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Afghaninam, Vietnamistan

Larry Beinhart

There are a lot of people in the military, and in politics too, that think we coulda, shoulda, woulda won in Vietnam.

That wouldn't matter much. The past is a foreign country immune from
invasion. But here we are in Afghanistan. See, US forces won every
battle in Vietnam. Every damn battle. Even Tet.

For those of you who don't remember, in 1967, South Vietnam seemed to
be under control. Then, in January of '68, approximately 80,000
Communist troops launched 100 separate attacks at once, including
assaults on thirty-six of the forty-four provincial capitals.
US and South Vietnamese forces were taken by total surprise. But they
responded well and quickly beat the offensive back, except in the city
of Hue, where the fighting, depicted in Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, went on for a month. But there too, the Communists fell back.

"You know you never defeated us on the battlefield," said the American colonel.

The North Vietnamese colonel pondered this remark a moment. "That may be so," he replied, "but it is also irrelevant."
-- On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War, by Colonel Harry G. Summers
(Summers was on the US negotiating team in Hanoi and was the unnamed American officer in that conversation)

If it weren't for the damn media. The damn politicians. The Goddamn
hippies. Or, to put it a different way, we didn't have the will to win.
That's true. But, you have to discuss what that would have entailed.
And, even more important, why there was a limit on the price we would
pay. As compared to the Vietnamese, who would, and did, pay any price.

In World War, which is the cinematic model in our minds for every war
we've fought since, Americans were willing to pay any price.

We were fighting two countries, both bent on world domination. One
attacked us and went on to conquer US controlled territory, the
Philippines, an American colony from 1895 to 1935, then a
"commonwealth," the same status as Puerto Rico, from 1935 up to the
Japanese invasion.

Once we entered the war, it was clearly a death struggle. Nobody was
going to say, "We've had a couple of battles, it's a draw, let's go back
to our original places," or even cede a few territories here and there
in return for peace.

So, what was at stake in Vietnam?

Would all of Southeast Asia fall? Like dominoes. Would the balance of power tilt? Would the Reds conquer the world?

None of the above.

All that was at stake was who got to govern South Vietnam. Some jumped
colonel with crooked cronies, with a pro-American capitalist heart? Or
"Uncle" Ho with his commie friends and Stalinist purges?

We know that for a fact. We -- and whichever stooge was in
the presidential palace at the end -- lost. After we lost, the
communists took over and reunited the country.

And that's all. Yes, they intervened in Cambodia to put in
lid on Pol Pot, a generally humanitarian thing. And had a brief war
with China. Which they won.

What would have happened if we'd won? Whatever that means?

Not much. We weren't about to invade North Vietnam and
"set them free!" We'd crossed the north/south border in Korea and, as
they'd warned, the Chinese entered the war.

So winning would have meant staying in Vietnam, continuing
to prop up inept and oppressive regimes. To do so, we would have had to
maintain our programs of assassination and terror.

Yes, there was a thing called the Phoenix Program, sneak into
villages at night, murder people, leave the bodies to be seen, to create
terror among others who cooperate with the VC. It was considered to be a
very effective campaign. Except for that we lost.

You might imagine that winning would have meant creating a place as
orderly as San Diego, California. Or as orderly as Vietnam appears to
be today. But what's more likely is that the rebellions would never go
entirely away, and the country would have remained on simmer, and we
would have had to be an army of occupation.

That would have been a problem. By 1970, the US Armed Forces were in deep trouble:

By every conceivable indicator, our army that now remains in
Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units
avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers and
non-commissioned officers, drug-ridden, and dispirited where not near
mutinous.
-- "The Collapse Of The Armed Forces," Col. Robert D. Heinl, Jr., North
American Newspaper Alliance, Armed Forces Journal, 7 June, 1971

So, as high as the stakes were said to be, the actual stakes were pretty low.

If we'd left eight years earlier, Vietnam would have
simply turned into what it is today a lot sooner -- the loveliest
Communist tourist destination in the world. With the best food.

Do we have the Will To Win in Afghanistan?

Does winning means it becomes a stable, safe, secure
country, suitable for vacation homes like Costa Rica? Or, in the new
scenario, safe for mining engineers and multinationals, another Kuwait,
and, at the same time, offering equality for women? Either way,
committing to, and successful at, "eliminating terrorist havens."

According to the highly touted new counter-insurgency doctrine, we can do it!

But, according to its own force ratio numbers it will take at least
250,000 troops, calculating by population, or 500,000, calculating by
territory. For ten or twenty years.

The military feels that it has solved the morale problem
by giving up the draft, going to a volunteer, professional army, and
outsourcing as much of the non-combat functions as possible. But that
leaves us short of the number of troops necessary to do the job.

That's still presuming we can somehow find leaders less
ostentatiously corrupt, less flagrantly inept, and still pro-American.

It's tough to rebuild and modernize a country. We
couldn't do it in Iraq. When there are large sums of money thrown at a
problem there are always greedy hands grabbing for it. In Iraq, under
Paul Bremer's administration, more than twenty billion dollars simply
disappeared and almost every contract they entered into was
questionable. So, it's a very neat trick if you can do it.

It's a strange war.

The initial goal was to get Osama bin Laden. Plus his
chief lieutenants. And Mullah Omar for having the chutzpah to harbor
him.

We never did that. Then the war became something else. No one is quite sure what.

One thing we do know for sure. Osama bin Laden's goal. It was to get America stuck in a quagmire in Afghanistan.


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