Balkinization  

Friday, August 24, 2007

If You Don't Already Read hilzoy Regularly . . .

Marty Lederman

. . . this would be a good place to start. If there's a better blogger out there, I've yet to run across her.

Comments:

If Hilzoy is the best, God help us.

She writes, "If terms like "boat people", "re-education camps," and "killing fields" entered our lexicon because of our withdrawal from Vietnam, it's news to me. I had always thought that the first two might or might not have entered our vocabulary had we never entered the war at all, but would certainly not have been prevented by our staying in it for any period of time short of eternity, while the third would not have entered our vocabulary at all had we not decided to invade Cambodia and replace its ruler. Our withdrawal per se had nothing to do with any of these."

So many factual and reasoning errors packed into one paragraph. I'll pick out a few of the worst.

1. The "boat people" and "re-education camps" would likely have been prevented had we won, which was exactly Bush's point. The United States was winning militarily later in the conflict--late 60s with the Tet Offensive to early 70s. And if domestic support had not crumbled, the United States possibly could have forced a better ceasefire/peace agreement or perhaps have actually won the war. Is she so naive to think that the Communist takeover would have been benign?--a possibility, but quite remote based on other such movements during the Cold War, especially in the Far East.

Hilzoy commits the very same error she accuses Bush of--an inaccurate and disingenuous framing of the debate.

2. We never invaded Cambodia to replace its ruler. Nixon was actually somewhat supportive of Sihanouk. In 1970, Lol Nol came to power without much, if any actual support by the United States. Only after Lol Nol was in power, and Sihanouk increased his support for the Khmer Rouge did the United States invade Cambodia, and that was to attack Khmer Rouge and North Vietnamese positions in Cambodia. The government itself at this time was supportive of the United States. Notably, the Khmer Rouge was already fighting in Cambodia before Lol Nol ever came to power. Consequently, Hilzoy is utterly factually wrong about what brought about the killing fields.

I could go on, but it really isn't useful. It is very hard to take someone's critique seriously, when their understanding of history is even more warped and blatantly wrong than the account they are criticizing.
 

To add, our withdrawal actually did directly allow the "killing fields." Lol Nol's forces were only able to keep the Khmer Rouge at bay because of United States air strikes and other support. As already discussed, the Khmer Rouge were already trying to take over Cambodia, well before any American involvement in the country. Therefore, it was not American involvement that brought about the killing fields, but the withdrawal, precisely one of Bush's points. Our withdrawal brought about what likely would have occured without any American invovlement in the first place. Our support only delayed the killings. Had we actually won in Vietnam or at least continued our promised support (and supported Cambodia), the killing fields, which likely would have occured without American involvement, might have been prevented. I can't say it would have been prevented for sure, but at least there would have been a chance.
 

Btw, I'm not defending all or even most of Bush's speech. I just finding it tellingly ironic that the "best" blogger critique is horribly flawed.
 

humblelawstudent: when I wrote that we decided "to invade Cambodia and overthrow its government", I didn't mean that we invaded in order to overthrow the government, but that we did both things. I can see that my phrasing was misleading, though.

About Vietnam: probably there would have been no boat people and reeducation camps had we won. However, I think this glosses over one important point, namely: could we have won?

I am reminded of the time I thought I had figured out how to make a perpetual motion machine, when I was seven. Unfortunately, some of the parts were more expensive than my allowance would cover, and my parents refused to buy them for me. One might say: wow, what a big mistake! If i had succeeded in making a perpetual motion machine, think of the effects on global warming, the benefits to our foreign policy of not needing to depend on Saudi oil, etc. etc., etc!

There's just that one little hitch contained in the conditional.
 

HLS, quit while you can still walk out the door, is my humble advice. The commentator whose "understanding of history is warped and blatantly wrong" is evidently not Hilzoy.
 

Professor Balkin, your linked article is provocative and I have posted a equally provocative point by point refutation of that article. I will be very interested to see if the comments section is again closed based on the claim that the responses are not topical. Rather than blocking access to my post, I would enjoy it if you joined the debate which your post started.

Now to hilzoy...

If you seek to read commentary by a blogger with the slightest clue of military strategy and history, hilzoy is not your girl.

Lets pick this diatribe apart...

Bush's main argument is as follows: during the last century, we fought a number of wars that had the following features: they were fought to prevent an enemy from imposing an alien ideology on the world; many people doubted that they could succeed; and they required a lengthy commitment and a lot of sacrifice. In two cases (against Japan and North Korea) we prevailed, and the result is that those countries are prosperous democracies. In one case (Vietnam) we lost our will and left the field, and the result was massive loss of life. We now face a choice about which course to choose in Iraq: to fight towards victory, as we did in Japan and Korea, or to retreat, as we did in Vietnam. "The question now that comes before us is this: Will today's generation of Americans resist the allure of retreat, and will we do in the Middle East what the veterans in this room did in Asia?" And to Bush, the answer is clear

Before getting to the details, let's consider the overarching premiss: that the choice we now face is whether to keep fighting and ultimately prevail, or to withdraw and abandon the Iraqis to their fate.


Actually, Bush correctly observed that the alternative of surrender will bring both a Cambodia/Vietnam level slaughter of civilians and a non-Vietnam result of a base from which our enemies can attack us from.

As I see it, this premiss is completely false. If we keep fighting, there is no reason whatsoever to think that we will "prevail", and every reason to think that we will simply sacrifice a lot of American and Iraqi lives for nothing.

Exactly what evidence is there that we are not prevailing and cannot prevail in Iraq? Let us take a look at the metrics of military victory:

We have won every battle.

We hold nearly all of the territory.

About 80% of the country outside of parts of southern Kurdistan, Diyala and Baghdad is largely peaceful because the enemy has no popular support among the vast majority of the country's population.

We lose about 80 soldiers a month to the enemy's 1500. In an attrition battle, an 18 to 1 enemy to friendly casualty ratio would be considered a decisive victory. Moreover, our own KIA rate of 80 per month is a tiny fraction of that suffered in every other war we have ever fought of this length.

The Iraqi civilians have twice elected a national government which supports the US and is at war with our enemies.

The only metric in which the enemy has succeeded is murdering Iraqi civilians with the purpose of encouraging the anti war left to force our military to retreat and surrender Iraq. What they cannot win on the battlefield, the enemy seeks to win in Congress.

However, foreign al Qaeda mass murder of Iraqi civilians has actually turned the tide of the war on the ground by compelling our primary Iraqi enemy - the Baathist Sunni - to join the US and Iraqi military to fight and rout out our primary foreign enemy - al Qaeda. As a result, the Sunni Triangle, which the anti war left called an "intractable quagmire," is almost completely pacified and al Qaeda civilian murders have dropped so precipitously that even anti war Dems are conceding the success.

Indeed, our military success has become so pronounced that Petreus is going to recommend a resumption of the drawdown which was underway in 2006 because the Iraqi military has shown the ability to hold captured territory.

But Bush's fundamental assumption about the nature of our choice is not just false; it's a profound evasion of his own responsibility....

Suppose that a President invaded another country, and adopted the unusual tactic of sending our troops in unarmed and unprotected, one platoon at a time, holding signs that said: We want to take over your country! Please surrender! And suppose that, unsurprisingly, the result of this was that those troops were all killed, one after the other. Suppose that the President was urged to adopt a different strategy, but refused, on the grounds that admitting mistakes would give comfort to our enemies; and that when some people began to mutter: not as much comfort as making those mistakes in the first place, he accused them of being defeatists. Finally, suppose that after several thousand troops had been killed in this way, the American people stopped supporting this President and his war. It would be beyond galling for the President to lecture them on their lack of will, or their insufficient concern for the people of the invaded country, when the reason for their lack of support was that his own idiocy had made any good outcome impossible.

I don't see any difference between that case and this one, except that the Iraqi people would have been a lot better off if the President had used my imaginary tactics. And that's why I find being lectured about my lack of will by this President laughable.


If hilzoy herself actually believes that there is any analogy whatsoever between her flight of fantasy and the facts on the ground, she is profoundly deluded.

More likely, this is simply one of the more pathetic exercises in CYA for calling for retreat and defeat in the war at the same time our troops are winning that war decisively.

I had planned to discuss Bush's remarks on Japan and Korea, but on reflection I'll just say this: Bush spends a lot of time quoting people who said that the Japanese were incapable of democracy, and that our policy in Japan was therefore doomed. Those people were wrong. Similarly, supporters of the war sometimes accuse those of us who oppose it of believing that Iraqis or Arabs are incapable of democracy, and while I have never actually encountered anyone who believes this...

Please. Hilzoy either lives in a cave or she is simply lying about the views of her fellow anti war left.

Google "iraq incapable democracy" and you will get 776,000 hits with page after page of hilzoy's fellow anti war left bloggers and media arguing that the Iraqis simply do not have the civil institutions to operate a "true democracy."

I find it the height of Ugly American arrogance for the anti war Dems to argue that the war is lost because the Maliki government "only" has the support of most of the 80% of the country which is Kurd and Shia Arab, has not yet managed to unite the 20% Sunni Arab members of the government for a neat 100%, and has only enacted 60 pieces of legislation during the Surge. Meanwhile, the Congress for which the anti war Dems voted has an 18% approval rating, cannot unite its own caucus and has enacted almost nothing over the same surge period.

Andrew Sullivan is right:

"To place all the troops into the position of favoring one strategy ahead of us rather than another, and to accuse political opponents of trying to "pull the rug out from under them," is a, yes, fascistic tactic designed to corral political debate into only one possible patriotic course.


This is complete errant nonsense.

Rumsfeld and his generals developed a strategy of placing our troops in large bases and sending them out to clear, but not hold, territory with the anticipation that the Iraqi military would come on line and we would leave. The President signed off on this strategy through 2006. This strategy made very little sense as counter insurgency, which requires the taking and holding of territory to deny the enemy terrorists sanctuary. Unsurprisingly, it had tactical but not strategic success.

General Petreus suggested a much more traditional counter insurgency strategy of clearing and holding territory to deny the enemy sanctuary and to give the local populations the ability to function outside of the terror. The President essentially admitted that he was wrong before, moved out Rummy, fired his old Iraq commander and hired Petreus to command the war. This strategy has so far been a decisive success.

[BTW, I just described in two paragraphs the military strategy which hilzoy could not start to describe in multiple pages of diatribe criticizing subject matter she does not understand.]

The President has not favored one strategy and then accused the anti war left of disloyalty because they did not follow his single strategy for victory. Rather, the President, not unlike Lincoln, has changed generals and strategy until he found one that worked.

The anti war left is not being accused of betraying the troops because they are advocating a strategy for achieving victory which differs from the President. Rather, the anti war left are being accused of betraying the troops in the field because they have no strategy for victory and are instead falsely accusing the troops of failing their mission and losing the war to justify their call to force the military to retreat and surrender of Iraq to the enemy.
 

The "boat people" and "re-education camps" would likely have been prevented had we won, which was exactly Bush's point.

Your criticism here missed Hilzoy's basic point: there never was any "victory" to be had in Vietnam. Speculating about what might have happened if we had "won" is pointless, not only because it didn't happen, but because it was never going to happen. Claims that we were "winning militarily" have no meaning (and are dubious in the actual case anyway). Victory in war is always political, not military.

Is she so naive to think that the Communist takeover would have been benign?

No, she specifically said that "I had always thought that the [phrases "boat people" and "re-education camps"] might or might not have entered our vocabulary had we never entered the war at all..." She expressly acknowledged the fact that they might have been an inevitable consequence of Ho Chi Minh's victory.

We never invaded Cambodia to replace its ruler.

She didn't say we did. She said "we invaded and we removed the ruler", not "we invaded in order to remove the ruler". While her sentence is ambiguous, I think mine is the correct reading because nobody has ever suggested that the purpose of our incursion into Cambodia was to remove its ruler. The two events were separate.

Therefore, it was not American involvement that brought about the killing fields, but the withdrawal, precisely one of Bush's points.

This is pure speculation on your part. Sure, if we had expanded the war to include Cambodia, and if we had "won", then the Khmer Rouge would (naturally) have lost. The problem is (a) the US wasn't going to expand the war and fight the Khmer Rouge; and (b) our actions in Cambodia de-stabilized and weakened the government there.

I notice, by the way, that your posts omitted a pretty important fact: that it was those evil Vietnamese commies who actually put an end to the killing in Cambodia. That seems like a pretty incovenient fact for Bush's analogy. Maybe that means the Iranians will solve the Iraq problem. Yay?

Having said all this, I certainly don't want to discourage Bush or any of his supporters from claiming that Vietnam is a good analogy for Iraq.
 

destroying the rule of law; nullifying the separation of powers; eliminating individual rights; and launching an impreialist foreign policy weren't enough, were they?

a revision of the Vietnam War was also necessary. What else, please..
 

Fwiw, I just googled "iraq incapable democracy" (w/o the quotes, of course), and after reading through the first two pages of results, I have yet to find a single person, other than someone at iranian.com, asserting it. Instead:

Scott Ritter:
"The sad fact is that it is not so much that the people of the Middle East are incapable of democracy, but rather the United States is incapable of allowing genuine democracy to exist in the Middle East."

JR Nyquist:
"Some critics believe that this effort is hopeless, that Arabs (or Muslims in general) are incapable of maintaining stable democratic institutions.

Are these critics right?"

(He answers: no.)

Robert Fisk
"The moment we suggest that Iraq never was fertile soil for Western democracy, we get accused of being racists. Do we think the Arabs are incapable of producing democracy, we are asked? Do we think they are subhuman?"

(He answers: no.)

Someone who seems to be on the right:
"Given the history of democracy in the Middle East, Iraq is working through its problems. Otherwise, one is to believe that the Arabs are incapable of democracy and only a tyrant like Saddam can make Iraqi "work." If democracy were easy, the Arab states would all have it. There are problems, and solutions have to be found and implemented."

Charles Krauthammer:
"Are the Arabs intrinsically incapable of democracy, as the "realists" imply?"

Amitai Etzioni:
"I cannot stress enough my disagreement with those who hold that Arabs are congenitally incapable of democracy."

Terry Barnich:
"To those back home who say the Iraqi experience has made the Iraqis unready or incapable for democracy, I say come work with me."

Michael Rubin:
"Speaking before the National Endowment for Democracy on November 7, 2003, President George W. Bush argued that the Middle East was capable of democracy. "Are the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty?" he asked. "Are millions of men and women and children condemned by history or culture to live in despotism…? I, for one, do not believe it." he declared.

Many have ridiculed Bush's ideas..."

(But he agrees with them.)

I'm still waiting to find those moonbats, but frankly, I don't feel like reading through the rest of the hits to find them. Thus far, I don't see any real reason to change my view that these people who think Iraqis are incapable of democracy exist mostly in the imaginations of conservatives in need of straw.
 

Hilzoy,

Thanks for your response.

1. Nevertheless, even your clarification is wrong. The United States did not overthrow the Cambodian government, regardless of any invasion. The rise of Lol Nol was almost entirely domestic. Only once he had gained power through an almost bloodless coup did we come to offer support--especially when Lol Nol tried to shut down the Khmer Rouge and the North Vietnemese forces that used Cambodia as a staging ground for attacks against South Vietnam. The Nixon administration was trying to entice Sihanouk over to our side, not to overthrow him. Once he was gone, however, and we realized the new regime was relatively Pro-American, then we offered support to Lol Nol.

2. Yes, my post assumes victory was possible--though it was hardly inevitable. I find it tiresome to repeat, but many, if not most military historians now recognize that we were winning militarily. We were inflicting unsustainable losses against the North.

While victory was not inevitable, it was crumbling domestic support, rather than the military situation that caused us to "lose." This is precisely Bush's and mine own point.

Your post completely assumes victory was impossible, which is the flaw I pointed out. And, your argument requires that assumption. Strip it away, and your argument falls flat.
 

I'd be fascinated in polling on the question, "Do you think we could have won the Vietnam War?" I was only in my teens in the late stages of the war, so I wasn't really politically plugged in, but I sure don't remember much enthusiasm from any quarter to restart the war to some grand victory, much less the belief that victory was just around the corner.

I imagine that polling on that question would show a big majority for "no" for people now in their 40s or older. For those who don't remember the war, I imagine that the answer would much more often be "yes". Those are the people President Bush is counting on.
 

Mark,

1. For your first point, see my response to Hilzoy. Additionally, yes "victory" is largely political. Nevertheless, this actually supports my point. A "political" victory in war usually has two components: (1) military situation and (2) domestic support and perception of the conflict (especially import in societies with democratically accountable leaders).

Both components are important and interrelated. Bush's and my point is that the military situation in Vietnam pointed towards victory. If the American public had not given up on the war, the military situation would have (likely) brought about peace. It was the incorrect perception that the military situation was going badly (as it did for much of the early part of the war) that doomed support for the war and made "political" victory impossible. Heck, even the North Vietnamese had admitted they properly would not have won. They have admitted that their victory was almost entirely due to crumbling domestic support for the war, rather than the military realities. Once again, this is precisely the point. Vietnam was lost for a lack of will and incorrect perceptions.

Now, I have no idea if Iraq is analagous to Iraq. Iraq may or may not be beyond all hope. I am just speaking to the Vietnam/Cambodia situation.

2. She was purposefully vague regarding the situation, when one answer is far more likely than the other.

3. See my response to Hilzoy.

4. You are completely wrong. First, we did fight the Khmer Rouge. We fought it briefly before L.N. came to power, and then in the 70s. Second, in the 70s, the Khmer Rouge became very powerful, and it was only our material support and air power support that allowed the Cambodian government to fight off the Khmer Rouge. Only when we withdrew was the Khmer Rouge able to overcome the Cambodian government, and begin their reign of terror, killing several millions.
 

humblelawstudent:

You claim that we were winning in Vietnam but crumbling domestic support forced us to withdraw and accept defeat. That's not true (the Vietnam War was recognized by the Pentagon as unwinnable from the mid-1960's forward, despite several escalations of the war thereafter), but for purposes of this post, let's assume it to be true.

The problem is, unless you want to advocate that the US become a dictatorship, I don't see what that argument gets you. You see, in a democracy or republic, the people are in charge of the government. They have the right to pull their troops out of war. They have the right to decide that it isn't worth it anymore. They have the right to decide that no more Americans should die in a foreign war.

This may be inconvenient to hawks. Believe me, though, public opinion is often inconvenient to doves too, especially at the start of conflicts. But it is democracy. Saying "we would have won if it hadn't been for crumbling popular support" is simply saying that the public exercised its right to decide that it just wasn't worth it. That's part of the American system; and thank heavens it is.
 

Nevertheless, this actually supports my point. A "political" victory in war usually has two components: (1) military situation and (2) domestic support and perception of the conflict (especially import in societies with democratically accountable leaders).

Both components are important and interrelated. Bush's and my point is that the military situation in Vietnam pointed towards victory. If the American public had not given up on the war, the military situation would have (likely) brought about peace. It was the incorrect perception that the military situation was going badly (as it did for much of the early part of the war) that doomed support for the war and made "political" victory impossible.


You're focusing on the wrong polity. The issue is not what was politically possible in the US, but what was the political situation in Vietnam. We never were in a position to "win" there. "Victory" had no meaning.

Moreover, your reference to American politics -- besides being entirely based on counterfactual assumptions -- ignores the very fact that it IS a democracy. If the people of the US were opposed to continuing intervention in Vietnam (and they were), then the right course was to withdraw.

It's fairly remarkable, really, that the efforts of two successive administrations, one D and one R, each elected in landslide victories, failed to convince the American people that we were "winning". Perhaps that simple fact might cause you to re-evaluate your insistence, contrary to evidence and devoid of meaning, that we were "winning militarily".

Finally, I trust that the irony of your claim that "If the American public had not given up on the war, the military situation would have (likely) brought about peace." is obvious to everyone. The military situation DID bring about peace. That peace resulted from the fact that we halted our military action rather than continuing it.
 

Looks like the authoritarian noise machine is cranking up: posts here attempting to rewrite history to fit the GOP agenda.

Magical thinking like this is a sign of desperation. The great thing about it is how easy it is to create an alternative world that supports whatever loopy analogy you want: the South could have won the Civil War if it had just kept going.

Only it didn't.


FWIW, I think you folks (and the WH) are making a big mistake. Even if you are only trying to set things up for 2012, the GOP will be stuck with this disaster no matter what you do. And this particular lie is a bad one because it's so obviously debunked. Stick with something else. Maybe you could try quoting from "The Secret."

For the blog operators: Admittedly, my tone is a bit strident, but frankly, I'm annoyed with these trollish responses that are just GOP points again and again. When confronted with them, I think it's better to just call a lie a lie than attempt to get bogged down in debunking individual assertions. As hilzoy and others have pointed out, that's the name of the game for these folks: spew out so much disinformation that the general public gets lost. Kinda like a defense lawyer stuck with a lot of damning evidence: pound the table and say "lookie there!"

PS: Is anyone planning to discuss the issues raised over at CT regarding international law?
 

She was purposefully vague regarding the situation, when one answer is far more likely than the other.

I doubt it was purposeful. In any case, her post (which I hadn't seen when I wrote mine) demonstrates that I read her correctly.
 

Mark,

The Vietnamese polity did not doom the war. Most of the South Vietnamese ("S.V.")did not want the North Vietnamese ("N.V.") to win. While it is true that many S.V. did not like their leaders, they hardly supported en masse the cause of the N.V.

Consequently, the S.V. polity was not an inhibitor to victory. Most, if not all, wanted the S.V. and the United States to "win."

The inhibitor was the American polity.

Of course, in a democracy the leaders should be responsive to the will of people. Unfortunately, the "will" is not always the best course of action. This hardly means that a democractic government should ignore it, but appeals to the "will" hardly prove the correctness of a particular course of action, let alone prove that the "will" was an accurate picture of the situation.

Mark, your last comment is laughable. Losing can bring peace. I'm sure the millions that died in Cambodia are thankful for your "peace." I guess that you mean the ultimate peace, death?

The point isn't peace. The point is the price.
 

the Vietnam War was recognized by the Pentagon as unwinnable from the mid-1960's forward, despite several escalations of the war thereafter

A little earlier than that, actually, and it wasn't just the Pentagon that was saying it. Equally important, the reason for the low probability for success in Vietnam given by various elements of the U.S. government was that the South Vietnamese government was weak and showed no prospects for uniting the country and governing effectively. They couldn't handle internal factional dissent, much less foreign insurgency.

No amount of U.S. military intervention on behalf of such an inadequate foreign government will result in a successful political outcome. That is the lesson of Vietnam that was learned at great cost by some members of the Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford administrations. Unfortunately, not everyone learned and retained the lesson.orzdcd
 

Mark,

I have to return to your comment.

You wrote: "The military situation DID bring about peace. That peace resulted from the fact that we halted our military action rather than continuing it."

You, perhaps inadvertently, presented a key, if not the key difference between liberal and conservative thought on the efficacy of war/conflict.

Tellingly, your post implies that "peace" is what matters. This magical state where everything is good.

It is utter rubish. True peace is the best thing. Unfortunately, it is rarely achieved. Your "peace" resulted in the deaths of MILLIONS. But, hey, there was peace, so it can't be that bad right?

Conservatives believe and argue that conflict is a necessary evil that is often required to prevent even greater evil. Many libs assume that if only we would stop fighting and be peaceful, then everything would work out. Unfortunately, history shows that to be utterly false--(I do wish it were true.)

Your comment illustrates the divide quite nicely.
 

Bart:

Is it not disingenuous to speak of military success and discuss controlling "80%" of the territory, when we don't control the largest population center? To use an example, that's like saying we control 80% of Arizona, with the exceptions of Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff.

You assert that the al Qaeda violence has turned the tide (again) in that the Sunni insurgents are now battling terrorists with us. What assurances do we have that they will peacefully lay down their arms presuming we can defeat al Qaeda?

You state that withdrawing from Iraq would leave the non-Vietnam result of creating a base from which our enemies can attack. Now, one of the reasons we went into Vietnam was to curb Communist expansion in SE Asia. In other words, prevent Communism (our enemy) from establishing a potential base from which to attack US interests. Of course, that did not happen even with our withdrawal. Why then can we be so sure it would happen now? Especially given your apparently contradictory statement that homegrown Iraqis are now fighting terrorists.

I also do not see you address one of Hilzoy's main points: namely, why is Bush able to shift blame onto the opposition when he allowed the current situation to develop through mismanagement and negligence?

Also, how do you address Hilzoy's point that there is a strong likelihood that significant bloodshed will ensue regardless of when we leave? The deep seeded divides and hatred will exist regardless of when we leave, therefore, there is reason to believe that violence will spike whether we leave tomorrow, in a year, or twenty. How do you address this?
 

Consequently, the S.V. polity was not an inhibitor to victory. Most, if not all, wanted the S.V. and the United States to "win."

Revisionist nonsense.

The people of South Vietnam were violently opposed to the government of South Vietnam -- and not just the Buddhist monks who burned themselves to death in protest against the government. The South Vietnamese people were engaged in independent insurgent actions against the government for the better part of five years after the 1954 Geneva agreements before the North Vietnamese fully engaged in support and organization of the Vietcong. From the mid-1950s until the fall of Saigon, the government of South Vietnam never had the support of more that a fraction of the South Vietnamese people.
 

If war is seen as an extension of ideological debate then victory will be defined in those terms as well. Left and right have trouble communicating here (so many posts evince a complete lack of understanding of the opposing posters language) because the debate has never been engaged.

'Ideology' (and its complex of derivatives from Hegelian sources) was once the province of the left. But the left of the last two decades has been resolutely non-ideological in its thinking. Instead, in the last two decades it has been the right which has picked up this cudgel. Kudos to the leaders of this blog for engaging in ideological discussions on matters of 'originalism' and the like. The same type of debates will be required on the foreign policy front as well. To steal a phrase, the definition of victory in war is far too important a matter to be left to the generals.

Vietnam is now a peaceful member of the world community, struggling mightily to build an economy, but 'communist' in its government. Is this outcome worse than say the one in South Korea at a similar distance distance in time from its war? Of course the US withdrew militarily from Vietnam, but in what sense did we or the Vietnamese lose? (This question is not meant to suggest that we or the Vietnamese did NOT lose, it is simply asking for an articulation of what this might mean).

Lincoln's speech at Gettysburg can be taken as a pep talk to renew the spirits of the Northerners and thus increase the vigor with which the war was prosecuted, but if that is the only message he wished to deliver, his ending is off key. Those who died there, he suggests, 'shall not have died in vain,' if the political outcome that results from the carnage is the continuation of 'government of the people, by the people and for the people.' That is not a military definition of victory. It does not even directly require an ultimate, clear military decision in favor of the North to come about (compare with the later words in the 2nd inaugural). If one is so inclined, it can perhaps be seen as the statement of an 'ideology.' (Please, this discussion will not be helped by suggestions that Lincoln did not mean this as an objective, that no one had this as the objective of the war and that many other objectives were involved. This is the one he chose to hold up for public scrutiny...there is value in discussing it as such.)

Can we clearly state an outcome for the Iraq war, which is such that, if this outcome comes about in ten or twenty years, we can say that 'our soldiers will not have fought and died in vain?"
 

Mike said...

Bart: Is it not disingenuous to speak of military success and discuss controlling "80%" of the territory, when we don't control the largest population center? To use an example, that's like saying we control 80% of Arizona, with the exceptions of Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff.

Your analogy is poor.

The vast majority of the population is outside of Baghdad. Additionally, we have cleared half of Baghdad and should have most of the rest cleared by the end of the year.

You assert that the al Qaeda violence has turned the tide (again) in that the Sunni insurgents are now battling terrorists with us. What assurances do we have that they will peacefully lay down their arms presuming we can defeat al Qaeda?

The plan is not to have the Sunni lay down their arms. We are arming them to help destroy al Qaeda and then to hold the territory afterward, which they have been doing.

You state that withdrawing from Iraq would leave the non-Vietnam result of creating a base from which our enemies can attack. Now, one of the reasons we went into Vietnam was to curb Communist expansion in SE Asia. In other words, prevent Communism (our enemy) from establishing a potential base from which to attack US interests. Of course, that did not happen even with our withdrawal. Why then can we be so sure it would happen now?

Vietnam never attacked US interests outside of Vietnam. al Qaeda has been attacking US interests around the world for over a decade. We do not want to repeat the mistake of allowing them a Afghanistan style sanctuary in Iraq.

I also do not see you address one of Hilzoy's main points: namely, why is Bush able to shift blame onto the opposition when he allowed the current situation to develop through mismanagement and negligence?

I did address the point by describing the two strategies which we have employed. Nothing we have done compelled al Qaeda and the Iraqi militias to mass murder civilians. Saddam and al Qaeda had been doing that for a quarter century before we arrived.

Falsely blaming America first for the barbarities of totalitarians has been the wont of the left in this country for a century now. Frankly, I have little patience with the tactic and do not feel the need to address the slanders in detail.

Also, how do you address Hilzoy's point that there is a strong likelihood that significant bloodshed will ensue regardless of when we leave?

Anything is possible. However, such bloodbaths generally occur when security breaks down. Security is more likely to hold if the Iraqi military has fully developed. They are very close to that point now. The Iraqis control nearly everything now outside of Baghdad and Diyala.

The deep seeded divides and hatred will exist regardless of when we leave, therefore, there is reason to believe that violence will spike whether we leave tomorrow, in a year, or twenty. How do you address this?

We are going to have troops in Iraq and the Middle East for the next couple generations battling Islamic fascism. The near term end state we are looking for is to have the Iraqi military take over nearly all of the internal security of Iraq. To get there, we need to control the territory.
 

To me the most remarkable part was:

There's no debate in my mind that the veterans from Vietnam deserve the high praise of the United States of America. (Applause.) Whatever your position is on that debate,

His position at the time was pretty clear: he went AWOL
 

However, such bloodbaths generally occur when security breaks down. Security is more likely to hold if the Iraqi military has fully developed.

I see. So past bloodbaths resulted because the Nazis, Soviets, Maoists, etc. had insufficiently developed militaries.

What an interesting world you live in.
 

Mark,

I already stated that many S.V. did not like their government (regardless of which period). Nevertheless, most S.V. still did not want Communist domination. That was the exact point I made--and a distinction you either missed or are just wrong on.
 

Regardless of how many South Vietnamese actually wanted the North Vietnamese communists to take over their government, the point that you seem determined to miss is that the support the South Vietnamese government enjoyed from its own populace was as inadequate as was its governing competence. Military victories to secure the political future in such a context are worthless even though costly.
 

I tried.....

The plan is not to have the Sunni lay down their arms. We are arming them to help destroy al Qaeda and then to hold the territory afterward, which they have been doing.

But did you address the point? Once the current bogeyman of AQI has been put down (because they are annoying all the other actors in the country), what happens if the Sunni then decide to resume their (deniable) attacks against our troops. Whoops, new enemy.

Vietnam never attacked US interests outside of Vietnam. al Qaeda has been attacking US interests around the world for over a decade. We do not want to repeat the mistake of allowing them a Afghanistan style sanctuary in Iraq.

But Bart, one of your central premises has been that we had to fight in Vietnam in order to stop the spread of communism. Since we surrendered (your word) to the Viet Cong, they have swept the world with their fanatical devotion to world communism and ended up on our doorstep, attacking us from bases in Mexico, Canada, and Bermuda. Or maybe not.

I did address the point by describing the two strategies which we have employed. Nothing we have done compelled al Qaeda and the Iraqi militias to mass murder civilians. Saddam and al Qaeda had been doing that for a quarter century before we arrived.

You beg a lot, here, but let's ask who bears the responsibility for the failed strategies? The man who stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier proclaiming "mission accomplished" and the end of major combat operations? Has he stepped up and admitted any of his many mistakes?

Oh, and nice, subtle conflation of Saddam and Al-Qaeda, even though they weren't working together. And though nothing we have done specifically required the factions to attack each other, they are common strategies in countries undegoing unrest, and they seem to have paid off for some, so these strategies, however horrible, have been effective. As opposed to ours which have just enabled theirs to succeed.

Falsely blaming America first for the barbarities of totalitarians has been the wont of the left in this country for a century now. Frankly, I have little patience with the tactic and do not feel the need to address the slanders in detail.

Falsely blaming Americans, especially liberals and Democrats, has been the wont of the conservative right in the country for centuries now. Frankly, I have little patience with the tactic and do not feel the need to address the slanders in detail.

Anything is possible. However, such bloodbaths generally occur when security breaks down. Security is more likely to hold if the Iraqi military has fully developed. They are very close to that point now. The Iraqis control nearly everything now outside of Baghdad and Diyala.

But what is probable? Who let the security break down? The government we overthrew or the army we disbanded while we set up our military enclaves without providing policing for the occupied country?

We are going to have troops in Iraq and the Middle East for the next couple generations battling Islamic fascism. The near term end state we are looking for is to have the Iraqi military take over nearly all of the internal security of Iraq. To get there, we need to control the territory.

Of course, we may be fighting Islamic insurgents for generations if we keep occupying their countries.

Scarily enough, I have heard arguments like yours before. They were uttered by the British as they sought to control those rebellious colonists across the Atlantic. We just have to secure the major cities. If we could isolate the rebels, the rest of the country will rise up and support us. If we quash their armed forces, they will give up and surrender. After all of these major victories, they can't have any fighting spirit left.

People fighting for their freedom from a perceived invader will endure much to throw off the yoke. Do you think they will suddenly throw the flowers at us now, after all that has happened after we invaded their country?
 

Mark said...

However, such bloodbaths generally occur when security breaks down. Security is more likely to hold if the Iraqi military has fully developed.

I see. So past bloodbaths resulted because the Nazis, Soviets, Maoists, etc. had insufficiently developed militaries.


These totalitarians were obviously not providing security for their population by mass murdering them, nor is there even a remote comparison between the Iraqi military and the SS, NKVD or People's Army.
 

So, most South Vietnamese didn't care to be ruled by the North; they just didn't feel strongly enough about it to support their government or its American patron.

HLS, please look up "velleity."
 

Now, Bart, that all depends on how they define "their population" and whose security they are enforcing.

While there are differences of scale, there most certainly are close comparisons between the security forces of the Shi'ite Iraqi government and past death squads and secret polices.

Even if your military security fetish will not allow you to recognize it, "developed" security forces are not a sufficient guarantor against bloodbaths. Just the opposite, oftentimes.
 

Most of the South Vietnamese ("S.V.")did not want the North Vietnamese ("N.V.") to win. While it is true that many S.V. did not like their leaders, they hardly supported en masse the cause of the N.V.

As others have pointed out, the RVN had no political support outside of a small class of oligarchs and military officials. It isn't enough for you to say that the people of SVN didn't want the North to win (a dubious claim in any case). What you have to establish is that they were prepared to accept and sustain a government over the long term once US forces withdrew. That's what a political victory there would have required.

There is, of course, no way to prove this either way. But (a) the Pentagon came to that conclusion; (b) the American people did too; and (c) there was no guerilla war against the PRVN armies when they came South.

The remainder of your point is irrelevant.

Mark, your last comment is laughable. Losing can bring peace. I'm sure the millions that died in Cambodia are thankful for your "peace." I guess that you mean the ultimate peace, death?

The point isn't peace. The point is the price.


I'm not the one who brought up the issue of peace, you did. It's kind of odd for you to accuse me for what you did.

As for the deaths in Cambodia, it's just bizarre to blame the deaths there on our failure to "win" in Vietnam. First, as I previously pointed out, it was the North Vietnamese who ended the killing in Cambodia. Our withdrawal is what enabled them to do that.

Second, we weren't particularly fighting the Khmer Rouge. In fact, our policies in Cambodia contributed to their success. Your moral outrage would be better directed against the Nixon Administration. They're the ones whose policies led to the "sideshow" in Cambodia.

Third, you've omitted from your calculus the death and destruction which our intervention in Vietnam caused. The official figure is 5.1 million Vietnamese. That doesn't include our own casualties or any deaths in Laos. How many more Vietnamese did you want us to kill?

Tellingly, your post implies that "peace" is what matters. This magical state where everything is good.

Again, you're forgetting that it was you who brought up this issue, not me. Peace is, however, good thing. In peace, men bury their fathers, in war they bury their sons.

Your "peace" resulted in the deaths of MILLIONS. But, hey, there was peace, so it can't be that bad right?

As I pointed out above, the war resulted in the death of MILLIONS. And the deaths in Cambodia were not caused by our withdrawal, as I pointed out above.

Conservatives believe and argue that conflict is a necessary evil that is often required to prevent even greater evil. Many libs assume that if only we would stop fighting and be peaceful, then everything would work out.

This claim is just bizarrely false and ahistorical. But even if it were true, it says nothing at all about the merits of any particular conflict. It justifies the Nazis as well as the Allies, the South as well as the North.
 

I meant to add that attributing the Cambodia genocide to US withdrawal from Vietnam also requires a gigantic dose of hindsight. The Treaty of Paris was signed Jan. 27, 1973. Nobody at that time had any reason to expect what eventually happened in Cambodia. If you think Nixon did have reason to expect it, well, your opinion of him is worse than my own. That's saying a lot.
 

Most of the South Vietnamese ("S.V.")did not want the North Vietnamese ("N.V.") to win. While it is true that many S.V. did not like their leaders, they hardly supported en masse the cause of the N.V.

"80 per cent of the population would have voted for the Communist Ho Chi Minh"

-- President Dwight D. Eisenhower, excusing the failure of the Diem regime to support the Vietnam-wide elections called for in the Geneva Conference of 1954.

The South Vietnamese government started in a deep hole of illegitimacy, and it never made it out into the sunlight.

"...there is no evidence that the South Vietnamese would ever have been able to accomplish on their own what they failed to achieve with massive American assistance. The level of congressional funding was irrelevant … The Nixon administration, like the Johnson administration before it, could not give the South Vietnamese the essential ingredient for success: genuine indigenous political legitimacy."

-- Robert S. McNamara, Argument Without End pp 367-8
 

Bart said:

"I did address the point by describing the two strategies which we have employed. Nothing we have done compelled al Qaeda and the Iraqi militias to mass murder civilians. Saddam and al Qaeda had been doing that for a quarter century before we arrived."

Nothing the farmer does compels a fox to eat the hens, but the farmer deserves some blame for leaving the door to the henhouse open.

So let me understand, you think that despite its previous record of attacking US soldiers in Iraq, the Sunnis will be content with our presence in their country if al Qaeda is driven out?

Actually, looking at the various bloodbaths, they seem to occur when one political, ethnic, or religious group gets a stranglehold on power. The dominant party creates the "insecurity" by killing or allowing others to kill the minority religious, ethnic, or political faction.

And of course Vietnam never attacked our interest. But communist elements had, which is why we went into Vietnam. Your comparison fails badly. The fact is, despite leaving Vietnam, none of the nightmare scenarios, as it relates to Communism, came to pass. Yet, we are now supposed to believe it will happen in Iraq. In addition, you completely ignore your own point that, apparently, insurgents are now doing our work for us. They would, presumably, keep up the good work if we left. So why would Iraq devolve into more of a terrorist haven than has already been created?
 

One other point, IIRC from "The March of Folly" by Barbara Tuchman, was that there was a plebescite held, which all parties (including the US) agreed would be binding to all of Vietnam, which ended up with the Communists winning a large majority of the vote. The US, despite the agreements, helped set up the seperate, South Vietnamese government, denying the results of the election (not that we haven't heard that elsewhere). That denial of the democratic process, after the Vietnamese nationalists (who later turned into the Communists) had turned to the US as a sponsor after WWI and during WWII to help them gain their independance from France. We didn't because of the fear of weaking our ally, so the nationalists turned to Communism as their sponsor, and the rest, well, we know.

More visionaries upholding the ideals of our Constitution and Declaration of Independance are needed, and fewer apologists for our government policies which contravene them.
 

Mike said...

So let me understand, you think that despite its previous record of attacking US soldiers in Iraq, the Sunnis will be content with our presence in their country if al Qaeda is driven out?

The plan and the reality is that we should have little to no presence in the Sunni areas once al Qaeda is driven out. We have very few forces left in the Sunni Triangle and Petreus will recommend pulling nearly all of these out next Spring because the area has been pacified and is being run by the Iraqis. Petreaus is trying the same clear, hold and then hand over to the Iraqis strategy in the Sunni areas of Baghdad, Diyala and around Mosul.

And of course Vietnam never attacked our interest. But communist elements had, which is why we went into Vietnam. Your comparison fails badly. The fact is, despite leaving Vietnam, none of the nightmare scenarios, as it relates to Communism, came to pass.

I never made such a comparison and neither did the President. There is actually very little which is comparable between Vietnam and Iraq. The only comparisons which might have merit are (1) the enemy cannot win on the battlefield and is fighting its real battle in our political system and (2) surrendering territory to totalitarians always results in a blood bath for the civilians left behind.

In addition, you completely ignore your own point that, apparently, insurgents are now doing our work for us. They would, presumably, keep up the good work if we left. So why would Iraq devolve into more of a terrorist haven than has already been created?

The Iraqis simply do not have and probably never will have our offensive military capability to remove the enemy with minimal friendly military and civilian casualties. Very few militaries in the world can do what ours does. However, after we have cleared and held territory, we are handing it over to the Iraqis to hold and it seems to be working.
 

Is it not naive to presume that simply because we don't have a presence in the Sunni dominated areas there will not be a problem? These as Sunni nationalists. They will not be satisfied with us being located in a massive base outside their locale.
 

Hi HLS:
I was in college during the VN war and was a strong adovate of the Nixon position. Them verus us. I wanted us to win. Dominoes and all that BS. I have been a strong Rep supporter since 2002. What turned me off to Bush? Padilla and the no holds bar to the invading Iraq. I was classified 1Y during the VN war. You certainly seem like you should be of age to volunter to go to Iraq to fight for this noble cause. I hope your next post is from a bus going to boot camp. If not why don't you just shut the f... up!!!
 

The Iraqis simply do not have and probably never will have our offensive military capability to remove the enemy with minimal friendly military and civilian casualties. Very few militaries in the world can do what ours does. However, after we have cleared and held territory, we are handing it over to the Iraqis to hold and it seems to be working.

# posted by Bart DePalma : 5:30 PM


You are insane. We've spent the last 4+ years handing over territory to the Iraqis to hold. There appears to be no end to this process, so it's pretty Fing obvious that it's NOT working.
 

humblelawstudent:

Conservatives believe and argue that conflict is a necessary evil that is often required to prevent even greater evil.

The first "evil" in your sentence is not warranted. The neocons (and Dubya-sycophants) think that force is a perfectly acceptable means of foreign policy. Glenn Greenwald goes over this well in his book "Tragic Legacy", and in posts like this on his blog. Such conservatives as John Dean also decry the authoriarian impulse to force as an instrument of foreign policy.

Pretending that WWII had anything to do with the conflict in Iraq is just RW "talking points". But the maladministration has been flogging such comparisons for years (and you seem to be doing the same here). Pretending that Vietnam wasn't an inevitable disaster and failing to see the real parallels with the Iraq fiasco is -- to quote The Shawshank Redemption -- "being obtuse"....

Cheers,
 

David:

Vietnam is now a peaceful member of the world community, struggling mightily to build an economy, but 'communist' in its government. Is this outcome worse than say the one in South Korea at a similar distance distance in time from its war?

I don't think so.

ROK (South Korea), at pretty much a similar time, was a dictatorship under the "anti-Communist" strongman Park Chung-Hee, and busy imprisoning political dissidents and even threateneing to execute them (including eventual Nobel laureate Kim Dae-Jung). "Better dead than Red" was our motto.

Cheers,
 

HWSNBN is down on Maliki as well:

(2) surrendering territory to totalitarians always results in a blood bath for the civilians left behind.

Kind of like Zelikow. Leave the country to Malika, and we'll have a bloodbath. Bring back our "CIA asset" Allawi, and all will be well again. Then maybe we can leave. Or maybe not: "Additionally, we have cleared half of Baghdad and should have most of the rest cleared by the end of the year...." ... to make some room to build the new U.S. 'Embassy'. ;-)

Cheers,
 

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