Daily Archives: 25 June 2005

Boxing Day Tsunami, Six Months Later

Macam-macam offers a wide-ranging overview on the state of recovery efforts throughout the worst-affected areas.

Leave a comment

Filed under Indonesia

Lind on U.S. Military Failures during the Cold War

In hindsight, the record of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations compares favorably with that of the Pentagon. The constraints imposed on theater operations by the Johnson administration did not cause the war to be lost–and those constraints may well have averted a second Sino-American war in little more than a decade. The argument that Kennedy and Johnson were wrong to ask the U.S. military to wage a difficult and ambiguous war of counterinsurgency in a peripheral country is unpersuasive. The Cold War was going to be fought under difficult conditions, in places like Vietnam, or it was going to be forfeited by the United States….

Unfortunately, the military’s response to pressure from the Kennedy and Johnson administrations to master the complexities of counterinsurgency was to dismiss it as a fad. General Lyman L. Lemnitzer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1960-61, thought that the Kennedy administration was “oversold” on unconventional warfare. General George Decker, army chief of staff in 1960-62, claimed that “any good soldier can handle guerrillas.” Even General Maxwell Taylor, who as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1961-64 championed flexible response, claimed that “Any well-trained organization can shift the tempo to that which might be required in this kind of situation.” John A. Nagl, a U.S. Army captain and professor at West Point, suggests that “it was the organizational culture of the British army that allowed it to learn counterinsurgency principles effectively during the Malayan emergency, whereas the organizational culture of the U.S. Army blocked organizational learning during–and after–the Vietnam War.” During the conflict in Indochina, one anonymous U.S. army officer was quoted as saying, “I’m not going to destroy the traditions and doctrine of the United States Army just to win this lousy war.”…

Throughout the Cold War, the U.S. military prepared to fight Field Marshal Rommel and Admiral Yamamato, when it should have been preparing itself in addition to fight opponents like Nicaragua’s Sandino and Haiti’s Charlemagne. Under the “the buck stops here” principle, President Johnson must be held ultimately responsible for the disaster in Vietnam between 1965 and 1968. On the other hand, it is not the responsibility of civilian politicians in a democracy to instruct military professionals in the rudiments of their art. An argument in extenuation of the failures in Vietnam of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and Nixon appears more plausible when one considers the impressive string of military failures in the last quarter of the twentieth century under a succession of very different presidents: Desert One in Iran; the bombing of the U.S. marines barracks in Beirut; the bungled invasion of Grenada; the botched invasion of Panama; the debacle in Somalia. If not for the Kosovo War, which failed to prevent the expulsion of most Albanian Kosovars, and the Gulf War, which left Saddam in power, despite a later renewal of the air war under President Clinton, the U.S. military would have little to show since the Korean War except for a string of disasters or botched successes–all of which, the Pentagon’s apologists would have us believe, represent failures of presidential conception and direction rather than of military implementation. Generals Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf won the Gulf War, but Admiral Sharp and General Westmoreland did not lose the Vietnam War. The point is not to impugn the integrity of America’s soldiers as individuals, but to wonder how the military leadership can ever be held accountable if an alibi for military failures can always be had by blaming civilian political leaders….

In the final analysis, however, the American public’s support for a sound grand strategy of global military containment of the communist bloc by means of flexible response collapsed for most of the 1970s because the U.S. military in Vietnam was too inflexible in its response to the enemy’s tactics.

SOURCE: Vietnam, the Necessary War: A Reinterpretation of America’s Most Disastrous Military Conflict, by Michael Lind (Simon & Schuster, 1999), pp. 102-105

Leave a comment

Filed under Iran, military, U.S., Vietnam

Lind on Nixon’s Strategic and Tactical Failures

Nixon’s dramatic opening to China marked the beginning of an informal Sino-American alliance against the Soviet Union that would last until the end of the Cold War. Nevertheless, Mao’s regime continued to compete with Moscow for influence in Indochina by supplying the anti-American forces until the bitter end in 1975. Nor did Nixon’s divide-and-rule strategy toward the two communist giants succeed in reducing Soviet material or diplomatic support for North Vietnam. The Soviets were not willing to allow Soviet-American tensions over Vietnam to disrupt their negotiations over other issues, such as ratifying the status quo in Europe and limiting the arms race (to the advantage of the Soviet Union, which had a comparative advantage in conventional military forces in Eastern Europe). But neither did the Soviets see fit to reduce the stream of supplies to North Vietnam, or to make a serious effort to pressure Hanoi into ending tbe war. Moscow was able to have it both ways. It could engage in global detente (defined as American acceptance of the equality of the Soviet empire as a military and diplomatic superpower) even as it helped Hanoi bleed the United States in Southeast Asia.

In addition to failing to separate Hanoi from its Soviet and Chinese patrons, the Nixon-Kissinger policy gravely weakened the ability of the United States to wage the ideological war that was an essential component of the containment strategy. Even if he had received more in return, Nixon’s dining and drinking and sailing with the totalitarian rulers of the Soviet empire and the Chinese dictatorship tended to undermine the claim that there was a moral difference between the two sides in the Cold War. Kissinger’s allusions to nineteenth-century European Realpolitik had a similar effect.

Nixon’s policy toward the Soviet Union and China, then, conceded too much in the ideological war, while producing few benefits in the Vietnam War. Nixon’s tactics were as flawed as his strategy. Nixon hoped that airpower alone would be sufficient to ensure the survival of South Vietnam, once U.S. combat troops had been completely withdrawn. The Watergate scandal and the crisis that ended in Nixon’s resignation and his replacement by the unelected Gerald Ford made a dead letter of Nixon’s secret written assurances to South Vietnam’s president Thieu that the United States would respond with air strikes to North Vietnamese violations of the Paris peace accords. Even without the congressional cutoff of U.S. military involvement in Indochina, it seems unlikely that any endgame that did not lead to an indefinite Korean-style commitment of U.S. forces to Indochina probably would have doomed South Vietnam along with Laos and Cambodia.

Nixon’s Vietnam policy, then, was a resounding failure in every way. Worst of all, in pursuing an unworkable plan, Nixon added an additional twenty-four thousand to the American death toll in the Vietnam War. After all of those additional sacrifices, the United States abandoned Indochina anyway. The difference between allowing Indochina to fall in 1970 and allowing it to fall in 1975 may have been the difference between the loss of public support for one Cold War intervention and a public backlash against the Cold War as a whole….

The American public turned against the Vietnam War not because it was persuaded by the radical and liberal left that it was unjust, but out of sensitivity to its rising costs. According to polling data, there was higher public support for the Vietnam War than there had been for the Korean War when comparable numbers of casualties had been reached. In both Asian proxy wars support declined as body counts rose. In 1965, only 25 percent of the American public thought that it was a mistake to send troops to Vietnam. The number rose to 31 percent in November 1966 and to 46 percent in October 1967. By June 1968, more than 50 percent agreed that dispatching troops to Indochina had been a mistake. In the next few years, opposition to the Vietnam War metastasized into opposition to Cold War intervention anywhere. According to one poll, in 1975 a majority of Americans surveyed opposed sending U.S. troops to defend any ally from invasion–with the sole exception of Canada.

SOURCE: Vietnam, the Necessary War: A Reinterpretation of America’s Most Disastrous Military Conflict, by Michael Lind (Simon & Schuster, 1999), pp. 135-138

Leave a comment

Filed under China, Vietnam