Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Iraq is not Vietnam but did we learn from Nam?

Ted Kennedy, Democratic US Senator from Massachusetts, said "Iraq is Bush's Vietnam; referring to the quagmire war his brother JF Kennedy and then his successor Johnson found themselves in.

Iraq is nothing like the war in Vietnam but that doesn't mean we can't and shouldn't apply some lessons learned.

Arnaud de Borchgrave, writing in Newsmax lays out some important lessons.


"... Iraq will only be another Vietnam if the home front collapses, as it did following the Tet offensive that began on the eve of the Chinese New Year, Jan. 31, 1968. ..."

After the first few hours of panic, the South Vietnamese troops reacted fiercely. They did the bulk of the fighting and took some 6,000 casualties. Viet Cong units not only did not reach a single one of their objectives - except when they arrived by taxi at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, blew their way through the wall into the compound and, guns blazing, made it into the lobby before they were wiped out by U.S. Marines. But they lost some 50,000 killed and at least as many wounded.

Gen. Giap had thrown some 70,000 troops into a strategic gamble that was also designed to overwhelm 13 of the 16 provincial capitals and trigger a popular uprising. But Tet was an unmitigated military disaster for Hanoi and its Viet Cong troops in South Vietnam. Yet that was not the way it was reported in U.S. and other media around the world.

It was television's first war. And some 50 million Americans at home saw the carnage of dead bodies in the rubble and dazed Americans running around.


Donning helmet, Mr. Cronkite declared the war lost. It was this now famous television news piece that persuaded President Lyndon Johnson six weeks later, on March 31, not to run for re-election. His ratings had plummeted from 80 percent when he assumed the presidency upon John F. Kennedy's death to 30 percent after Tet. Approval of his handling of the war dropped to 20 percent, his credibility shot to pieces.


But defeat became an option when Johnson decided the war was unwinnable and that he would lose his bid for the presidency in November 1968. Hanoi thus turned military defeat into a priceless geopolitical victory.

Even Giap admitted in his memoirs that news media reporting of the war and the anti-war demonstrations that ensued in America surprised him. Instead of negotiating what he called a conditional surrender, Giap said they would now go the limit because America's resolve was weakening and the possibility of complete victory was within Hanoi's grasp.

And the chances of the South Vietnamese army being able to hack it on its own were reasonably good, with one proviso: continued U.S. military assistance with weapons and hardware, including helicopters.

But Congress balked, first by cutting off military assistance to Cambodia, which enabled Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge communists to take over, which, in turn, was followed by a similar congressional rug-pulling from under the South Vietnamese, which led to rapid collapse of morale in Saigon.

The unraveling, with Congress pulling the string, was so rapid even Giap was caught by surprise. As he recounts in his memoirs, Hanoi had to improvise a general offensive - and then rolled into Saigon two years before they had reckoned it might become possible.

Bui Tin, who served on the general staff of the North Vietnamese army, received South Vietnam's unconditional surrender on April 30, 1975. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal after his retirement, he made clear the anti-war movement in the United States, which led to the collapse of political will in Washington, was "essential to our strategy."

Visits to Hanoi by Jane Fonda and former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and various church ministers "gave us confidence that we should hold on in the face of battlefield reverses."

America lost the war, concluded Bui Tin, "because of its democracy. Through dissent and protest, it lost the ability to mobilize a will to win."

Kennedy should remember that Vietnam was the war of his brother, who saw the conflict in the larger framework of the Cold War and Nikita Khrushchev's threats against West Berlin. It would behoove Kennedy to see Iraq in the larger context of the struggle to bring democracy not only to Iraq but also to the entire Middle East.

The President's approval rating is still above 50%, a recent Gallup Poll showed most Americans supported sending in more troops to Iraq and anti-war protests in the US attract very few protesters these days.

Perhaps we have learned some lessons. Events leading up to the US elections in November will tell one way or another.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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