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Obama Pledges to Go For a Vietnam Repeat

As I grew to maturity in the years after the Vietnam War, I thought I understood for sure one thing about U.S. national security strategy: After the debacle of our Southeast Asian intervention, the United States would never get in another war unless we intended to win it. We would never provide too few troops to do the job, and we’d act with resolve to see the mission through.

Never again would our soldiers’ lives and their service be wasted. Never again would allies who trusted us be left hanging – literally. Never again would the world question the power or the reliability the United States. Because if we used our magnificent fighting forces correctly, no enemy could withstand us.

We’d do it right, or we wouldn’t do it at all. It didn’t require a Harvard degree to understand the wisdom of this. Maybe, perhaps, a third grade education.

In 1991, I was gratified to see that I was right. Confronted with Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and ordered by George H.W. Bush to reverse it, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell made a heartwarming statement.

Our strategy in going after this army is very simple. First we are going to cut it off, and then we are going to kill it.

And that’s exactly what he did. The United States assembled a coalition of nearly a million troops, three quarters of them American, and they finished off Saddam Hussein’s army in a matter of days. Mission accomplished. For real.

In 2003, when George W. Bush decided to attack Iraq, I had my concerns that something might be amiss. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld kept talking about some new doctrine that would allow minimal force to push Saddam aside. We had all this great technology – as if high tech warfare was something brand new.

Well, after a little bit of uncertainty, Saddam was indeed gone. Bush the son thought he had his Mission Accomplished too. Until it became sickeningly clear that he actually hadn’t used enough troops, because we couldn’t secure our victory. It took Bush four more years to finally acknowledge his mistake and put enough troops in to finish the job.

All the while, the Bush people were assuring us in the press corps that the Iraq war wasn’t distracting at all from the fight in Afghanistan. That, it turned out, was a lie.

And so President Obama inherited a mess in Afghanistan. His generals told him they needed at least 40,000 troops to defeat the Taliban, and 80,000 to ensure success.

So he gave them 33,000.

He too, had forgotten the lessons of Vietnam.

The problem with what Obama announced last night – the return of 10,000 of the Afghan surge troops by the end of this year and the rest of them by next summer – is not complex.

The limited surge Obama provided his generals forced them to do the job of eradicating the Taliban piecemeal instead of all at once.

They’ve had some success in the south, where they concentrated their forces, and the plan is to consolidate their gains and subdue the other restive region in the east during next year’s summer fighting season.

Except now they can’t.

I give you some analysis from the tribe of war hawks over at the New York Times. Yes, “New York Times war hawks” is a joke. The article this morning quotes Lt. Gen. David W. Barno, who retired from the Army in 2006 after serving as the senior American commander in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005.

“Putting a September 2012 expiration tag on the rest of the surge raises real concerns,” (said) General Barno, now a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a policy research center. “That’s the middle of the fighting season.”

Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, another policy research center, said the September pullout date really means that many of those troops will stop carrying out their missions months earlier.

The president’s timetable, he said, “will require troops to spend most of the summer on the downsizing effort when they arguably should spend most of the summer fighting and taking away safe havens from extremists.”

Mr. O’Hanlon and General Barno said it was hard to fathom the military logic of setting a withdrawal deadline for the surge right in the middle of the fighting season. “This is a rushed ending to what has been a fairly effective surge,” Mr. O’Hanlon said.

Others have noted that now Pakistan won’t go after Taliban in Pakistan, but will seek a peace treaty; and our alliance partners will surely head for the gates.

Obama is fighting the war Obama wants, not the one the country needs. The only conceivable reason to bring those troops home in the summer of 2012 instead of December is so Obama can campaign on it in the fall.

As he has time and again, Obama makes clear the presidency he wants is one where he is spending money on liberal priorities at home, not fighting America’s enemies. As he said last night:

Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times.  Now, we must invest in America’s greatest resource –- our people . . .  America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.

And so he bends reality to suit his wishes.

Yet tonight, we take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding.

No, it’s not. With the surge troops just recently fully engaged, violence in Afghanistan is increasing. The battle is stepping up. American soldiers are winning, as we knew they would. And now they’re being told to disengage – probably destroying their morale – and the Taliban is being given a timetable for waiting us out – certainly helping theirs.

Obama fancies himself a new Abraham Lincoln. What he forgets is that Lincoln – dear old honest Abe – ruthlessly ground down the enemy until it had been shattered into abject surrender.

Lincoln had learned the lesson of Vietnam exactly a century before it was fought. That’s why he has a monument, the one Obama visits so often.

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25 Responses to Obama Pledges to Go For a Vietnam Repeat

  1. The conflict in Afganistan resembles the war in Vietnam only that the conduct of war is governed, not by the professional military, but by politicians concerned about their own public image.
    The goal in Vietnam was professed to be the slowing of communism in Asia and to show our resolve to Russia that the ColdWar could lead to heated conflict with them. Nuclear war and global devastation was a real possiblity then.
    The real threat to America from the radical Muslims is right here, right now, and not thousands of miles away.

  2. Well he asked his magic 8-ball and it said “run”.

    I agree with any troop withdrawal from the mideast at this point. There is never, ever going to be peace or lasting democracy over there. Without that carrot, what is the goal?? ‘We’ keep thinking they are reasonable people, and they are not. My model for mideast military is to hit them hard when situations call for it then get out.

  3. A Harvard education (or any ivy league education) is a hinderance to understanding that in war there is no substitute for victory. Critical thinking is discouraged in favor of embracing modern notions about the nature of man. Their ideas that human nature can be overcome with the right people in charge are the same ones that have been discredited over and over throughout history. Yet those in high-level academe are taught the hubris to believe that this time it will be different because they are different than those who tried before.

    • This is so well stated. Lenin of course was the greatest avatar of such thinking – if we kill some people and reeducate some others, we can change society.

      Too much thinking and too many Phd papers get you away from the raw facts of human nature, and make you think you can develop formulas for perfect results.

  4. Winning? What does that look like. We “control” 10% of the area, sometimes, temporarily. There is no govt to prop up–just crafty entrepreneurs in it for themselves. We have to teach people to read so they can read the armament manuals, etc. Everyone says Petraeus is such a genius–do what he says. He isn’t even in this job anymore–even he got sick of it! Yet, these incredibly brave, valiant young people will be sent into the meat grinder. I am sick to puking!

    • If we can get the country into shape where the Taliban is pretty much subdued and the nation has a chance, then we can leave. Afghanistan was a peace for decades before the Soviets tore it apart. We have to be seen as a strong nation and a reliable ally, and we have to give Afghanistan the best chance not to again become on incubator for terrorists.

      • Agree to disagree? The Taliban live there, and even though the rest of the population don’t love them, they won’t fight them consistently–and the Tali are organized and will regain control if we stay 100 yrs. Which we are going on…

  5. He has no grasp of history and even less any understanding of war or the
    never ending legacy of the Vietnam War. This was a campaign move and
    to use the military as pawns in his 2012 campaign makes me sick. He really
    hasn’t a grasp of anything but green energy, cars we can’t afford and light
    bulbs. His priorities are all screwed up but at least he can golf.

    • No he can’t. I have friends who are avid golfers (I personally despise it as a waste of good running/hiking areas) and they tell me that his swing is so bad they cringe when they watch it. Two of them are still mesmerized by the hopey-changey, so it’s not a partisan issue.

  6. My Dish was off last evening so I failed to tune in. Not surprisingly when I awoke this morning I learned that I had not missed anything except another campaign speech.

  7. I need to read “Learning to Eat Soup with A Knife” and “The Wrong War”.

    I would then know more about winning/losing a COIN war than Pres./”CINC” Obama… and I didnt even go to Harvard! :-\

  8. I don’t think he is trying to channel his inner Lincoln. I think he is trying to impede our victory over the Taliban which is a spinoff of Muslim Brotherhood. Remember Clapper’s ridiculous statement that the Muslim Brotherhood is largely secular? Obama is either appeasing them, or he is colluding with them. I’m very suspect of his motives since he chose to ignore all the advice of all his military generals. He is doing everything he can to lose this war and he is putting our soldiers in harms way. Bring them all home now.

  9. Keith, one of the *best* articles you have written regarding Iraq-Afghanistan-Vietnam.

    Several points.

    First, our failure in Vietnam was a political and military failure: Politically, our politicians did not allow the military to either invade North Vietnam or destroy the HCM trail to create victory conditions and Militarily, as our generals fought a 20th century Communist insurgency with WWII tactics. The only success was Special Forces teams, SEAL insertions and LRP/LRRP/Ranger patrol missions which eventually “out G’ed, the G.” By then (1971) it was too late. Our Generals (Westmoreland and Abrams) failed to stand in the door for their troops … and we lost. We bereated the French for their failures (1946-54) and castigated them for their monstrous loss at Dien Bien Phu (1954), then fought the Vietnam War … just like the French, and lost.

    Second, Gulf War 1 was *exactely* as you described: Colin Powell’s Doctrine of Overwhelming Force was the key to victory. Schwarzkopf’s flanking strike into northern Kuwait, cut off the Iraqi’s and the Battle of 73-Easting completely destroyed the Republican Guard. There was no need to go into Baghdad – total victory. SF played a limited role, esp in search for SCUDS.

    Third, Gulf War 2 (2003) however was a defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. The war was indeed a victory – Mission Accomplished as President Bush stated, but when Bush decided to STAY and nation build, it turned into a stalemate, bordering on defeat. The majority of our casualties were taken during the insurgency after the end of conventional fighting and led to troops being inflicted with horrible wounds. Why the Generals did not put a stop to this is anyone’s guess. Generals today resemble nothing like Patton, Bradley, “Fightin Joe” Gerow, “Jumpin Jim” Gavin or other Generals who told the President and others to fuck off … today’s Generals are ‘educated’, ‘smart’, ‘primped’ and like GEN Petraeus, able to navigate the halls of Congress … and find himself a place at CIA. GW 2 was a victory, albeit only for a few months.

    Fourth, we’ve learned something important since Vietnam: SF operations and tactics WORK. It’s the new battlefield: strike fast, hold no ground, be mission-oriented (snatch gov’t officials, enemy generals, kill terrorist leaders), di-di-mao (pull out) when the objective has been fulfilled. Build no hospitals, soccer stadiums or fire stations, barracks or movie theatres. When night falls … SF rules the night.

    Special Forces are our best bet.

    The problem is finding the right set of Generals and Admirals who believe in SpecOps. During the Vietnam War, artillerists fought the first part (the Westmoreland mafia) and then tankers (the Abrams mafia) and SF was pushed to the back of the bus, and our nation suffered.

    You would be suprised how many field grade officers *DESPISE* SpecOps and want them demobbed.

    We have to find a President who understands SF and can use them wisely and with proper counsel.

  10. Obama is not committed to winning any of these wars; he is committed only to ending these wars. He is putting American troops, materiel and treasure on the chopping block for the sole purpose of furthering his personal political agenda. At some point in a presidency we get to see whether indeed the office is making a particular man more than he was when he came in. It is more than evident that Obama is less than the office requires. He does not act on behalf of the whole nation or American interests generally, merely on behalf of his own political goals. We need a President, not a constant campaigner and unrepentant ideologue.

  11. Uhhh, WRONG! US soldiers aren’t ‘winning’ in Afghanistan. They hold less than 15 per cent of the country and we’ve spent billions on an incompetent indigent army and ‘security force’ made up of people who hate us and the the puppet government we’ve installed to ‘rule’ them. Afghanistan has defeated us and our troops are literally ‘dead men walking.’ The country isn’t called the ‘graveyard of empires’ for nothing. Fools like Petraeus, Gates, Obomber and Hitlery aren’t up to the task of defeating them or even seriously challenging them. These folks smashed Russia, three times; UK, three times; Iran (Persia) multiple times, and thwarted various warlords from India. They also sent packing Alexander the Great, Ghenghis Khan, and Tamerlane. The criminals running this illegal war ought to claim victory over the lie USM was killed recently (he actually died in December 2001) and get out while the getting is good.