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US Looks To Vietnam For Tips On Losing

This Associated Press article almost slipped by us, since it mostly seems to have been picked up by ultra left sites like Common Dreams:

US looks to Vietnam for Afghan tips

By SLOBODAN LEKIC (AP)

August 7

BRUSSELS — Top U.S. officials have reached out to a leading Vietnam war scholar to discuss the similarities of that conflict 40 years ago with American involvement in Afghanistan, where the U.S. is seeking ways to isolate an elusive guerrilla force and win over a skeptical local population.

The overture to Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Stanley Karnow, who opposes the Afghan war, comes as the U.S. is evaluating its strategy there

McChrystal and Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to the country, telephoned Karnow on July 27 in an apparent effort to apply the lessons of Vietnam to the Afghan war, which started in 2001 when U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban regime in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

Among the concerns voiced by historians is the credibility of President Hamid Karzai’s government, which is widely perceived as being plagued by graft and corruption. They draw a parallel between Afghanistan’s presidential election on Aug. 20 and the failed effort in Vietnam to legitimize a military regime lacking broad popular support through an imposed presidential election in 1967.

"Holbrooke rang me from Kabul and passed the phone to the general," said Karnow, who authored the seminal 1983 book, "Vietnam: A History."

Holbrooke confirmed to The Associated Press that the three men discussed similarities between the two wars. "We discussed the two situations and what to do," he said during a visit last week to NATO headquarters in Brussels.

In an interview Thursday with the AP, Karnow said it was the first time he had ever been consulted by U.S. commanders to discuss the war. He did not elaborate on the specifics of the conversation.

When asked what could be drawn from the Vietnam experience, Karnow replied: "What did we learn from Vietnam? We learned that we shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Obama and everybody else seem to want to be in Afghanistan, but not I."

"It now seems unthinkable that the U.S. could lose (in Afghanistan), but that’s what experts … thought in Vietnam in 1967," he said at his Maryland home. "It could be that there will be no real conclusion and that it will go on for a long time until the American public grows tired of it."

Isn’t that great? The Obama administration is reaching out to people who can tell them how to lose a war against all odds.

There is a real reason Mr. Karnow was on the master list of Nixon political opponents. He was a defeatist. And Vietnam was not a war we should have lost.

In fact, we would have had it won – if it wasn’t for the “journalists” like Mr. Karnow.

But Mr. Karnow wrote a book which was turned into a PBS series Vietnam. So he is obviously the right man to direct America’s war policy.

Oh, and think what a great morale boost all of this must be for (the elected) Mr. Karzai.

When there he was thinking that if he complained about America killing civilians enough he would become a hero with the Western press.

(Thanks to BillK for the heads up.)

This article was posted by Steve on Monday, August 10th, 2009. Comments are currently closed.

18 Responses to “US Looks To Vietnam For Tips On Losing”

  1. BillK says:

    Strangely enough the only place I’ve been able to find this online is at a liberal blog.

    From the Associated Press:

    US Eyes Vietnam for Afghanistan Tips

    By Slobodan Lekic

    BRUSSELS — Top U.S. officials have reached out to a leading Vietnam war scholar to discuss the similarities of that conflict 40 years ago with American involvement in Afghanistan, where the U.S. is seeking ways to isolate an elusive guerrilla force and win over a skeptical local population.

    The overture to Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Stanley Karnow, who opposes the Afghan war, comes as the U.S. is evaluating its strategy there.

    President Barack Obama has doubled the size of the U.S. force to curb a burgeoning Taliban insurgency and bolster the Afghan government. He has tasked Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander, to conduct a strategic review of the fight against Taliban guerrillas and draft a detailed proposal for victory.

    McChrystal and Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to the country, telephoned Karnow on July 27 in an apparent effort to apply the lessons of Vietnam to the Afghan war, which started in 2001 when U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban regime in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

    Among the concerns voiced by historians is the credibility of President Hamid Karzai’s government, which is widely perceived as being plagued by graft and corruption. They draw a parallel between Afghanistan’s presidential election on Aug. 20 and the failed effort in Vietnam to legitimize a military regime lacking broad popular support through an imposed presidential election in 1967.

    “Holbrooke rang me from Kabul and passed the phone to the general,” said Karnow, who authored the seminal 1983 book, “Vietnam: A History.”

    Holbrooke confirmed to The Associated Press that the three men discussed similarities between the two wars. “We discussed the two situations and what to do,” he said during a visit last week to NATO headquarters in Brussels.

    In an interview Thursday with the AP, Karnow said it was the first time he had ever been consulted by U.S. commanders to discuss the war. He did not elaborate on the specifics of the conversation. …

    http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2009/08/07-6

    So we’re now asking historians who are “experts” on the war in Vietnam and who disagree with the war in Afghanistan for advice on how to proceed?

    This should be good; I just feel sorry for all the soldiers’ lives that will be wasted as Obama channels LBJ.

  2. EvaTheFrisbeeDog says:

    Vietnam was “lost” because of a lack of political will in the US. Had the Watergate congress continued to fund the South Vietnamese, we’d still have a North and South Vietnam, if not one Vietnam under capitalism — after all, we did win the peace.

    Here’s the big difference between these two struggles: Vietnam was a containment strategy, whereas the fight in Afghanistan is to weed out Islamic terrorists. Despite what that idiot senator from SC says, Rumsfeld was correct in his approach, i.e. small foot print.

    We need to provide economic, political and military support to the elected government. Unfortunately, Pakistan would rather have instability in Afghanistan than a strong neighbor. Our problems are rooted in Islamabad.

  3. Ah. Another brilliant expert to insulate the smartest Dear Leader ever.

    Wisdom states that Afghanistan is where empires go to die, but I don’t think we’ll be hearing a resounding chorus of “Quagmire! Quagmire! Quagmire!” anytime soon.

    ~I wonder why that is?

  4. Chuckk says:

    How can it be that the greatest military in the world can not roust a few thousand medieval religious fanatics from their caves and kill them? Is is politics? Is it P.C.? Is it incompetency by the military? Something does not compute.

    • Confucius says:

      Good question.

      A few weeks ago, ABC News published an article with the headline: Obama: ‘Victory’ Not Necessarily Goal in Afghanistan.

  5. 12 Gauge Rage says:

    Chuckk, It’s a little of everything you listed. Politicians tie the hands of the military so that the situation doesn’t appear to escalate. Political correctness won’t allow the military to call the enemy terrorists. And we have some high ranking military leaders who are too afraid of losing their pensions (or whatever laurels they’re after once they retire), if they go all out and wage no holds barred warfare on the enemy. I can’t speak for the rest of the branches of the military, but sadly, P.C. has taken hold of the Air Force. And it’s dug in like an Alabama tick.

    • catie says:

      12 gauge, you’re right about the AF. The Army & Marines are still pretty strong but their hands are tied as to what they can and cannot do as you stated. The Navy is going the way of the Air Force unfortunately. The pilot I dated in the 90’s who I spoke of who thought that Speicher’s wife married pretty quickly has a son who just graduated from the Naval Academy last year. Although he also graduated from there, he said his son spoke often about how left many of the professors were and how they constantly bashed Bush. His son went into the Marine Corps instead of the Navy like he did because of the PC crowd there.

    • pdsand says:

      It’s all the same big problem, which is that if you use Bush’s formula; you’re either with us, or you’re with the terrorists, Obama is with the terrorists. He has said the purpose of the fight is not killing Taliban but ‘saving Afghani civilian lives’. He said that if a taliban fighter takes cover in an afghan house, the military is to withdraw and not pursue the fight. He said victory is not necessarily the goal and it’s not definable. He says unlawful enemy combatants caught on the battlefield in Afghanistan trying to kill Americans must either be tried in civilian courts in the U.S. or must be returned to the fight.
      In my amateur historical opinion, the Democrats in all wars want to repeat the mistakes of Vietnam. It appears to me that if you don’t pursue any objectives, and don’t attack in any meaningful way, you can’t expect to win a war. In Vietnam the democrats didn’t say, ‘here is our enemy, the North. We’re going to bomb and then sieze control of Hanoi. Then we’re going to find and capture or kill Ho Chi Minh. Then we’re going to bomb any strategic target we can find in North Vietnam. Then we’re going to kill or capture all the VietCong we can find. Through these means we’ll win this war by vanquishing our enemy.” Instead the main strategy appeared to be that they would station a whole lot of troops in the South, and wait until they were attacked and then fight back with superior forces. When you put yourself in that position you are agreeing to fight the war on your enemy’s terms, and setting yourself up for failure. It is then incredibly disingenuous to say after handcuffing your military in that manner, that the military lost the war, or that it was a war you shouldn’t have been fighting in the first place.
      My personal feeling is that Obama is positioning our troops in Afghanistan in this same aimless defensive position purely in the hopes that the mistakes of Vietnam will repeat themselves.
      After all, the war in Afghanistan is just an excuse to get out of Iraq, for Obama. Do you remember back a few years ago when the Democrats were all about getting out of Iraq and stationing hundreds of thousands more troops in Korea? Or in a position to attack Iran? Or Pakistan? Or to find Bin Laden? What happened there? They were all just distractions. All democrat policies boil down to ‘this republican policy is working very well, but it’s not perfect. Therefore we must abolish it at the price of great human suffering and adopt a different strategy simply for the sake of trying something different.’
      Any “focus” on Afghanistan is an attempt to distract from Iraq so we can surrender there, only eventually to surrender in Afghanistan. And then after we’ve abandoned all of our positions around the world and ceased to be a threat to rogue nations he can then proudly go around negotiating our surrenders to North Korea and Cuba and Libya and chide us for being foolish enough to think that we could achieve “military solutions” and that we must learn to accept the failure brought on by his own policies. It’s gonna be great.

  6. proreason says:

    What gives?

    Surely John Kerry has reported for duty on this topic already.

    Why would any expert other than him be required to optimize our humiliation, and maximize the millions of our allies who will die after we declare defeat after winning every battle.

  7. Douglas says:

    So does this mean that our best and brightest are looking for the light at the end of the tunnel?

  8. canary says:

    Truth is U.S. had just about won the Vietnam war. The media as in Karnow lied about the TET offense outcome. Obama can asking advice from some news reporter, who compares the reasoning behind Vietnam to the reasoning behind Afganistan the home-base of global world terrorists is just stupidity. Maybe Obama is going to hire Karnow to be his ghost writer for an Obama speech or Memoirs.

  9. 12 Gauge Rage says:

    You can only lose graciously if your enemy turns out to be a merciful victor. Such as the U.S. was to Japan once the war was over. Terrorists don’t adhere to such a code of forgiveness and mercy. Those qualities are seen as nothing more than weaknesses from the West. It’s no secret that overseas military wars consume a lot of money. But I’ve been thinking lately that perhaps the left wants to end all of our foreign military commitments because then it would free up tons of more money to fund their political/social ambitions.

  10. Sharps Rifle says:

    Unless you go on the offensive, you will NEVER win any war. In Vietnam, the vast majority of our ground actions were either defensives or counter offensives (look at the official list of battle streamers on each services’ colors…most actions are listed as defensive or counter offensive, never just offensive). When you go into a war with the attitude of “defending” territory, you’ve already lost. Yes, American soldiers and Marines went on search and destroy missions, and were successful, but the vast majority of ground actions were initiated by the NVA or VC. Don’t tell me that “those were ambushes,” because the enemy was picking the time and place of the engagement. In short, he had the offensive initiative. The VC and NVA may well have lost those engagements, just as the VC was destroyed as a fighting force during the Tet Offensive, but US actions were singularly defensive until the Cambodian operation in 1970. THAT was when we could have won the war, but Nixon ordered the offensive halted, and troops to return to RVN. He ceded the initiative to the NVA again.

    The use of airpower to send “political” messages was also a big mistake. When McNamara and Johnson placed targeting and load restrictions on American crews, the initiative was also ceded to the North Vietnamese. In 1964, Gen. Curtis LeMay had drawn up a target list and his planning staff had developed a two week air offensive which was designed to destroy North Vietnam’s limited industrial capacity, shut down their seaports, and take out their internal transportation system. The fact that this could have been done in two weeks in the early days of the war shows what a conventionally weak enemy North Vietnam was.

    So why did we lose?

    Partially because we didn’t grasp how much damage and loss of personnel North Vietnam was willing to absorb, and because we weren’t politically willing to take North Vietnamese territory. In order to win a war, you need to take ground, and HOLD IT! By NOT being willing to cross the DMZ and actively threaten the North Vietnamese government, Johnson lost the war the second Marines were landed at Danang. Having a half million troops (maybe 100,000 of which were active combat troops, the rest being support personnel) in-country meant diddly because they were in South Vietnam, and not being used to take down Ho’s government. Now, someone might say that Johnson was afraid of escalating the Vietnam conflict into World War III, but let’s be blunt: The Soviets and the Chinese saw that we were already bleeding ourselves to death fighting Victor Charlie and were content to send supplies and advisors to the NVA and let them do the work. The fact that the Soviets weren’t going to intervene should have become clear after the POL airstrikes of 1967, when by authorizing those targets (which SHOULD have been destroyed two years earlier), the Soviets didn’t send active military assistance to the North Vietnamese.

    Bluntly, the war in Vietnam was lost because we had politicians who weren’t willing to actually try to take down the North Vietnamese government. There were other factors (the sheer incompetence of the South Vietnamese government, lack of aggression on the part of the ARVN, domestic resistance to engaging in offensive actions on the part of the US, etc.), but the main reason we didn’t succeed in our mission was due to incompetence and temerity on the part of the US political leadership.

    Why haven’t we won in Afghanistan? Partially for similar reasons, but with some differences. Under Bush, we were prepared to take territory and try to hold it…we also brought down the Taliban government. We utilized overwhelming firepower in conventional actions, and employed Special Forces effectively in unconventional actions in order to destroy Taliban and al-Qaeda remnants.

    Why hasn’t Afghanistan been pacified, then?

    Partially because of outside support, predominately from Pakistan. Pakistan’s ISI was instrumental in the formation and support of the Taliban, which now has Pakistani elements in the “tribal areas” of eastern Pakistan, and sympathizers in the Pakistani government. Iran is also providing support to Taliban and al-Qaeda elements, but oddly enough, that support can be rendered moot by use of interdiction and Special Forces activity in western Afghanistan. The problem now lays with the Karzai government and Pakistan.

    If the Pakis refuse to go into the tribal areas and assert governmental control over their own territory, the fighting in Afghanistan will go on indefinitely. It is a sign of the singular weakness of the Pakistani government that they are too afraid to assert their authority over their own territory…and I honestly don’t see a strong Pakistani government coming along at anytime soon. Further, if the Pakistani Army is afraid (or unwilling for political, cultural or religious reasons) to go into the tribal areas, then this war cannot be won in a conventional sense, but must instead be fought with sheer brute strength in some areas (such as Predator strikes on al-Q and Taliban command structure), and finesse in others (Special Forces actions to take out Taliban and al-Q leadership, as well as units of those two groups). The problem is that without occupying territory and gaining the trust of the locals (as well as trying to coax these Seventh Century people into at least the mid-Twentieth Century), we will lose in Afghanistan.

    The Afghans are a deeply tribal people. They’re very hospitable at times, but bear strong loyalties to their tribes, and not to the government in Kabul. If they can be shown that the Kabul government isn’t trying to supplant their tribes (a true federal system would be appropriate for them), loyalty to Kabul could be built up…but that will take time. Time is something Obama and his crowd don’t want to spend. They have no confidence in our military to win in Afghanistan, and they have no desire to win there. It doesn’t suit their political aims. Killing al-Qaeda and Taliban is too bloody a process and too slow a process for them, and the whole notion of federalism in any form, in any country, is anathema to them.

    To win a guerilla war, tactics against the guerillas have to be brutal, but focused. To deny them support, those who support the guerillas actively need to be taken out, and those who are neutral should be spared. Karzai needs to clean up his act, but he needs to be told to do so diplomatically. Afghans are an extremely proud people, and that pride needs to be understood. He also needs to know that if he fails to handle the corruption in his government, we will quietly back his internal opposition (as long as that opposition is reformist). Also, militarily, we should assist the Afghan Army in developing a non-political sense of professionalism. These men can fight. Being as most are from the militias originally, they’ve shown that…now they need to become soldiers, as well as fighting men. They should be taught to be aloof to politics and that their mission is to defend Afghans regardless of tribe. I know this is being done by American SF troops, but whether it’s taking or not, I’m not aware.

    Basically, we can win in Afghanistan, but it won’t be easy, and it will take time. Sending troops out on patrol cedes the initiative to the enemy because the Taliban will choose when and where to challenge American patrols. Reverse the situation: Do good reconaissance, identify Taliban and al-Q targets, THEN send troops in (quietly, so as not to telegraph the offensive) to destroy those enemy elements. Occupy and HOLD the ground taken…don’t take and pull out. Build relationships with the locals…that will do more to secure an area than leaving large numbers of troops in place.

    I’m just an Air Force veteran. I have a general knowledge of counterinsurgency, but that’s as far as it goes. If someone who knows this aspect of modern warfare more intimately has some valid ideas, please let me know. I want our mission in Afghanistan to succeed. I don’t want these fine young troops to be betrayed by worthless politicians…the way my dad and his buddies were in Vietnam.

  11. 12 Gauge Rage says:

    Sharps Rifle, Our troops have already been betrayed. As for your insight into fighting the war, well put. As a young airman during the first gulf war I learned early on that despite all our high technology, nothing holds enemy real estate better than your basic ground pounder. An aircraft can rule the skies over enemy terrain but it’s no good if you don’t occupy the ground beneath. Weeks of an intensive aerial bombardment did nothing to budge Saddam’s army out of Kuwait until the army went in.

    A good example of this is the game Age of Empires death match option. You don’t win the game by playing it defensive. You have to build up your forces and invade your opponents country to destroy their ability to wage war.

  12. 11ten1775 says:

    Of course this is all very complicated, but to be honest, I’m tired of complicated foreign policy when it comes to Muslims. Eight years later, “Kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity” is still the best plan I’ve heard.

  13. catie says:

    A bit OT but in Sundays Washington Times there was a blurb about the naming of the next US Navy aircraft carrier after Bill Clinton as the dims are tired of aircraft carriers being named after Republican Presidents. I guess the fact that his social experiment with the military and his slicing and dicing of the military warrants such an honor.
    BTW I had a former student who was on the USS Jimmah Carter when it was commissioned. He said Carter and Roslyn were rude, acted like they didn’t want to be there and to be honest none of them did. The Cpt. said they all had to pretend they were at Fantasy Island and smile everyone.

  14. Liberals Demise says:

    Look no further than the politicians for the reason Vietnam went to hell in a handbag!

    “Brave Warriors ….. Gutless politicians!!”

    Suits can’t dictate battlefield maneuvers 10,000 miles away.
    You keep the brainless pant suits and suits out of the goings on of military Generals who have trained and know what they are doing. with their “fire pissers” and you will get the desired results.

    Politicians know precisely the same about medicine and Health Care as they do about how to win on the battlefield!!
    I wouldn’t let them fetch my slippers. (they’d screw that up, too)


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