The View From 1776
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
A Vietnam Reminder
As George Santayana observed, those who do not know history are compelled to repeat it.
Recalling Vietnam should tell us, both that the perception that it was a quagmire was a media fabrication, and that the crucial objective is to win the war. Liberal-progressives still have not learned the latter lesson, and they refuse to acknowledge the truth of the former.
No More Vietnams
By Jeff Lukens
The war in Iraq may be ending in much the same way the war in Vietnam appeared to be ending in 1973 with the signing of the Paris Peace Accords. We had finally won in Vietnam, but then lost the peace two years later. The outcome of the 2008 presidential election could determine whether Iraq becomes “another Vietnam” should there be a significant renewal of insurgent activity.
The Left would have us believe we were stuck in Iraq in an endless and unwinnable quagmire like they said we had in Vietnam. That comparison, however, has not held up. While much about the two wars is similar, a key difference was Lyndon Johnson’s muddled strategy in Vietnam compared with George W. Bush’s winning strategy in Iraq.
In 1965, Johnson should have decided either to win the war quickly or to pull U.S. forces out and go home. Instead, he chose a middle road that resulted in a series of “measured responses” and troop escalations that lead to a debacle. One measured response Johnson employed was restrictive rules of engagement. Barry Goldwater identified a few in his autobiography:
American pilots were not permitted to attack North Vietnamese MIGs sitting on the runway. It could only be attacked when it was flying and showed “hostile intent.” . . . SAM missile sites and supporting radar could not be struck while under construction, only after they became operational and actually fired at U.S. aircraft.
And on and on they went. Not surprisingly, North Vietnamese aggressiveness increased in direct proportion to our restraint resulting in many needless U.S. casualties. It is an ironic fact that the threat of swift and effective military action is one of the best ways to insure peace. A quick and decisive war, moreover, will result in far fewer casualties for both sides than one that drags on for years.
If Johnson was serious about winning, he should have made that clear early on. Goldwater believed LBJ should have publicly stated what he intended to do if the North Vietnamese continued to wage war against the South. That probably would have meant the threat of destroying their factories, ports, dikes, and infrastructure. Such an attack would have to have been launched when we were still a credible adversary, and not years later when our resolve was clearly fading.
When any president goes to war, he has a limited amount of time to win it before the people grow weary and want out. By March 1968, that time had come for LBJ.
Contrary to the media’s portrayal of an endless unwinnable war in Vietnam, however, we virtually annihilated the Viet Cong during the Tet Offensive. In a matter of weeks, Ho Ch