Archive Logo.jpg

April 28, 2005

Vietnam@30

Both Dusty and I, and two other friends of mine, contributed information to help Blogfather Jonah write his column that appears in today's edition of USA Today.

Might as well share our thoughts with all y'all. Of the four of us, Bennett nailed it best I think (see the Flash Traffic/Extended Entry).

Bennett also provided the best paragraphical summary:

Saw it in the print version this morning. Monday night, PBS had a conventional wisdom piece about the end of the war in 1975. Hardly a word about the massive conventional force attack by the PAVN, seems that ARVN just mysteriously collapsed. Sorley, McMaster, and Palmer have written the best works on the Vietnam War, but they are largely ignored. Interestingly, they are all military men, who either knew what was going on (Sorley, Palmer), or knew how to interprete the evidence (McMaster). Most of the press just read Sheehan and stop - they believe it is the definitive volume. You get a distorted view from the roof of a Saigon hotel. Substitute Baghdad for Saigon in the above sentence and you will understand how the current war's reporting might be just a little bit off the mark.

I invite you to read the rest below.

This just in: Someone thinks Jonah is wrong... As Dusty remarked - "File under "Pugnacious Stupidity."

Dad, Bill, et.al. - *I* think all y'all did what ya could to the best of your ability. I'm proud of what you did. The leaders lost that war - not the led. Of course, that's *usually* true.

Oops. I forgot I told Dusty and Bill to send it direct. I only have mine, Bennett, and Dave's:

Bennett:

Vietnam was a state vs. state war. The United States and South Vietnam vs. North Vietnam and its Communist backers. The pure insurgency was over by 1965. After that it was a conventional war with U.S. forces fighting Main Force VC and NVA units. By 1970, main force VC units had ceased to exist except in name (they were manned by NVA soldiers and units), and the NVA was unable to operate in force inside South Vietnam. This changed as the US withdrawal accelerated in 1971. NVA units began to move back into S. Vietnam and take on S. Vietnamese units. They were still beaten back by a combination of S. Vietnamese forces and U.S. Airpower. The North Vietnamese finally succeeded with a massive conventional force attack after the U.S. had totally withdrawn all combat forces. (See McMaster, Dereliction of Duty; Sorley, A Better War.)

The War in Iraq is a minor insurgency fought by stateless actors. Neighboring states of Iran and Syria provide covert and financial support from inside their own borders. The South Vietnamese Army was built up over a period of years following the withdrawal of the French in 1954. The build-up of the Iraqi Army is less than a year old.

Enemy objective in Vietnam was overthrow of existing government and reunion of South Vietnam with the communist run North Vietnam. Enemy objective in Iraq is overthrow of all non-religious governments in the Islamic World and a Jihad against the West.

NVA and VC soldiers were driven by nationalism and ideology. Great majority of Anti-Iraqi Forces (AIF) are criminals and mercenaries, driven by money alone.

Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon were never committed to winning the War in Vietnam, they just didn't want to risk their political futures by losing. George Bush is fully committed to winning, not only in Iraq, but throughout the Middle East by changing the environment that nurtures and sustains stateless terrorist organizations. (McMaster, Sorley)

Barry Goldwater lost the referendum on the war, George Bush won his.

Defeat in Vietnam was mitigated by the win in the larger and more critical Cold War fight against the Soviet Union, of which Vietnam was a minor campaign. Defeat in Iraq will invoke the emergence of Islamic Fundamentalist states throughout the region.

Iraqi government, as now constituted, is formed from all three major ethnic factions, with the top position occupied by a member of the majority faction. South Vietnam was ruled by the Catholic minority.

North Vietnam never had the capability of attacking the United States. They did not have nuclear weapons and the U. S. homeland was never threatened during the Vietnam War. Defeat in Iraq will likely result in massive and multiple WMD strikes against the US Homeland, most likely by nuclear weapons supplied to terrorists by one of their state sponsors.

Anti-Iraqi Forces have far less capability than VC and NVA forces. They cannot join with US forces in even a minor tactical engagement. They are reduced to terrorist bombing attacks designed to make the newspapers and TV reports.

U S casualties in Iraq are a fraction of those incurred by the US in Vietnam, even during the period of retrenchment and withdrawal.

Dave:


My friend, co-worker, and fellow veteran John Donovan, leading resident of Castle Arrgh, a bastion located, Dorothy, in Leavenworth, Kansas, sent me the e-mail located way down below the blue words, soliciting my comments for your USAT column referenced above. Because he asked, and because I generally like your written commentaries which I have read on-line and, infrequently, in the Kansas City Red Star, I agreed to take a shot at assisting you. Feel free to prune, slash, and burn as you deem necessary.

Okay, John, here goes:

1. The scale of the US commitment is vastly different. At the height of the VN running sore, we had 500,000+ troops committed. We have 130,000 in Iraq today.

2. Draft army vs. volunteer/professional army. Impact difference is HUGE, HUGE, HUGE.

3. The average US infantry soldier in VN was often not as well-trained as he should have been. The average US infantryman in Iraq is extremely well-trained, and the tactics, equipment, and weaponry once associated only with "black" CT units have migrated even to mechanized infantry units, greatly increasing their effectiveness and reducing their casualties.

4. Although the vast majority of draftees fought well in VN, there is considerable anecdotal evidence that their hearts were not in the fight, especially once LBJ and Nixon lost the home front part of the war. In strong contrast, the Army we have fielded in Iraq today is composed of volunteers who do understand the stakes in Iraq, who know they are succeeding, who know they will prevail in firefights 99% of the time, and who are only somewhat hampered by IEDs and VBIEDs.

5. In VN, ignorant and/or envious generals who did not understand the nature of the enemy or his insurgency, restricted the operations of Special Forces, greatly reducing the potential impact of these specially selected and superbly trained soldiers. In Iraq, the generals in charge know that over 80% of the actionable intelligence provided to ALL units for operations comes from the human intelligence operations of Special Forces 'A' teams.

6 . Large and numerous sanctuaries in Laos, NVN, and Cambodia were available to the VC and the NVA. Iran and Syria are providing far less in the sanctuary business. (I would keep my eye on the Najd province of Saudi Arabia, as it is the home of Wahhabism.)

7 . Fear of unhappy involvement with China and Soviet Union kept LBJ from applying US military power properly to the war in NVN , or to the war in SVN and on its borders. An equivalent situation does not exist in Iraq today.

8 . LBJ was, in contrast to the image he tried to project, a weak, vacillating Commander-in-Chief, without a vision of a politico-military end state for VN. (His very first phone conversation as POTUS with SECDEF McNamara showed that he had been cutting NSC meetings for a year, or perhaps he slept through them.) He second-guessed his generals, and refused them the assets they told him were necessary to win the war. Bush is a far better CDR-in-Chief , who has given specific, strong guidance to his generals, failing the test of being a wartime President only WRT First Fallujah, which he made up for last NOV. He backs his generals, even the two he shouldn't have.

9 . LBJ tried to hoard his political capital, and would spend it only on his domestic goals. Bush spends his political capital on Iraq (and the Social Security program, but that's another column).

10 . The insurgency in VN was nationalistic, and was the logical continuation, in the minds of many in and out of VN, of the war against the French colonial power. The war in Iraq does not yet have a nationalistic base, thank God.

11. The VN revolutionaries offered a better future to the masses, based on the utopian Marxist-Leninist ideology to which their leaders adhered. The Sunni insurgents offer only a return to the old days of Saddam and the Baath Party, which is not a vision that will sell outside of the Sunni Triangle, perhaps not even outside of Tikrit.

12. All of the VC, the VC (civilian) infrastructure, and the regular NVA units were, regardless of place of birth, Vietnamese. The leading Iraqi insurgent is not an Iraqi, but a Jordanian. His big sponsor is a Saudi, in hiding in Pakistan or Iran. Lots of the fighters killed in Fallujah were foreigners, Saudis being the largest contingent. This fact does not sit well with the highly nationalistic Iraqis.

13. The war in VN was spread throughout the country, and had broad political support. There wasn't a province that wasn't a problem, to some degree, for the central government. The so-called insurgency in Iraq is confined to a small geographic section of the country, populated by a minority, roughly a quarter of the population, and identified by its religion.

14. Successive VN governments were corrupt, weak, and "elected " in unfair balloting. They were therefore unpopular. The government currently forming in Baghdad was chosen in a relatively fair and open process , and has a head start on claiming legitimacy and popularity.

15. The VC and NVA units in the south were restocked by fresh, well-trained troopers from the north in the scores of thousands per year over a ten-year period. (Remember the oft-found chest tattoo "Born in the North to die in the South"?) The Sunnis are getting dribs and drabs of foreign fighters, and the available in-country manpower pool consists of 16-year-olds related to their fathers, uncles and brothers, who will join the insurgency, untrained, when they get old enough. The manpower pool is not large enough for the insurgents, and as the Iraqi National Army increases in size by drawing on Kurds and Shiites, the manpower ratio will tilt very heavily in favor of the Iraqi government.

16. The enemy in VN (local VC, main force VC, and NVA regulars) used the remote jungled terrain of the country to hide from ARVN, whereas the enemy in Iraq is primarily based in the towns and cities of the Sunni Triangle. Big difference. One result of this difference is, I opine, that the Iraqi insurgents will not be able to progress from small operations to large main-force operations. They will not be able to mass, hide, and simultaneously train in the manner needed to pose a big-unit threat to the government. Plus, the Iraqi insurgents would be smashed by US airpower and ground units if they were stupid enough to mass for the battalion- and regimental-sized attacks which the VC and the NVA used to destroy the ARVN and bloody US units, again, it must be stressed, in the jungle.

17. In VN, the enemy controlled vast tracts of land which the ARVN units did not enter, and US units entered only with dread. In Iraq, there is nothing equivalent. US forces can go where they please, and would love to be presented with more opportunities like Fallujah, where the enemy chose to make a stand, and died.

18. The use of artillery and free-fall gravity bombs delivered by fast-movers in VN resulted all too often in collateral damage which turned neutral peasants against the VN Army and government, and against the US troop presence. The US forces in Iraq seldom use artillery or mortars, and the phenomenal accuracy of precision-guided weapons delivered by US aircraft insures that insurgents, and not innocents, usually die.

I'm sure, Jonah, that there are several more possibilities left in the compare-and-contrast game, mostly in the domestic political arena and the diplomatic arena, but I have a day job, and it's now 0050, leaving me only 5.25 hours for sleep. Good luck with the Op-Ed.

Sincerely,
Dave

FAG. (That stands for "Former Action Guy.")

John:

I haven’t addressed it in a usefully direct manner. But I have linked to people who have, and with whose analysis I concur.

LTC Powl Smith

Chris Hitchens in Slate.

George Wilson.

Lastly, Mike Totten

Some overlap, but each comes at it from a different perspective, military, political, economic, even tactical.

There are several common themes:

Vietnam: Long-standing resistance in place for decades, well organized, motivated from a nationalist perspective.

Iraq: Overthrowing a corrupt regime. If anything, in Iraq, we’re playing the role of the Viet Minh (don’t push that too hard, it will fall apart, but you know what I mean). The resistance is cloaked in Nationalist/Islamist rhetoric, but is more motivated from a retention of kleptocratic perks than a true wish for local self-rule… *especially* hostile to a self-rule of the majority. In other words, lacking the philosophical clarity that Ho Chi Minh brought to the picture. Additionally, the relationship between the Islamists/Baathists and the locals is *not* like the North Vietnamese to the Viet Cong. Although we tried to cast it that way sometimes during Vietnam, the North Vietnamese were not outsiders in the sense that the hard core of the Insurgency is in Iraq. In a sense it’s a pity we allowed the media to define it as “Insurgency” because it’s more like the Germans fighting to retain control of occupied territories, even as they (via the Waffen SS) were using locals in their military to do so. In fact, there’s arguably a stronger correlation of Ba’athism to Nazi-ism than to Ho Chi Minh’s version of communism.

The ground tactical situations are astoundingly different. It’s just easier to fight people in deserts, especially when you have the tech overmatch we do. So, they’ve responded by retreating into the streets – and we are bending our intellect and capital to developing the tools to deal with that. It’s been slow, because admittedly, the services were for decades focused on being able to deal with the most dangerous threat – General War in Europe – than on knocking tin-pot dictators and their minions on the head.

Political and Economic – there’s shifting sands here – but there is still a good level of support for the war and the forces conducting it, despite the best efforts of the anti-war elites, and they haven’t galvanized the youth this time – which was more spark than fire – but that’s what counts on TV these days. The economic case for Vietnam was abstract at best (and you might not want to get into it in your piece) but it’s much more obvious this time around – hence the left’s banging on the “No blood for Oil” theme.

Dominos. Southeast Asia was seen as much of a central piece of anything to Americans in the 60’s and 70’s… by contrast, the seemingly intractable problems of the Middle East have been on our radar screens *since* the 60’s – and there is real evidence of change occurring over there… and perhaps a sense that this time, we *can* make a difference if we just keep trying, and don’t get tired and pack up and leave.

And the Internet has made a difference. The Milblogs give a voice to the warriors they’ve never had – and it’s significant, I think, that there aren’t that many anti-war milblogs out there. You can find ‘em by the dozens that don’t like this or that aspect of it – but few that challenge the fundamental act itself. The Pro-American Iraqi bloggers outnumber the anti-American ones – at least in English. Then there are the conservative voices on the ‘net like National Review, et.al., and, I guess Fox (full disclosure – I don’t watch TV news much anymore) as well. The Accidental Monolith (I don’t believe in a Vast Media Conspiracy, I think they are just victims of self-selecting and getting on the bus to Abilene (exactly the thing they accuse us White Male Powerbrokers of) no longer is able to bottleneck and filter the flow of information.

Heh. That turned out to be more than I realized.