June 21, 2006
The Beltway Replays the Vietnam WarBy Douglas Hanson
One would think that a global war against terror and the nations that support it would re—focus both our military priorities and the US federal budget to attain victory. But one would be wrong. The unhinged anti—war behavior of both Democrat and so—called moderate GOP members of Congress belies an inability to come to grips with the fact that we are fighting a fanatical, determined enemy in a winner take all war. Congress must throw some of their sacred entitlement cows overboard, and commit to building a global combined arms and services force to assure victory in our long conflict.
As fellow American Thinker contributor, Greg Richards notes, we cannot choose how much war we want in confronting the Jihadists. In Vietnam, we could choose how much we were willing to fund and prosecute as the consequences of stalemate or defeat would not directly impact our survival. But many in the DC bureaucracy don't see it that way, and in fact, have chosen to adopt an incremental approach to both the War on Terror and the campaign in Iraq. By doing this, the Beltway crowd is rehashing the Vietnam cut—and—run legislative playbook to a tee.
Spoiled by the 'peace dividend' funding mechanisms of the 90s, the DC political and military bureaucracy have relied on a series of discrete budget resolutions and related supplemental authorizations to materially support specific military operations, instead of building a capability to fight a long—term, global war. The reasons for this are simple. If we are successful quickly, as we were in Afghanistan, they can take credit for being part of the winning team with little or no impact on their (our) peacetime spending. If we falter or take too much time, they can shift blame to the executive branch, and with their media allies, politically maneuver to pull needed war funds and transfer those dollars to domestic entitlement and defense programs.
Congress authorizes the war in Vietnam — sort of
In his book War and Responsibility: Constitutional Lessons of Vietnam and Its Aftermath , John Hart Ely deciphers how President Johnson was able to send 500,000 troops half—way around the world in what ended up being America's longest war, without so much as a clear declaration or authorization from Congress for a long—term deployment. The similarities of the Vietnam legislative shenanigans and the current situation with the War on Terror are striking.
If one accepts the official accounts of the time, in August of 1964, the USS Maddox was attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo patrol boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. Congress responded by passing the Tonkin Gulf Resolution with a vote of 416 to 0 in the House, and 88 to 2 in the Senate. The bill stated that the President of the United States could
Later, many in Congress played duck and cover by saying they really didn't know what they had voted for. Others maintained that they were simply codifying the President's inherent authority in the Constitution which permits the Commander—in—Chief to take all prudent measures to protect the security and interests of the US by repelling sudden attacks. The bottom—line was that many in Congress felt that they were voting for retaliation for a specific attack on US forces in order to prevent a major conflict in Southeast Asia. After all, why pass an all encompassing war resolution or even consider declaring war based on a minor skirmish at sea? Today, this incident would rate about as much attention as did Saddam's daily SAM attacks against US and British aircraft patrolling the now—defunct no—fly zones over Iraq.
Not only that, but the battlefield situation didn't require a rapid build—up of troops as in Korea in 1950. Troop units were piecemealed into Vietnam at a relative snail's pace. In fact, there was no major military action for another six months after the Tonkin Gulf Resolution was passed. This should have given Congress plenty of time to investigate, debate, and pass judgment on a long—term, strategic commitment to Southeast Asia.
Despite assurances of a relatively painless campaign against those 'cavemen in black pajamas,' the war dragged on with US—led forces seemingly unable to capitalize on their early offensive successes, nor develop any sound strategy for victory. The real battlefield situation was clouded by the press in order to manufacture a template that portrayed huge US and ARVN victories against NVA and VC attacks as defeats. The media's propaganda campaign started to take its toll not so much on the American people, but rather on an impatient Congress which thought Vietnam was going to be a quick and neat little war.
Eventually, the yearly supplemental appropriations to support US and ARVN forces began to directly compete with the funding demands of LBJ's Great Society programs. Some members of Congress equivocated on their ability to openly commit to win the war by stating for the record that 'in voting for the appropriation they did not intend to be voting for the war.' Sound familiar? In essence, it was a public relations gimmick to prove to the public that the Congress was not responsible for Vietnam, and by some slight of hand, neither were the military flag officers charged with prosecuting the war. The affair was entirely the President's fault, of course.
Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Descendants of the Great Society Programs
At the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Americans hoped that the prior campaign in Afghanistan was a portent of things to come in Iraq. Victory would be achieved with minimum losses, and then we could get on with the next phase of the war. Our representatives and senators however, looked for a quick operation so that they could turn their undivided attention to spending taxpayer dollars for pet entitlement programs. Their expectations were reinforced when Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan was painted with the image of US Special Forces laser designating their way to victory, and Army Rangers conducting lightning raids in the night on enemy airfields.
This made for good television, but virtually ignored were the combined arms conventional forces of the Northern Alliance and Pashtun tribesmen equipped with modernized T—55 tanks and BMP infantry fighting vehicles that did the heavy lifting of seizing and holding towns and key terrain. Our Afghani allies' contributions to our victory over the Taliban and Al—Qaeda were largely dismissed even by the official DC military PR machine.
In Iraq, we did pay the bill by deploying large numbers of conventional forces for OIF, and then by increasing the deployment in the summer of 2003 as the so—called 'insurgency' gained in strength. A typical lament in DC military and intelligence circles was that they didn't foresee the rise of the insurgency and the level of resources necessary to combat it. But so what? The course of a war has never been predicted with 100 percent accuracy. Now that Zarqawi is dead and we are near victory in Iraq, the politicos continue to whine that the war has become too expensive.
The hue and cry from groups fighting for domestic program dollars is pressuring a sizeable block in Congress so much that they are becoming fanatical in their bid to divert needed war resources. For example, buried within an article on last week's war debates in the Congress was that the Senate sent the President the latest installment on an additional $66 billion for military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. This supplemental budget authorization not only included typical defense pork dollars, but also allocated money for non—defense programs. Not willing to accept any reduction in non—defense pork, Democrats and moderate Republicans delayed the legislation long enough to cause some of the military services to begin scaling back critical operations.
Now we see why John Murtha has become so wacky in explaining his plan for the war in Iraq. In Murtha's view, apparently GW's principle of 'stay the course' is 'stay and pay.' He is so desperate to end spending on the war in favor of dispensing taxpayer dollars on his home district defense activities that he'll even pass judgment on our Marines' alleged battlefield crimes before the official investigation is complete. And his concern for the stress on our troops seems based on insider information from another inhabitant of the Beltway, the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
Then there is Senator Hillary Clinton's nonsense about the troop strength question that perfectly sums up the left's approach to war. She participated in a DLC conference last July and was proud to back the initiative on increasing our troop strength by 100,000, but only if the Democrats regain the majority in the next election. Of course, the good Senator fails to explain that a troop increase could be authorized overnight if our representatives had the guts to do it, and if they were actually playing this war for keeps.
Because many in the DC establishment cannot make the tough decisions in this long war, John Murtha's 'over the horizon strategy' make perfect sense. Lacking a firm declaration of real fiscal support in the War on Terror places us on the strategic defense and signals irresolution to our enemies.
I suppose this might be the less politically painful and cheaper way to fight global terror and rogue states, but it also means we are adopting John Kerry's strategy of allowing an 'acceptable level' of attacks on our homeland. It also does nothing to get at the root cause of Islamo—fascism: the absence of freedom and democracy.
And going on the defense so the Beltway crowd can return to business as usual is no way to fight and win the War on Terror.
Douglas Hanson is the national security correspondent of the American Thinker.