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 ChÃ Minh effectively lost the “people’s war” by solidifying the South against him. That year, it also became apparent that a negotiated settlement was perhaps the best outcome we could hope for in Vietnam. To reach that end, however, several difficult years of building up South Vietnamese forces would lay ahead. Richard Nixon’s Vietnamization policy was designed to achieve just that, and proved to be successful.
Only after determined South Vietnamese resistance against the 1972 offensive, and twelve consecutive days of devastating B-52 air strikes on North Vietnam did Hanoi move toward a genuine peace agreement. As part of the deal, we agreed to be the enforcer of the 1973 Paris Peace Accords. But when North Vietnamese violations occurred, antiwar liberals in Congress prevented us from fulfilling our commitments to the treaty.
Congress cut funding and slowly starved South Vietnam of the supplies they needed to defend themselves. The Soviets, meanwhile, continued to pump arms into the North. Public apathy, a scandalized president and a liberal Congress gave up all for which we had struggled. The U.S. effectively abandoned Southeast Asia, and the North Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge moved in — with horrific results. And in doing so, we betrayed our trusted allies and our own good name.
In both Vietnam and Iraq, our cause was just. A valid debate continues on whether we should have fought either one of them. But it must be acknowledged that once we are committed to war the only acceptable way out is victory. Bush may have been unprepared for the insurgency that followed his initial success, but we always knew he would ultimately do whatever was necessary it win. For more than five years he has been able to maintain Congressional funding and public support and to achieve success.
Unlike Johnson in Vietnam, George W. Bush clearly warned Saddam Hussein of the consequences of not abiding by UN resolutions. Saddam ignored them, and was crushed within days of the start of the war. Our early aggressiveness in the war was a principle reason casualties in Iraq were so much lower than they were in Vietnam.
The effectiveness of Iraqi soldiers and police were agonizingly inept in the early days, but they eventually improved. The “Anbar Awakening” and the counterinsurgency surge strategy were major turning points in the war. Today, Iraqis are taking over security of their country.
The media’s cries of “another Vietnam” started even before Baghdad fell, and increased as the insurgency took hold. Their “objective reporting” served mostly to encourage the terrorists in Iraq and to discourage the American people. Their misrepresentations ended only when the success of the surge became unmistakable to even a causal observer.
We would have lost Iraq by now if not for Bush’s stubborn insistence that losing was not an option. When the media and most of the political establishment were united against him, he found a way to win.
A decade after his presidency, Nixon wrote: “‘No More Vietnams’ can mean we will not try again. It should mean we will not fail again.”
To avoid future Vietnams, we must swiftly win on the battlefield and then maintain the peace afterward. Keeping the peace especially applies now to Iraq and the 2008 elections. One for the first decisions the new president will make is to determine what circumstances we will withdraw for Iraq. Any perception that jihadist forces drove the U.S. out of Iraq in defeat will have a huge destabilizing effect in Iraq and in the region.
Should insurgent activity return to Iraq in a major way, we can be reasonably assured John McCain will do what is necessary to overcome it. With McCain, we can be confident the U.S. will leave Iraq honorably.
On the other hand, Barack Obama’s many contrary and incoherent statements about Iraq reassure no one about our ultimate success there, and essentially invites our enemies to return. His failure to even admit the surge has worked raises doubts about his fitness to be president. With Obama, we can only wonder how long a recurrence of insurgency would continue before he would abandon the Iraqis and condemn them to “another Vietnam.”
Jeff Lukens writes engaging opinion columns from a fresh, conservative point of view. He is a Staff Writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc., a non-profit (501c3) coalition of writers and grass-roots media outlets. He can be contacted at www.jefflukens.com
Jeff Lukens is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets. He can be contacted at www.jefflukens.com