Some long-time readers may have noticed that I am often more interested in intellectual methodology, i.e., the means by which people arrive at certain conclusions, than I am in the conclusions themselves. Methodology trumps conclusion in my view because only by understanding the quality of the methodology can we hope to understand the quality of the conclusions. We evaluate the quality of a methodology by the accuracy of the predictions the methodology produces. Science works this way, and that same concept applies to all other fields of endeavor (albeit with far less precision.)
Working from this perspective, what do 30 years of hindsight about the Vietnam war tell about leftist methodology? In turn, what does that tell us about the quality of leftist policy recommendations in Iraq?
It tells us that following leftist recommendations in Iraq will most likely result in a humanitarian disaster for the people of Iraq, a crippling blow for U.S national security, worldwide destabilization and a vast increase in the prestige and power of organizations that employ the tactic of terrorism.
In my previous post, I explained how the hammer and nail effect caused leftists to systematically place the primary blame for all conflicts between liberal democracies and autocracies on the liberal democracies. This built in error wrecks leftist methodology. Leftists simply lose the ability to accurately analyze the causes of conflicts or to predict the outcomes of different policy choices.
We can see this flawed methodology quite clearly in the Left’s model of the conflict in Indochina. The Left held out the following model of the conflict:
(1) The primary driver for the conflict was the desire of the people of Indochina to be free of colonial oppression. The “imperialistic” actions of the liberal democracies of France and the United States were therefore the ultimate cause of the conflict.
(2) Following from (1), anti-Western leaders such as Ho Chi Minh and Pol Pot were first and foremost nationalist and only secondly communist, if they were true doctrinaire communists at all. They had little interest in allying themselves with communist superpowers. Only the actions of the liberal democracies forced them into a temporary alliance with the communist superpowers.
(3) Therefore, the war in Indochina was not in fact a proxy war against communist superpowers but rather a post-WWII version of the wars of colonialization.
Based on this model, the leftists of western liberal democracies thought it obvious that if the liberal democracies removed themselves from the conflict, then the war-torn region would rapidly evolve into stable, inclusive, peaceful, and neutral nations with great developmental potential. (For example, John Kerry famously said that we might have to evacuate, “at most” 3,000 former South Vietnamese officials and their families to protect them from the wrath of the victors.)
Due to many factors internal to the liberal democracies themselves, the Left won overwhelming political power in the mid-’70s and immediately implemented the policies that their model of the conflict mandated. However, nothing their model predicted came to pass. The actual outcome was almost to horrible to believe.
Instead of governments swept into power by popular acclaim, the communists bludgeoned their way to absolute power using overwhelming firepower supplied to them by their superpower patrons. They implemented mass executions, racial pogroms, gulags and the entire panoply of the totalitarian state. Their economies collapsed and the victors soon fell to fighting among themselves. The entire region knew nothing but war, democide, oppression and poverty for the next 20 years. Most telling, while the region generated few refugees in the time of the Western intervention, after the communist victory it generated millions in only a couple of years.
The immediate consequences for the free world were equally dire. The power and prestige of the communist powers increased enormously, resulting in numerous wars and the establishment of new totalitarian regimes.
The negative consequences for American national security reverberate to this day. Our contemporary adversaries still point to Indochina as proof that a small but patient power can defeat the world’s sole hyperpower.
After the fall of the Soviet Union and the opening of the Soviet archives it became clear to all that the leftist model of the conflict got things very nearly completely backwards:
(1) Stalin originated the war in 1944 when he ordered a Soviet trained revolutionary cadre headed by Ho Chi Min to then-Japanese occupied Vietnam to lay in wait to exploit the Japanese defeat. (Similar cadres, also recruited from expatiates in Europe, went to nearby countries.) Stalin and his successors directed and supported the resulting conflict from beginning to end. The liberal democracies were fighting a proxy war against the communist superpowers just as they claimed.
(2) Leaders such as Ho Chi Min and Pol Pot were in fact doctrinaire communists. They believed in the communist concept of historical inevitability and sought to force-evolve their native cultures into industrial socialist states. No action by western liberal democracies could have shaken their alliance with the communist superpowers.
(3) The communists exploited the people’s nationalism for their own ends. They used and murdered any non-communist nationalist in the range of their power. Ultimately, communist intervention drove the conflict. Without that intervention, the decolonialization would most likely have proceeded in a peaceful manner. The war arose when liberal democracies resisted the communist attack. When the Left forced the liberal democracies to abandon the region, the inherent destructive nature of communist doctrines created the horrific outcome.
The Left got the war entirely wrong solely due to their emotional need to place the genesis of the conflict within the liberal democracies in the West, where the articulate intellectuals of the Left could claim to affect a solution. The same flawed methodology underlies the Left’s model of the war in Iraq, and of the wider war against Islamists and others who employ the tactic of terrorism.
Considering just Iraq, if one believes axiomatically that the current conditions in the country result solely from the actions of the U.S.-led coalition, then, logically, removing coalition forces and abandoning the region, just as in Indochina, will improve conditions there. However, the Left’s model of Iraq (and the broader conflicts of the Middle East) is just as broken as their model of the conflict in Indochina, and for the same reasons. Just as in Indochina, they simply cannot understand that other actors in the world have their own ideologies, cultures, histories and conditions that impel them to act independently of any actions of western liberal democracies. Without the counterbalancing force provided by western liberal democracies, those independent impellers will drive the region to bloodshed just as the independent impellers of communism drove the bloodshed of Indochina.
Those who do not understand history are condemned to repeat it. The Left has learned nothing in the last 30 years from their failure to understand and predict the course of events in Indochina. They still use the same broken methodology for the same egotistical reasons. We can safely conclude that following their policy recommendations generated by that flawed methodology will results in a similar horrific outcome.
Until they grow up and become more self-aware and less ego-driven, the rest of us must struggle to keep leftists from the positions of power from which they can implement policy. Millions of lives depend on it.