Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Is Orange the new Pink? Vietnam, Iraq and General Westy

I took the weekend off and not for want of doing it, but because I simply had nothing to say. Those of you who know me, know how shocking that is, but you also know that such speechlessness cannot last. I’m back baby, and oh boy do I want to talk.

It turns out that General William Westmoreland died over the weekend. Really briefly, General Westmoreland was the commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam from 1964-68, during the build up of the military effort in Southeast Asia. The good general was both praised and criticized for his handling of that role.

Those who praise him say that he did the best that could be done under the constraints laid out by President Johnson and, in fact, was an innovator the way wars were fought. They refer of course to the birth of helicopter warfare. Air mobilization combat had never been attempted before but I think it is too generous to credit ol’ Westy with that innovation. The general defended his failure in Vietnam by saying that LBJ had denied his request to widen the conflict to Cambodia, Laos and North Vietnam so the military could adequately do battle with the very mobile Viet Cong forces.

I think it is Westy’s critics who hit closer to the bulls eye. The general is criticized for implementing an obsolete strategy trying to simply levee so much massive brute strength against his enemies that, he believed, they would simply cave under the threat. He was, as history proves, colossally wrong. There is a great quote from military historian and former Army major, Andrew F. Krepinevich, in today’s New York Times obituary. Krepinevich believes that Westy suffered from self-delusion stating; "In focusing on the attrition of enemy forces rather than on defeating the enemy through denial of his access to the population," General Westmoreland's command "missed whatever opportunity it had to deal the insurgents a crippling blow."

This of course brings us to the point of today’s blog piece. Does this sound vaguely familiar to anyone? Perhaps the generals in command at the Pentagon today are suffering from the same delusions as ol’ Westy and his obsolete cronies. Many try to say that Iraq is the new Vietnam. It is popular to throw around terms like quagmire and Vietnam War to describe the current situation in Iraq. Any comparison between Iraq and Vietnam are abstracts in the equally delusional mind of some pinko, peacenik, liberal, sap. Iraq is not the new Vietnam in the same sense that orange is the new pink. Iraq is the new Iraq. My point being that generals are damned slow to adapt to changing challenges because they are victims of doctrinal “group think”.

Clearly the generals creating strategy for Iraq face the same challenge albeit with different variables. The challenge is fighting a completely new style of war. I am glad that we have finally figured out how to fight the Vietnam War, but that ship sailed a long time ago. These clowns who were Lieutenants in Vietnam who were “in the shit” and are now bitter about the way the war was fought. The same way that the “Swift-boat Veterans for Truth” insist on painting a revisionist history of the Vietnam War so that it is not revealed that they fought for and their friends died for the biggest nothing in history.

Unfortunately Al Qaeda (not Iraq or any Islamic nation) are not the Viet Cong, they are not the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) or any other group involved in the Vietnam conflict. I am not a military tactician, nor am I a defense strategy specialist. So, if you came here expecting the blue print on how to fight the “war on terror” you came to the wrong place. All I know is the one similarity that the Viet Cong and Al Qaeda share is a willingness to go to any length to achieve their ends. In Vietnam that meant never surrendering, no matter how many fatalities they suffered. The same is true for the insurgency in Iraq and for Al Qaeda as a larger organization. The conflict cannot be tit for tat, we simply do not have the fortitude to go the distance with them. As in Vietnam, if we follow this approach a time will come when the public will no longer stand for it. Unlike Vietnam, the war on terror is not one that we can afford to lose.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great perspective on Westmoreland. He is the epitomoe of the Old Guard that occupies positions of influence and power in the Pentagon.