Monday, October 12, 2009

Learning the Lessons of Vietnam

In college, I ran across an earnest Trotskyite (in Ann Arbor? Getoutahere!) who sincerely believed that Viet Cong peasant proletariat armed with sharpened bamboo spears defeated American air power and technology. Even as a poetic illustration it had great limitations, but it became apparent he actually believed it was literally true.

Today's anti-war side has as little clue as that Trotskyite when it comes to drawing lessons from the Vietnam War to apply to Afghanistan.

The bottom line is not that it is better not to attempt victory against insurgents, because our loss in Vietnam was not the result of unstoppable rebels. We chose to lose after we'd defeated those insurgents:

When the last U.S. forces departed South Vietnam in March 1973 pursuant to the Paris Peace Accords, South Vietnam had a viable government and military structure that was positioned—had the U.S. kept its commitments—to sustain itself against the renewed aggression from the North that began almost immediately after the peace accords were signed. When America defaulted on those commitments, South Vietnam was doomed.

Lessons learned from the past are only as good as our understanding of the past. This is especially important to keep in mind now, as the commander in chief, his principal national security advisers, and senior military leaders contemplate the next step in Afghanistan. Analogies to the real history of Vietnam could be as useful as those based on a flawed understanding of that conflict are dangerous and misleading.

We can beat the Taliban if we choose to do so. Or we can lose if we want to. Certainly, the enemy has a vote in this and we rely on the Pakistanis stepping up, but it is true that a lot of the outcome is up to us based on the simple decision to win or lose.

Unfortunately for us, many Iraqis after only nine months of the Obama presidency, are concluding we will choose to lose in Iraq even after we've achieved battlefield victory and defended a budding democracy from violent fanatics:

"Obama is not interested in Iraq," says analyst Ma'ad Fayyad. "This is because, if Iraq succeeds as the first Arab democracy, it might look as if Bush was right after all."

Obama's tepid, not to say hostile, attitude toward Iraq's new democracy has some Iraqi politicians recasting themselves as anti-Americans. ...

"If Obama wants to run away, no Iraqi can afford to appear more pro-American than the US president," says a political advisor to Maliki.

Meanwhile, Iran is throwing in everything to defeat Maliki and seize control of Iraq's government[.]

Just as winning in Germany and Japan was cemented in the face of Soviet hostility after 1945, we must cement our win in Iraq against Iranian (with an assist from their lap dog Syria) by making sure Iraqis know we still want victory in Iraq and are willing to defend it--even as we can withdraw troops not needed to fight our common enemies.

And defending Iraq includes defending rule of law and elections to make sure that the next election is not the last election. If too few Iraqis believe we will help them achieve that goal, why will they choose rule of law to survive internal battles when our enemies will use rule of guns to win?

Those who want to run from Iraq and Afghanistan because they sincerely believe they are saving us from inevitable defeat as in Vietnam are victims of the belief that the Rooster causes sunrise.

We will have chosen to create another Vietnam in Afghanistan and Iraq if we fail to appreciate that we chose to lose in Vietnam.