"Restore(s) a little sanity into current political debate" - Kenneth Minogue, TLS "Projects a more expansive and optimistic future for Americans than (the analysis of) Huntington" - James R. Kurth, National Interest "One of (the) most important books I have read in recent years" - Lexington Green
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Posted by Michael Kennedy on 25th August 2014 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
The Delta Force raid on the Syrian ISIS camp failed to rescue any hostages. They had been moved. Now we know why.
Anthony Shaffer, a former lieutenant-colonel in US military intelligence who worked on covert operations, said: “I’m told it was almost a 30-day delay from when they said they wanted to go to when he finally gave the green light. They were ready to go in June to grab the guy [Foley] and they weren’t permitted.”
President Barack Obama — at the urging of senior adviser Valerie Jarrett — canceled the operation to kill Osama bin Laden three times before finally approving the May 2, 2011, Navy SEAL mission, according to a book scheduled to be released next month.
In “Leading From Behind: The Reluctant President and the Advisors who Decide for Him,” Richard Miniter writes that Obama canceled the mission in January 2011, again in February, and a third time in March, The Daily Caller reports
Through weeks of sometimes heated White House debate in 2011, Clinton was alone among the president’s topmost cabinet officers to back it. Vice President Biden, a potential political rival for Clinton in 2016, opposed it. So did then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.
Warning: spoilers, I guess, though with a film like this it’s hard to give anything away so as to really detract from the experience. Maybe a few autobiographical spoilers of my own.
Having only seen it once so far, I am aware of having gotten at most glimpses of its full intent. I cannot easily describe Terrence Malick’s oeuvre except in superficial ways: mostly out-of-doors, with nature as a significant element; spectacular cinematography; more or less nonlinear storyline; voice-over narrations. I have not seen Badlands but have seen everything from Days of Heaven on. Read the rest of this entry »
[ cross-posted at Zenpundit -- apocalyptic movements, best readings, budget shortfalls, lack of support for scholarship in crucial natsec areas -- and with a h/t to Dan from Madison for the video that triggered this post ]
What with rapture partiesbreaking out all over, billboards in Dubaiproclaiming The End and thousands of Hmong tribespeople in Vietnam among the believers, this whole sorry business of Harold Camping‘s latest end times prediction is catching plenty of attention. I thought it might be helpful to recommend some of the more interesting and knowledgeable commentary on Camping’s failed prophecy.
First, three friends and colleagues of mine from the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University, about which I will have a further paragraph later:
Richard Landes of BU has a text interview here, and a TV interview here. His forthcoming book, Heaven on Earth, is a monumental [554 pp.] treatment of millenarian movements ranging “from ancient Egypt to modern-day UFO cults and global Jihad” with a focus on “ten widely different case studies, none of which come from Judaism or Christianity” — and “shows that many events typically regarded as secular–including the French Revolution, Marxism, Bolshevism, Nazism-not only contain key millennialist elements, but follow the apocalyptic curve of enthusiastic launch, disappointment and (often catastrophic) re-entry into ‘normal time’”.
Stephen O’Leary of USC wrote up the Harold Camping prediction a couple of days ago on the WSJ “Speakeasy” blog. He’s the rhetorician and communications scholar who co-wrote the first article on religion on the internet, and his specialty as it applies to apocalyptic thinking is doubly relevant: the timing of the end — and the timing of the announcement of the end. His book, Arguing the Apocalypse, is the classic treatment.
Damian Thompson of the Daily Telegraph is a wicked and witty blogger on all things Catholic and much else beside — the normally staid Church Times (UK) once called him a “blood-crazed ferret” and he wears the quote with pride on his blog, where you can also find his comments on Camping. Damian’s book, Waiting for Antichrist, is a masterful treatment of one “expecting” church in London, and has a lot to tell us about the distance between the orthodoxies of its clergy and the various levels of enthusiasm and eclectic beliefs of their congregants.
Three experts, three highly recommended books.
Two quick notes for those whose motto is “follow the money” (I prefer “cherchez la femme” myself, but chacun a son gout):
The LA Times has a piece that examines the “worldwide $100-million campaign of caravans and billboards, financed by the sale and swap of TV and radio stations” behind Camping’s more recent prediction (the 1994 version was less widely known).
Well worth reading.
And for those who suspect the man of living “high on the hog” — this quote from the same piece might cause you to rethink the possibility that the man’s sincere (one can be misguided with one’s integrity intact, I’d suggest):
Though his organization has large financial holdings, he drives a 1993 Camry and lives in a modest house.
Now back to the Center for Millennial Studies.
While it existed, it was quite simply the world center of apocalyptic, messianic and millenarian studies. CMS conferences brought together a wide range of scholars of different eras and areas, who could together begin to fathom the commonalities and differences — anthropological, theological, psychological, political, local, global, historical, and contemporary — of movements such as the Essenes, the Falun Gong, the Quakers, Nazism, the Muenster Anabaptists, al-Qaida, the Taiping Rebellion, Branch Davidians, the Y2K scare, classic Marxism, Aum Shinrikyo and Heaven’s Gate.
And then the year 2000 came and went, and those who hadn’t followed the work of the CMS and its associates thought it’s all over, no more millennial expectation, we’ve entered the new millennium with barely a hiccup.
Well, guess what. It was at the CMS that David Cook presented early insights from his definitive work on contemporary millennial movements in Islam — and now we have millennial stirrings both on the Shia side (President Ahmadinejad et al) and among the Sunni (AQ theorist Abu Mus’ab Al-Suri devotes the last hundred pages of his treatise on jihad to “signs of the end times”)…
Apocalyptic expectation continues. But Richard Landes’ and Stephen O’Leary’s fine project, the CMS, is no longer with us to bring scholars together to discuss what remains one of the key topics of our times. When Richard’s book comes out, buy it and read it — and see if you don’t see what I mean.
hey, it’s probably safe to cut funding for these languages. It’s hard to see Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan or anywhere in the Arabic-speaking world causing issues in terms of U.S. national security interests anytime soon.
So the CMS isn’t the only significant scholarly venue we’ve lost to terminal lack of vision.
Posted by Lexington Green on 26th November 2010 (All posts by Lexington Green)
This is the television premier of this extraordinarily film. I wrote about seeing this filmhere.
Restrepo chronicles the deployment of a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. The movie focuses on a remote 15-man outpost, Restrepo, named after a platoon medic who was killed in action. It was considered one of the most dangerous postings in the U.S. military. This is an entirely experiential film: The cameras never leave the valley; there are no interviews with generals or diplomats. The only goal is to make viewers feel as if they have just been through a 94-minute deployment. This is war, full stop. The conclusions are up to you.
I highly recommend this film to all of our readers.
An information page for Restrepo is here, including video.
On a related note, I also highly recommend this article entitled Small Unit Dominance: The Strategic Importance of Tactical Reform, by Maj.Gen. Robert H. Scales.
Slightly more than 40 years ago my unit was butchered by elements from the North Vietnamese 29th Regiment at a mountaintop firebase overlooking the A Shau Valley. Nineteen of my 55 soldiers were killed or wounded severely enough to warrant evacuation. The loss was mainly my fault. I wasn’t new at the job. This was my fourth command so I thought I knew what I was doing. A much smarter and better trained and equipped enemy taught me that I did not.
The event made me promise that I would never go to war again No. 2 in a two-sided contest. It also burned into the depths of my soul several questions that have lingered and festered ever since. I asked why the most technologically advanced country on the planet was unable to make better weapons and equipment than the enemy. I asked why my soldiers were so poorly prepared physically, intellectually and emotionally for this fight. I asked why my experience as a combat leader could be gained only by spilling their blood.
Maj.Gen. Scales goes on to say:
In July, I watched the Afghanistan war documentary “Restrepo” play out on the screen and compared it to my experience decades ago: same type of unit (airborne light infantry), same lousy rifle (M16/M4), same helicopter (CH-47), same machine gun (M2), same young men trying to deal with the fear of violent death. Seared in my brain is the image of a young soldier at Fire Base Restrepo hacking away at hard clay and granite trying frantically to dig a fighting position. The U.S. is spending more than $300 billion on a new fighter plane. We haven’t lost a fighter pilot to enemy action since 1972. Why after nine years of war can’t we give a close-combat soldier a better way to dig a hole? For that matter, why do soldiers exiting fire bases not have some means of looking over the next hill? Why doesn’t every soldier have his own means to talk to his comrades by radio? Why can’t soldiers on a remote fire base detect an approaching enemy using sensors? Why can’t soldiers rely on robots to carry heavy loads and accomplish particularly dangerous tasks? I could go on, but you get the point.
Why indeed. I was struck by the same questions. Much of the American arsenal verges on science fiction. But what you see in Restrepo would be familiar to soldiers from 50 or more years ago. In fact, an infantry platoon from 1918 would be very roughly like one of platoon depicted in Restrepo, while an airplane from that era is from an entirely different universe from the aircraft of today.
Air and sea dominance have served us well, though the cost of maintaining them seems to be snowballing out of control. Nonetheless, with the USA fighting land wars against committed opponents we need to spend effort on gaining an edge in that domain as well. Our enemies drag us down to their level, where their numbers and home-field advantage are most telling, when we engage in this type of labor-intensive combat. We cannot match their numbers, and skill and training alone will not prevail over those numbers. Additional tools beyond what they can match may make the difference. Having a Buck Rogers aircraft overhead, while hacking out a hole with a shovel in the hard earth below, shows a misdirection of resources.
The Western left’s criticism of Israel’s role in Middle East conflict has long since become so bizarrely lopsided and vicious that many non-leftists have concluded that only antisemitism can explain it.
The left makes sure that every real and imagined military misstep on Israel’s part becomes international news, while ignoring the intentionally brutal attacks of Israel’s enemies against both Israel and their own people. The left contends that democratic, relatively multicultural Israel ultimately makes the evil decisions that drive the conflict and not the autocratic regimes attacking Israel. The left claims that the conflict can end only when Israel reforms, gives up or even disappears. The left requires almost no concrete action towards peace on the part of Israel’s enemies while demanding that Israel take concrete actions merely to get the enemies to even begin to think about negotiating.
Such extreme and thoughtless imbalance in the face of objective facts is one of the hallmarks of bigotry but I don’t think antisemitism drives the left’s stance on Israel. Instead, I think the mindless criticism a kind of intellectual mass hysteria that creates a delusional narrative so encompassing and so immersive that leftists begin to see it as unquestionable truth.
In short, the left is trapped in an immersive story in which Israel is the villain. Any fact that disrupts the “plot” gets edited out of the narrative.
That might sound overwrought but we have seen a mass delusional narrative before…
Delusion:The “peace” movement brought about peace in Indochina.
Reality: This is the most tragic delusion of all. It is the reason I have been putting “peace” in quotation marks. Despite its delusions, the “peace” movement might have been justifiable had it actually produced peace for the people of either Indochina or America. Sadly, it did neither.
The people of Indochina suffered horribly during the final communist invasions and their horrific aftermath. We know at least 165,000 Vietnamese were executed outright in the two years following the fall of Saigon. Another estimated 250,000 died from neglect in the “reeducation” camps. Another two million were made refugees with an unknown loss of life as they fled across seas in tiny boats.
Worse, 1.5 million out of a population of 7 million, 1 in every 5 living Cambodians, would die under Pol Pot’s insanity. The Khmer Rouge murdered 300,000 people outright, and we know this because they took before and after photographs of each and every one of them. You can see them in a museum in Phnom Penh today. The rest they starved to death in an insane attempt to empty the cities and create an agrarian utopia.
It wasn’t just the democides. Soon after we abandoned the people of Indochina and let the communist superpowers take over, the victors fell out among themselves. Border skirmishes broke out immediately, culminating in an invasion of Cambodia by Vietnam followed by an invasion of Vietnam by China. The area would remain mired in unceasing, brutal warfare until the early ’90s.
The aftereffects for America reverberate to this day. The mythology of plucky 3rd worlders armed with nothing but AK-47s and RPGs defeating America’s power has been used by every enemy since to convince their followers that small groups or nations like theirs could take on America and win. Most grimly, it appeared repeatedly in Al Qaeda’s indoctrination materials prior to and after 9/11.
A “peace” that brings totalitarian oppression, impoverishment, mass murder and incessant, bloody military conflict is not a “peace” any humane person would seek. If that is “peace”, most would choose “war”.
Delusion:The deafening silence about the nature of the communist regimes that were on the other side of the conflict.
Reality: This delusion is not something the “peace” movement said but something it didn’t say. Throughout the conflict and even in the leftists’ histories today, one thing is glaringly absent: There was never any serious examination, nor even serious mention, of the brutal nature of the superpower communist regimes, of North Vietnam or of the ideology and intentions of the Khmer Rouge.
You can read entire leftwing books about the conflict, such as Neil Sheehan’s “A Bright and Shining Lie“, without ever reading more than a couple of paragraphs about the nature of the regimes we were fighting. Instead, the left’s histories focus conclusively on the corruption of our non-communist allies and America’s failings. This creates a distorted and unbalanced appreciation of the actions of the non-communists. Of course their actions look irrational and unreasonable when removed from the context of being counteractions to communist aggression.
The Left’s description of the War in Vietnam is like watching a Kung Fu movie where the bad guys have all been digitally edited out. The hero thrashes about punching air, breaking things and hurling through walls for no apparent reason.
Imagine if every book you ever read on WWII made no mention of the internal nature or actions of the Third Reich. Imagine that you only knew of morally questionable actions by the allies but not those carried out by the Axis. Imagine that the histories spent dozens of pages each detailing the crimes of Stalin and damning America and Britain for allying with him. Suppose mostly what you knew about WWII combat was the results of the city bombing campaigns. Imagine that, while WWII was actually being fought, academics, the media and activists had hammered that lopsided view of the conflict into the public awareness.
Needless to say, your attitudes about the morality and necessity of WWII would be much different than the one you hold now. That is exactly the kind of lopsided, delusional view of the Vietnam conflict, and of the Cold War in general, held by the “peace” movement both then and now.
I would like to talk, representing all those veterans, and say that several months ago in Detroit, we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command….
They told the stories at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.
Twenty years prior in WWII, the majors, colonels and generals of Kerry’s “officers at all levels of command” had, as lieutenants and captains, liberated death camps in Europe and Asia. Those men knew better than any in the “peace” movement what atrocities looked like, and they defined themselves as being soldiers the polar opposite of the Nazis and Imperial Japanese who had actually committed such acts.
Yet the “peace” movement whipped themselves up into a delusional frenzy, to the point where they did not even question why or how such men had turned into monsters. Neither did they bother to present any real evidence of their allegations. Certainly, when they acquired overwhelming political power following Watergate, they did nothing to investigate or punish anyone for what they claimed must have been tens of thousands of war crimes.
Tellingly, John Kerry never pushed the point after the war “ended” and he accepted a pardon from Carter to protect himself from prosecution. At the time, Kerry had served naval officers and was a naval reserve officer when he testified. In his claims of atrocity he committed a crime one way or the other.
He either had no knowledge of war crimes, and therefore intentionally lied about the military for the benefit of the enemy, or he did have proof of war crimes but failed to bring such evidence forward as all American service personnel are legally required to do.
If it was the latter, he is guilty of even greater malice and cowardice than if it was the former. The only thing worse than making spurious accusations of war crimes would be letting actual war criminals go free and remain within the US military.
Delusion: The war was fought on the Vietnamese side by militarily outmatched but plucky and determined peasant soldiers who fought with no significant support or direction from the communist superpowers.
Realty: The fighting in the last 7 years of the war post-Tet was carried out by large-scale, highly trained, regular North Vietnamese army units. The involvement of communist superpowers was massive in terms of money, materiel and personnel. In 1969 the Soviet Union had an estimated 65,000 troops in North Vietnam and Mao had 160,000-180,000. The Chinese troops served as Ho Chi Min’s internal security force to prevent internal revolt. It would turn out that Soviet personnel had manned almost all the anti-aircraft missile defenses that shot down American planes.
The North Vietnamese army was well equipped with state-of-the-art communist tanks, artillery, planes and anti-aircraft defenses but North Vietnam had zero industrial base to build anything. It is doubtful they could even feed themselves. North Vietnam supplied nothing but cannon fodder.
Without the massive and continuous support of the communist super powers the communist Vietnamese would never have come into power, stayed in power or been able to launch the invasions of the South.
Delusion:The US “expanded” the war into Cambodia in 1970 and did so “illegally”.
Reality: In this delusion, the US overtly launched operations into eastern Cambodia in 1970 merely to expand its imperialistic designs on Indochina in general. The “intellectuals” of the “peace” movement claimed that there were no significant North Vietnamese forces in Cambodia.
Perhaps the greatest irony is that the angry students – as so often was the case throughout the war – had their facts wrong. Going into Cambodia was not “illegal.” Like South Vietnam, Cambodia was one of the “protocol states” the United States had solemnly pledged to defend against communist aggression when the Senate in 1955 consented to the ratification of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization agreement with but a single dissenting vote. Cambodia, like South Vietnam, was similarly incorporated by reference in the 1964 statute, by which 99.6 percent of Congress authorized the use of military force to carry out our SEATO obligations.
This “expansion” delusion could be refuted at the time by anyone who could read a map and see where the battles were being fought. When you see large-scale battles occurring in the Southmost corner of Vietnam, right up against the Cambodian border, you don’t have to be Napoleon to see that the North Vietnamese army had to be supplying and basing itself in eastern Cambodia. Clearly, the North Vietnamese had violated Cambodian neutrality on a massive scale. This justified the incursion into Cambodian on both strategic and legal grounds.
Again, post-Cold War evidence would show the “Peace” movement was dead wrong.
Delusion:There were no North Vietnamese army units operating in either South Vietnam or Cambodia.
Reality:In order to maintain the delusion that the war was a popular uprising against imperialists, the “peace” movement could not admit that the war post-1968 was one of invasion from the outside. They labeled as lies any US assertions of invasion. Post-Cold War evidence proved the “peace” movement conclusively wrong. Post-Tet, all major combat was carried out by regular units of the North Vietnamese army.
Delusion:The Tet Offensive proved the US military had lied about the strength and scale of support in South Vietnam for the Viet Cong.
Reality:The Tet Offensive achieved surprise for the same reason Hitler’s offensive in the Battle of the Bulge achieved surprise: The plan was based on a delusional narrative and had no chance of success. In both cases, the US military found it impossible to predict that the enemy would do something so incredibly stupid and self-destructive.
The Tet Offensive was a staggering tactical defeat for the communists that led to the destruction of the Viet Cong as a fighting force. From that point on, all of the major fighting for the communists would be carried out by successive waves of invasion of North Vietnamese regular army units from North Vietnam. Post-1968 the war ceased to be an insurgency and became one of outright external invasion.
Delusion:Ho Chi Min was really just a non-ideological Vietnamese nationalist who was driven to seek support from the communist superpowers by the ignorance and racism of America and France.
Reality: This myth is so ridiculous it is almost gigglingly funny. It is difficult to imagine how Ho Chi Min’s life story could have more marked him as a doctrinaire communist. He left Vietnam for France in 1912, joined the communist party in 1917 and did not return to Vietnam until ordered to do so by Stalin himself in 1944. He spent the intervening 32 years in Europe and the Soviet Union, living as a Westerner, speaking French and Russian and working for various communist organizations and Stalin’s regime. He was himself an unrepentant Stalinist who considered himself a close personal friend of Stalin. Ho Chi Min so admired Stalin that he ordered that Stalin’s portrait appear beside his own in public buildings in Vietnam up until his own death in 1977.
Nor did he act like a nationalist once in power. The French lost control of Indochina not to the communists but to a broad-based coalition of various nationalistic groups that only included the communists. After the defeat of the French, Ho Chi Min used his superpower backing to gain internal military control of North Vietnam. Then he either killed the non-communists or drove them into exile. He founded a Stalinist regime in the North complete with secret police and gulags. In 1955, he even massacred 15,000 of the Vietnamese equivalent of the Kulaks, apparently for no other reason than to emulate Stalin.
The “peace” movement, however, ignored Ho Chi Min’s actions and instead, as hard as it is to believe now, pointed to the mere statements of a Stalinist as proof of his non-ideological nationalism. They even went so far as to compare Ho Chi Min to Washington and the other founders of America.
Instead, from his youth he was a doctrinaire communist who believed in subordinating the people of Vietnam to a world communist state and replacing its native culture with that of an industrialized communist utopia.
Delusion: The war in South Vietnam was a popular uprising against an unpopular minority government
Reality: The outcome of the Tet offensive proved this idea conclusively wrong. We now know that the North Vietnamese did really believe they had wide popular support in the South and that, if they could just seize control of enough of the country, the oppressed people of the South would rise up in mass to join them, making it impossible for America to maintain control. That did not happen. Not only did the people not rise up but the people actively rebelled against the Viet Cong, especially after the Viet Cong began mass executions and atrocities in the areas they controlled.
By the time the “peace” movement became a major player circa 1970, only a small minority of South Vietnamese wanted to live under communist rule.
There was opposition to both starting and continuing the Vietnam war that had nothing to do with the self-described “Peace” movement.
Eisenhower, for example, thought we should avoid such conflicts and concentrate only on vital choke points across the world. Eisenhower, like many critics of the initiating and continuing the war, argued from the perspective of a realistic and practical strategy. They did not believe that the war revealed America as evil. That type of opposition to the war did not spring from a delusional narrative but from practical concerns over the best strategy for containing and defeating communism. They believed that America had limited resources and limited political will and that we had to pick our battles.
The “peace” movement, by contrast, did not make practical arguments and they did not believe that communism needed to be contained or defeated. Instead, they based their arguments on the premise that the war resulted from America’s internal corruption and that in essence America was the cause of the conflict. Their goal was to get America to abandon the people of Indochina completely and not to simply reform the way America fought communism there. They argued that the people of Indochina wanted to be communist and that they would be much better off under communist rule. When they did succeed in bringing about the abandonment, they cheered the fall of the non-communists.
Voices from many quarters are saying dire things about the American-led campaign in Afghanistan. The prospect of defeat, whatever that may mean in practice, is real. But we are so close to the events, it is hard to know what is and is not critical. And the facts which trickle out allow people who are not insiders to only have a sketchy, pointillist impression of the state of play. There is a lot of noise around a weak signal.
ChicagoBoyz will be convening a group of contributors to look back on the American campaign in Afghanistan from a forty year distance, from 2050.
40 years is the period from Fort Sumter to the Death of Victoria, from the Death of Victoria to Pearl Harbor, from Pearl Harbor to the inauguration of Ronald Reagan. It is a big chunk of history. It is enough time to gain perspective.
This exercise in informed and educated imagination is meant to help us gain intellectual distance from the drumbeat of day to day events, to understand the current situation in Afghanistan more clearly, to think-through the potential outcomes, and to consider the stakes which are in play in the longer run of history for America, for its military, for the region, and for the rest of the world.
The Roundtable contributors will publish their posts and responses during the third and fourth weeks of August, 2010.
The ChicagoBoyz blog is a place where we can think about the unthinkable.
Stand by for further details, including a list of our contributors.
There is nothing new in this story that back in ’69 Nixon threatened to nuke the Soviets if they nuked the Chinese. I first read about this back in the early ’80s. It was the war prevented by an exchange of ping pong players.
The entire three-sided conflict is a fascinating example of how complex and multilayered the generic “Great Game” gets. It also serves as a demonstration of why the simplistic models that many people, especially those on the left, use to justify foreign policy stances are really just silly.
In 1954, as a young Army officer detailed to the CIA with little experience, Rufus Phillips became a member of what was then called the Saigon Military Mission – several years before America’s military involvement in Vietnam became a matter of public record. He worked directly under Col. Edward Lansdale, the Air Force officer working for the CIA who was responsible for managing the U.S. presence and advising the nascent South Vietnamese government of President Ngo Dinh Diem – trying, for example, to convince Diem to post realistic-looking election results. As the war progressed and America’s involvement deepened, Phillips led counterinsurgency efforts and won the CIA’s Intelligence Medal of Merit for his work; later, he became a consultant for the State Department and served as an adviser to Vice President Hubert Humphrey until the 1968 election.
Phillips wrote a book Why Vietnam Matters and gave a lecture and Q&A session on it at the Pritzker Military Library on 11.22.2008. Phillips was concerned with outlining the lessons he learned in Vietnam and how they applied to Iraq and Afghanistan. One interesting observation Phillips made is on the domino theory in response to an audience question. He argued that the domino theory was very much in play in the mid-1950s in Laos, Cambodia, and South Vietnam. There was no organized native government at all so a few Commie insurgents showing up with a rifle was enough to constitute a government. This was less true in later years when those nations had developed some institutional strength, though it’s interesting that Laos and Cambodia followed South Vietnam in succumbing to Communist rule rather quickly…almost like dominoes.
There is a video of the lecture here and an MP3 here.
David Sanger mentioned that in 1971 I asked the Foreign Relations Committee “how do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”
I think it relevant to the contemporary debate to recall what else he said in that testimony:
I would like to talk, representing all those veterans, and say that several months ago in Detroit, we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command.
It is impossible to describe to you exactly what did happen in Detroit, the emotions in the room, the feelings of the men who were reliving their experiences in Vietnam, but they did. They relived the absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do.
They told the stories at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, tape wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the country side of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.[emp added]
Just to be clear, the Winter Soldier “investigation” was shortly proven to be wholly fraudulent.
Successful terror attacks require real skills at surveillance, security, and usually explosives manufacture. None of these skills are easy to acquire. Most successful attacks have involved someone with real training, usually acquired in Pakistan. By monitoring movements to and from Pakistan (and other areas that could be training centers) and extensive sharing between national intelligence agencies suspect activity can be identified and monitored.
(emphasis added) It is axiomatic that terrorism usually requires state sponsorship to be effective, and this post makes a strong case that this axiom has ongoing validity — and that the worst state sponsor is Pakistan. (This is consistent with other things I have read.) In fact, according to this post, it is so bad that you can monitor terrorists generally by monitoring who comes and goes from Pakistan. That, if true, is intolerable.
I had a good visit this weekend with our colleague Zenpundit. One of the things we talked about was the seeming lack of strategy underlying American policy. It has been spasmodic and reactive. We contrasted the current “three wars” — The Global War on Terror, the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan, none of which have a goal or an articulated means to reach that goal (i.e. a strategy) which is worthy of the name.
Contrast this with two very successful strategies. In World War II our strategy was “Germany First”. Two words, and all else flowed from it. In the Cold War our strategy was “Containment” or “Containing Communism”. This over-arching aim held through thick and thin and we eventually succeeded in our aim of containment.
In the current conflict we seem to be floundering around. The goal in both Iraq and Afghanistan is to arrange things so we can leave. In other words, we are admitting that we should not have invaded either place and that we cannot accomplish much of anything of value by being there. We just don’t want to make things worse by the way we leave. This reminds me of the sort of prestige-based decision-making that kept us in Vietnam. The current vision of population-centric COIN appears to be way too expensive and time consuming to be worth doing on a big scale in Afghanistan. Gen. Krulak’s recent letter to George Will is one example of a proposed different course. As Afghanistan becomes “Obama’s War” I hope we will see some creative thinking.
In the meantime, I am thinking more and more that the focus should be on state sponsors of terrorism. The main sponsor of terrorism is Pakistan. Of course, there is no “Pakistan” but rather factions within Pakistan. Nonetheless, if we are going to focus our military and political energy anywhere, it should be on ending Pakistan as a source of terrorism.
I am not yet committed to the idea, but I suggest “Pakistan First” as our strategy. I do not mean conquer and occupy Pakistan. I mean compel the government there, but whatever combination of carrots and sticks, to stop supporting terrorism and to actively work to stop terrorism originating within its borders.
In this Reason Hit&Run post, the vile Patrick Buchanan takes a well deserved beating for his bizarre and ahistorical defense of Adolf Hitler in WWII. However, as loathsome, racist and stupid as he is, Buchanan is correct about one thing: Hitler did not intend to start a second world war that would drag in every industrialized country and leave 3/4 of the industrialized world in ruins.
Instead, Hitler planned on fighting a short, sharp war in Poland. Based on his experience at Munich, he expected that France and Britain would either merely raise a token protest or that they would would fight briefly, realize that they couldn’t recover Poland and then negotiate a peace. He never envisioned that he would fight a gotterdammerung war of global destruction.
Hitler miscalculated. In this he was far from alone. In the 20th Century every war that involved a liberal democracy resulted from the miscalculation of an autocratic leadership.
Viet Nam was a US success because a great part of Soviet transport production including trucks and such was built in the USSR, transported at great expense to Viet Nam and destroyed by USAF. When North Viet Nam invaded the South in 1975 they had more armor than the Wehrmacht had at Kursk, and more trucks than Patton ever had in the Red Ball Express. This was all replacements for similar amounts of materiel destroyed in 1973 when the US at a cost of 663 US casualties aided ARVN in repulsing a 150,000 troop invasion — fewer than 40,000 ever got back home — bringing with it more tanks than the Wehrmacht had at Kursk and more trucks than Patton ever had — none of which ever got home.
Viet Nam helped convert the USSR into Bulgaria with missiles. They neglected their own infrastructure to send materiel to Viet Nam for us to destroy.
As Pournelle also writes in his post, Afghanistan was yet another war of attrition that finished them off. One important reason why the Soviets didn’t realize all that in time was that they lied to each other. If displeasing your superiors with reports about problems is risky, you simply report successes all the time. The West in turn didn’t notice what happened because our spies didn’t get to hear anything but the misinformation Soviet officials were feeding each other. That’s also why the victory in Vietnam didn’t feel like one for decades. While Iraq isn’t Vietnam (it can’t be repeated frequently enough), the example of the long-term success that the Vietnam turned out to be should serve to demonstrate the virtue of patience. Iraq will only turn into a defeat (in the long as well as the short run) in case of a premature troop withdrawal (but that is an issue for another post).