Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Vietnam: When Losing Means Winning

"The United States has been engaged in five wars since World War II. In only one of them did it reach its stated objective.”

--Henry Kissinger (2014)

Kissinger’s comment, upsetting as it is, is mostly true.

Dominic Tierney (b. 1977) is an associate professor of political science at Swarthmore College and author of The Right Way to Lose a War: America in an Age of Unwinnable Conflicts. He has a lead article in Atlantic titled, “Why Has America Stopped Winning Wars?”  In it, Tierney tells us:
It’s not easy for . . . Americans to think deeply about battlefield disaster. American culture is a victory culture. Coded into the American DNA are the fear of failure and the celebration of winning. . . whether it’s a Christian prevailing over sin, a pioneer mastering the natural world, or a sportsman reaching the pinnacle of his profession. . .
Tierney adds that
when America’s recent record at war is one for five, that victory culture starts to look like wishful thinking, unhealthy braggadocio, and illusory triumphalism—good for the nation’s self-esteem, perhaps, but not good for handling reality. It’s time to reckon with the hard truths of conflict.
Tierney’s identification with “reality” and “hard truths” over “wishful thinking, unhealthy braggadocio, and illusory triumphalism” makes his anti-war bias self-evident. Tierney welcomes American defeat in war, presumably with the hope America will stop wasting lives and money overseas.

Kissinger, on the other hand, delivers his “one in five” victory tally with a sense of regret. He does acknowledge that Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan “divided the American opinion in such a way that it is very difficult to distill a consistent center of direction."  That’s a guarded way of saying anti-war sentiment trumpeted by progressives such as Tierney -- or in the case of Vietnam, Tierney’s elders -- stopped the U.S. war effort in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan from reaching what Kissinger called “its stated objective.”

Tierney argues he’s on the right side of history because:
  • when the U.S. “waded into far-flung quarrels featuring culturally alien enemies,” it handed “the opponent home-field advantage.” 
  • “It’s limited war for Americans, and total war for those fighting Americans. The United States has more power; its foes have more willpower.”
  • “The U.S. military also failed to adapt to a new era of civil wars and guerrilla conflict. . . big-unit warfare. . . tactics proved disastrous in civil wars, where indiscriminate violence can cause collateral damage, lose hearts and minds, and recruit more insurgents.”
  • “Since the prize on offer is less valuable, the acceptable price to pay in lives and money is also dramatically reduced. To achieve victory, the campaign must be quick and decisive—with little margin for error.” 
  •  “combat debacles can cast a long shadow over the American home front. The exit strategy could spark domestic uproar, congressional rebellion, and even blood on the streets” 
Tierney’s “history” is junk. Here’s why:

1. Korea was two wars, and Kissinger wrongly calls Korea a stalemate. In the first, starting from the tiny Pusan perimeter, we drove the North Koreans off the map, rolling to the Chinese border. China said, “no you don’t,” launched a surprise invasion, and pushed us back past Seoul well into South Korea. That war we lost. China, a big country with a really big army, won. It was Douglas MacArthur’s hubris that took on China. Harry Truman fired MacArthur, replaced him with Matthew Ridgway in 1951, Ridgway drove the Chinese back into North Korea, and we settled for the status quo ante--a non-Communist South Korea. Once MacArthur’s 1950 China misadventure was over, Korea ended as a victory over Communist aggression.

2. We won “Desert Storm.”

3. Everything else Tierney’s distorted record details is Vietnam. Giving opponents a “home field advantage” -- Vietnam. “Limited war” for us, “total war” for the enemy -- Vietnam. “Indiscriminate violence” losing “hearts and minds” -- Vietnam and only Vietnam. A too high “price to pay in lives” -- that’s Vietnam, where those dying included tens of thousands of draftees, not Iraq and Afghanistan where casualties have mostly been professionally-compensated volunteers (every life matters, but to professionals, risk comes with the territory). “Combat debacles” causing “domestic uproar, congressional rebellion, and even blood on the streets” -- that’s all Vietnam, Vietnam, Vietnam.

Following George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, you could not convince progressives like Tierney that Iraq was anything but Vietnam redux, with oil added. The Democratic Party, transformed by Vietnam, could not and cannot treat their success in pulling the U.S. out of Vietnam as anything less than a wonderful victory.

So getting America out of Iraq became a similar mission, and in Tierney’s eyes, a similar triumph -- the “Vietnam Peace” of his generation. This myth continues, even though the Bush surge in 2007-08 defeated al Qaeda in Iraq and left a country at peace. Obama ruined that peace by 1) failing to secure a “status of forces” agreement with Iraq, and 2) subsequently withdrawing all American forces there, which led directly to today’s Islamic State (ISIS) threat to take over Iraq.

And then there is Afghanistan. Obama and Democrats once considered Afghanistan and our victory over the Taliban the “good war.” But once Iraq was over, progressives were determined to repeat their “U.S. out of Iraq” peace triumph in Afghanistan. Tierney doesn’t have his “lost war” victory in Afghanistan yet, but it’s certainly on the way, after Obama, having first endorsed (half-heartedly) a surge there that might have stabilized the nation, only months later reversed that surge and ordered an end to U.S. combat in Afghanistan by 2016.

In both Iraq and Afghanistan, America -- contrary to Tierney’s wishes -- should be supporting those nationals still willing to fight for their freedom. That we don’t is thanks to Tierney, his fellow progressives, and their distorted, Vietnam-shaped view of history.

In fairness to the progressive view, Tierney and company most sincerely oppose “wasting” U.S. resources abroad; they instead would spend the money on government programs at home. They would feed the “Blue Beast”.

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