have attempted everything else." We just haven't quite got to that point yet.
RantCorp, concur with your comments above 100%. While we can never know, I constantly wonder how history would have played out if we drew a line in Laos and Cambodia, and didn't interfere in Vietnam. Of course our decision makers didn't believe they had that option. There focus was on Europe, and when the French threatened to pull out of NATO if we didn't support them in Vietnam our leaders opted to support the French. They didn't understand SE Asia, the decision was based on the situation in Europe.
The world isn't as simple as Bob makes it out be, but we can all agree we had terrible strategic judgment when it came to Vietnam. Then we added worse to bad by supporting an inept regime and waging the war incompetently.
As you have often stated our open support for the French after 1950 condemned us from the outset. In the discussion with Mike in Hilo I gathered many folks in southern Vietnam were anti-French, anti-Chinese and anti-communist in that order.
Vietnam was 90% Buddhist when we decided to get involved. We entered the war-zone supporting French colonialism indirectly at first and after their defeat with our own invasion force.
On to a fiercely independent and Buddhist population we attempted to maintain/impose a corrupt Catholic/Francophile dominated civilian and military elite with our own 500K strong round-eye military force.
We poured political petrol onto this powder-keg by insisting the virulently anti-Chinese natives were in fact harboring Chinese fifth-columists working towards the PRC overrunning all of SE Asia - including Vietnam itself.
I mean to say is it any wonder the Communist cadre were able to shape a political message (that many of subsistence farmers would have known was a complete nonsense) that appealled to just about anyone with or without some sort of grievance aimed at the established order.
Bill you are shooting behind the target, and fixated on symptoms we find problematic to our interests. What I am promoting as a drumbeat, is that if we shift our focus forward to the actual problem, we can shape policies that serve our interests in ways that are both feasible AND consistent with our professed values as a nation. The thinking that shaped our engagement in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq was neither of those two things.
We also overly apply war theory to non-war problems. All war is political conflict, but not all political conflict is war.
We forced the Vietnamese into the Russian and Chinese camp when we denied their independence twice. First when they helped us to defeat the Japanese occupation and we betrayed them by allowing the French back in; and again once they defeated the French and we robbed them of half their victory by cancelling the nation-wide elections and creating two states. The one thing you see as the existential reason for our involvement was a problem of our own creation. Likewise with the rise of AQ and ISIS.
If one is going to take on the man, you aren't going to do it with a piss weak ideology, and you aren't going to do it without the support of powerful allies. The US ideology of popular control of government and liberty was radical as hell to the kings of Europe, and we needed the French to force a military victory. Likewise with populations forced to turn to Russia or China in post WWII efforts to throw off colonialism.
This is indeed simple. Not simplistic, but simple. Things like gravity, the speed of light, and human nature emotions like dignity are simple. How one deals with their interactions with myriad facts can become complex. But the fundamentals of good strategy, like the fundamentals of sound science, are simple.
Communism was certainly a big part of the conflict; however, if your point is that the Vietnamese would have fought for their independence without the toxic, secular religion of communism, then you're probably right. Of course if that was the case it is unlikely they would have received the decisive assistance they received from the communist states of the USSR and to a lesser extent China. Wars are seldom conflicts simply between two groups that seek power in the modern world (meaning post WWII in this case).
There are multiple actors assisting and manipulating these conflicts, which frequently changes the essence of original conflict over time. For example, kicking the French out over time became something very different. This isn't unusual, we saw this in Iraq. We started with the goal of kicking Saddam out (and if you believe the WMD argument), then the war became a war against AQI and countering Iran's proxy war in Iraq. In Syria, we initially sought to remove Assad, then we backed off that. Our protracted UW approach allowed the character and actors in the fight to change considerably. This is the normal course of war in the modern era. Every actor, internal and external to the fight, has a say in the fight's outcome.
As for your constant drum beat about assisting others get to self-determined good governance as a cure all for our ills. I beg to differ, the world isn't that simple. We have to accept who we are as a nation also, and we simply couldn't help a group of rebels that were already co-opted by the USSR or Islamists and assist them them establish a government that conducts mass murder, establishes a bankrupt economic system, and a brutal dictatorship that is worse than the one they replaced. Unfortunately the world hasn't generated too many George Washingtons or Ghandis. But again, these conflicts are rarely about establishing good governance, it is about gaining power. External actors, including the U.S., want their share of that power, and make their bets accordingly.
In any war, one or more groups are attempting to impose their will on another group. It has been that way throughout the history of man, and unfortunately it seldom means they're seeking to establish self-determined good governance, rather they're seeking to establish power. Very few instances in history when these wars didn't result in the establishment of an oppressive government. We were on the right side of history to oppose communism; however, I agree we made unforgivable errors in how we chose to oppose it. I believe we're on the right side of history to oppose radical Islam, but again we're making grave errors in how we're waging the war. Errors that undermine our righteousness of our cause.
The Islamists do believe in their perverted view of Islam, and their Umma is global. Their view of self-determined good governance is to establish their radical version sharia law and all that it entails, to include a woman's rightful submissive role in society, and a host of human rights violations. We have seen their form of good governance recently in Mosul and Raqqa, and not too many years ago in Kabul. Their aim is not isolated to select countries, they seek to establish a caliphate globally, and there isn't a majority population anywhere that wants to live under these conditions. We have every right to oppose it.
I’m just saying the conflict was never about communism. Just as modern conflicts are not about Islamist. To run a successful insurgency or UW campaign there are a few essential ingredients. First of those is a population who believes their governance situation intolerable, and perceived no effective legal means of redress available to them. The second is a narrative that speaks to that aggrieved population that also takes a position that the governance in question is either unable or unwilling to adopt. Communism and labor reform did that in czarist Russia; communism and land reform did that in the rice cultures of Asia. Islamism and the dignity of a Caliphate do that in Sunni regions. We fixate on that critical requirement of effective narrative and confuse it for the center of gravity of perceived poor governance. The US believes we can resolve these movements by crushing those who dare to act out, offering a counter narrative of democracy that speaks to us, and by providing them with government that derives its legitimacy from our power, rather than from sources perceived as legitimate and self-determined by them.
We don’t understand these conflicts in fundamental terms, so we continue to address them in ways that are fundamentally flawed. We seek to impose solutions that are impossible at the policy level from inception. It is an avoidable tragedy that we will continue to recreate until we learn. This is not about good and evil. This is about human nature and governance. If we were more willing to help others get to self-determined good governance when condition one exists; there would be no need for these people to rally behind some self-serving ass peddling an effective condition two.