Monday, November 14, 2005

A Very Interesting Article-A Must Read

Mark over at Boots in Baghdad posted an article by Melvin Laird, Nixon's Secretary of Defense during Vietnam. The article is called Iraq: Learning the Lessons of Vietnam. Mr. Laird makes a point that yes, there are similarities, but not in the way the media and protestors would have you believe. It is a long article but well worth the read. The entire article can be found at Foreign Affairs.

When Mr. Laird became Secretary of Defense, he found that there was a lot the public didn't know about the war in Vietnam (secret documents that did not remain secret) and that Nixon did not have a plan to get out of Vietnam as he had stated during his campaign for President in 1968. As for now, he reprimands those who should know better about comparing Iraq to Vietnam.
Some who should know better have made our current intervention in Iraq the most recent in a string of bogeymen peeking out from under the bed, spawned by the nightmares of Vietnam that still haunt us. The ranks of the misinformed include seasoned politicians, reporters, and even veterans who earned their stripes in Vietnam but who have since used that war as their bully pulpit to mold an isolationist American foreign policy. This camp of doomsayers includes Senator Edward Kennedy, who has called Iraq "George Bush's Vietnam." Those who wallow in such Vietnam angst would have us be not only reticent to help the rest of the world, but ashamed of our ability to do so and doubtful of the value of spreading democracy and of the superiority of freedom itself. They join their voices with those who claim that the current war is "all about oil," as though the loss of that oil were not enough of a global security threat to merit any U.S. military intervention and especially not "another Vietnam."

The Vietnam War that I saw, first from my seat in Congress and then as secretary of defense, cannot be wrapped in a tidy package and tagged "bad idea." It was far more complex than that: a mixture of good and evil from which there are many valuable lessons to be learned. Yet the only lesson that seems to have endured is the one that begins and ends with "Don't go there." The war in Iraq is not "another Vietnam." But it could become one if we continue to use Vietnam as a sound bite while ignoring its true lessons.

I acknowledge and respect the raw emotions of those who fought in Vietnam, those who lost loved ones, and those who protested, and I also respect the sacrifice of those who died following orders of people such as myself, half a world away. Those raw emotions are once again being felt as our young men and women die in Iraq and Afghanistan. I cannot speak for the dead or the angry. My voice is that of a policymaker, one who once decided which causes were worth fighting for, how long the fight should last, and when it was time to go home. The president, as our commander-in-chief, has the overall responsibility for making these life-or-death decisions, in consultation with Congress. The secretary of defense must be supportive of those decisions, or else he must leave.
He states that 30 years of revisionist history has ignored the fact that we were helping the people in Vietnam hold their own and had Congress not pulled funding in 1975, South Vietnam would be a different place today. But by pulling funding we fundamentally abandoned the South Vietnam to the Soviet money backed North Vietnam. This gave the United States a reputation of running out on allies.
Vietnam gave the United States the reputation for not supporting its allies. The shame of Vietnam is not that we were there in the first place, but that we betrayed our ally in the end. It was Congress that turned its back on the promises of the Paris accord. The president, the secretary of state, and the secretary of defense must share the blame. In the end, they did not stand up for the commitments our nation had made to South Vietnam. Any president or cabinet officer who is turned down by Congress when he asks for funding for a matter of national security or defense simply has not tried hard enough. There is no excuse for that failure. In my four years at the Pentagon, when public support for the Vietnam War was at its nadir, Congress never turned down any requests for the war effort or Defense Department programs. These were tense moments, but I got the votes and the appropriations. A defense secretary's relationship with Congress is second only to his relationship with the men and women in uniform. Both must be able to trust him, and both must know that he respects them. If not, Congress will not fund, and the soldiers, sailors, and air personnel will not follow.
Mr. Laird talks about how Vietnam became "Americanized" when it never should have been and we need to realize this and keep this part of the war on terror "Iraqized." This is about making Iraq an independent democracy and not "a puppet government of the United States" as South Vietnam was touted to be and actually was in many ways. Mr. Laird points out that we do need to have a plan of withdrawing troops from Iraq, but we also need to show our confidence in the Iraqi forces being able to handle their country's safety on their own. This does not mean we need to stay until they are 100% ready militarily, but strong enough that they can handle the insurgents without us. We must look at the big picture.
Even with the tide of public opinion running against the war, withdrawal was not an easy sell inside the Nixon administration. Our first round of withdrawals was announced after a conference between Nixon and South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu on Midway Island in June 1969. I had already softened the blow for Thieu by visiting him in Saigon in March, at which point I told him the spigot was being turned off. He wanted more U.S. soldiers, as did almost everyone in the U.S. chain of command, from the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on down. For each round of troop withdrawals from Vietnam, the Joint Chiefs suggested a miserly number based on what they thought they still needed to win the war. I bumped those numbers up, always in counsel with General Creighton Abrams, then the commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam. Even Nixon, who had promised to end the war, accepted each troop-withdrawal request from me grudgingly. It took four years to bring home half a million troops. At times, it seemed my only ally was General Abrams. He understood what the others did not: that the American people's patience for the war had worn thin.

Bush is not laboring under similar handicaps in his military. His commanders share his goal of letting Iraq take care of itself as soon as its fledgling democracy is ready. And for the moment, there is still patience at home for a commonsensical, phased drawdown. In fact, the voices expressing the most patience about a sensible withdrawal and the most support for the progress of Iraqi soldiers are coming from within the U.S. military. These people are also the most eager to see the mission succeed and the most willing to see it through to the end. It is they who are at high risk and who are the ones being asked to serve not one but multiple combat tours. They are dedicated and committed to a mission that ranges from the toughest combat to the most elementary chores of nation building. We should listen to them, and trust them.
The next sections of the article should be read in their entirety and I will not quote them all here (too long), but the topics he covers are The Pretext for War, Marketing the Mission, Building a Legitimate Government, this is where he speaks of the puppet government and that Iraq is not a puppet government.

Mr. Laird does tackle the topic of the insurgents and gives some hope that they can, indeed, be defeated.
Insurgents were and are the enemy in both wars, and insurgencies fail without outside funding. In Vietnam, the insurgents were heavily funded and well equipped by the Soviet Union. They followed a powerful and charismatic leader, Ho Chi Minh, who nurtured their passionate nationalist goals. In Iraq, the insurgency is fragmented, with no identifiable central leadership and no unifying theology, strategy, or vision other than to get the United States out of the region. If that goal were accomplished now, they would turn on each other, as they already have done in numerous skirmishes. Although they do rely on outside funding, their benefactors are fickle and without deep pockets.
There are traps, though, that we must keep in mind and deal with, such as prisoner abuse. Mr. Laird states that soldiers are more likely to abide "by the rules" if their commanders and leaders are strong. The commanders are stronger with their troops if they have the incentive of being held accountable when their troops don't follow expected protocol. The US also needs to put more money into military defense whether or not we are at war. The "robbing Peter to pay Paul" mentality about military spending of the past few decades have cost in not only well-trained soldiers, but also in well-equipped soldiers.
Yet, because of pandering to the butter-not-guns crowd, we still do not spend enough of our total budget on national defense. The annual U.S. GDP is in excess of $11.5 trillion. The percentage of GDP going to the Defense Department amounts to 3.74 percent. In 1953, during the Korean War, it was 14 percent. In 1968, during the Vietnam War, it was nearly 10 percent -- an amount that sapped domestic programs and ended up demoralizing President Johnson because he could not maintain his Great Society social programs. Now our spending priorities have shifted to social programs, with 6.8 percent of GDP, for example, going to Social Security and Medicare. That is more than twice what it was during the Vietnam War.
Lastly, Mr. Laird covers the necessity of the Bush administration to shore up relations with our allies. This include NATO and the UN despite the problems these alliances. He outlines some of the problems we could have if we do not mend relations with these allies.
Three decades later, we have fallen into a pattern of neglecting our treaty alliances, such as NATO, and endangering the aid we can give our allies by throwing our resources into fights that our allies refuse to join. Vietnam was just such a fight, and Iraq is, too. If our treaty alliances were adequately tended to and shored up -- and here I include the UN -- we would not have so much trouble persuading others to join us when our cause is just. Still, as the only superpower, there will be times when we must go it alone.

President Bush does not have the luxury of waiting for the international community to validate his policies in Iraq. But we do have the lessons of Vietnam. In Vietnam, the voices of the "cut-and-run" crowd ultimately prevailed, and our allies were betrayed after all of our work to set them on their feet. Those same voices would now have us cut and run from Iraq, assuring the failure of the fledgling democracy there and damning the rest of the Islamic world to chaos fomented by extremists. Those who look only at the rosy side of what defeat did to help South Vietnam get to where it is today see a growing economy there and a warming of relations with the West. They forget the immediate costs of the United States' betrayal. Two million refugees were driven out of the country, 65,000 more were executed, and 250,000 were sent to "reeducation camps." Given the nature of the insurgents in Iraq and the catastrophic goals of militant Islam, we can expect no better there.
Mr. Laird concludes with a warning that we must not allow the downfalls of Vietnam to become the downfalls in Iraq and he leaves it with this warning.
As one who orchestrated the end of our military role in Vietnam and then saw what had been a workable plan fall apart, I agree that we cannot allow "another Vietnam." For if we fail now, a new standard will have been set. The lessons of Vietnam will be forgotten, and our next global mission will be saddled with the fear of its becoming "another Iraq."
I am sure that I have not done justice to this article and I think it is important for us to get an "inside" view of Vietnam, the pitfalls there, and how we can avoid them in Iraq. So, please read the article and let me know what you think.

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