Saturday, December 27, 2014

So Now Everyone Gets to Forget What Happened in Vietnam?

This article argues that the Obama administration is making a Vietnam War-reaction mistake by failing to commit an American corps (a multi-division force) to defeat ISIL across Iraq and Syria. He over-states ISIL strength.

While the author rightly notes that the Vietnam was hardly a victory of guerrillas given that North Vietnamese mechanized forces stormed into Saigon to end the war, he misses a couple big differences between the Vietnam War and the war against ISIL, Inherent Resolve.

One, our plans for helping South Vietnam hold of North Vietnam never anticipated putting American ground forces into battle. We were supposed to provide air power (and logistics help, of course) to make up for the general strategic immobility of the South Vietnamese army which could not mass to oppose a North Vietnamese invasion.

So arguing that putting American ground forces into Iraq now to lead the offensive cannot rely on the Vietnam example he sets forth.

Second, it is absurd to compare the ISIL military power to that of North Vietnam in 1973-75.

North Vietnam had a large, mechanized army. And inside South Vietnam they had North Vietnamese soldiers who largely manned the basically defeated Viet Cong units that simulated an insurrection against South Vietnam's government by the time we left.

ISIL has a strength of perhaps 30,000 troops who function mostly as motorized light infantry that swept into Sunni Arab areas of Iraq to punctuate an "offensive" that was basically an anti-Shia uprising of Sunni Arabs.

So the military power of ISIL is essentially the reverse of North Vietnam's.

You can see this by the fact that North Vietnamese mechanized forces took Saigon in 1975 and that when the war ended South Vietnam was simply absorbed into North Vietnam to make a Hanoi-dominated Vietnam.

By contrast, even without any American help, the ISIL offensive last summer essentially ran its course when it reached Shia and Kurdish areas of Iraq.

And this despite the fact that most of Iraq's military power is pretty static and tied to defending those Shia (and Kurdish) areas, and was reduced to a remarkably low level.

Very little is strategically mobile, and won't be until we train up those brigades we have identified as suitable for mobile warfare, yet they held the line and prevented an ISIL march into Baghdad nonetheless.

So it is clear that ISIL's power is inferior relative to Iraq's (and the Kurds') power in contrast to North Vietnam's power which was superior to South Vietnam's power without our support (which had been built into Saigon's strategy to hold the line).

Our current strategy--if I'm correct in my interpretation of seeing my view of what we should do put into play--does not require American ground force combat brigades in direct offensive action against ISIL.

If we can again exploit the re-alienation of Iraq's Sunni Arabs by the jihadis (because of jihadi brutality against their supposed Sunni brethren) who the Sunni Arabs initially hoped would be their saviors against the Shias and Kurds, ISIL's few troops can be shattered by some strong blows by decent and mobile combat units, much as the French shattered the jihadi hold over northern Mali.

We need to train the Iraqis, provide air power and logistics, and put advisers and forward air controllers into Iraqi frontline units to exploit our air power.

But except for special forces units for their expertise and company- or battalion-sized combat units held for search and rescue efforts in enemy territory to rescue any air crews that go down in enemy territory, we do not need to commit combat brigades to the war.

Well, I'd want American combat units in Jordan, Kuwait, and afloat just in case we need to rescue our numerous support forces inside Iraq from some unforeseen calamity.

I am even open to the possibility that other interests may make it acceptable to seek an end to the Syria front without the total destruction of the Assad regime, as the author suggests, even though I think he deserves to pay for making war on us in Iraq and his general monstrosity.

But the defeat of ISIL does not--because we built an Iraqi military with enough remaining ground power to beat ISIL--require American ground combat units.

And let's not expand the scope of people who have learned the wrong lessons from the Vietnam War.