June 25, 2010
Have the Democrats Learned Anything from Vietnam?
The Vietnam War was the defining event for the modern Democratic Party. Nearly four decades after the war ended, we ought to ask if the Democrats learned anything from Vietnam that is applicable to Afghanistan.
In Vietnam, the U.S. fought an insurgency in a remote, forbidding jungle that neutralized our tactical advantage. In Afghanistan, we are fighting an insurgency in remote, forbidding mountains that neutralize our tactical advantage.
In Vietnam, the insurgents had no armor and no air power. They attacked American patrols with jury-rigged explosives called "booby traps." In Afghanistan, the insurgents have no armor and no air power. They attack American patrols with jury-rigged explosives called "IEDs."
In Vietnam, a socialist country tried to defeat the insurgents before the U.S. became involved. It failed. It was called "France." In Afghanistan, a socialist country also tried to defeat the insurgents before the U.S. became involved. It also failed. It was called the "Soviet Union."
In Vietnam, American involvement began by sending advisers, Special Forces, and CIA operatives. Nine years later, we had hundreds of thousands of troops in combat brigades stationed there. In Afghanistan, American involvement began by sending in advisers, Special Forces, and CIA operatives. Nine years later, we have combat brigades and over a hundred thousand troops stationed there.
In Vietnam, the insurgents routinely obtained assistance and sanctuary in a foreign nation where U.S. forces were forbidden to go. It was called "Cambodia." In Afghanistan, insurgents routinely obtain assistance and sanctuary in a foreign nation where U.S. troops are forbidden to go. It is called "Pakistan."
In Vietnam, the U.S. sought to protect the population from insurgents through a program called "Strategic Hamlets." It didn't work. In Afghanistan, the U.S. is seeking to protect the population from the insurgents with a program called "Clear, Build, and Hold." It isn't working, either.
In Vietnam, the U.S. supported a corrupt ruler who rigged elections in an attempt to give his regime a veneer of legitimacy. His name was "Diem." In Afghanistan, the U.S. is supporting a corrupt ruler who rigged elections to give himself a veneer of legitimacy. His name is "Karzai."
In Vietnam, the U.S. declared that its goal was to train and equip an indigenous force to hold off the insurgents by themselves. They were called the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam). The ARVN turned out to be incompetent and corrupt. In Afghanistan, our strategy is to train and equip indigenous forces called the ANA (Afghan National Army). The ANA is also incompetent and corrupt.
We fought in Vietnam for over a decade, but Congress never declared war on Vietnam. We have fought in Afghanistan for nine years with no end in sight, and Congress has not declared war on Afghanistan, either.
The Vietnam War was escalated by a Democratic president named "Johnson." Johnson could not afford to look soft on communism in the 1964 campaign because his Republican opponent was a hawkish fighter pilot from Arizona named "Goldwater." The Afghanistan war was escalated by a Democratic president named "Obama." Obama could not afford to look soft on terrorism in the 2008 campaign, because his Republican opponent was a hawkish fighter pilot from Arizona named "McCain."
Although Johnson was responsible for escalating the Vietnam War, his real interest was in domestic politics, where he presided over a massive expansion of the welfare state and created expensive federal health care programs called "Medicare" and "Medicaid." While Obama is responsible for escalating the Afghan war, his real interest is in domestic politics, where he has massively expanded the welfare state and created an expensive federal health care program called "Obamacare."
Rather than leave the battlefield tactics in Vietnam up to his field commanders, Johnson was known for micromanaging the war and manipulating bombing strategies and other rules of engagement that prevented the U.S. forces from going all-out. In Afghanistan, Obama has micromanaged the war with restrictive rules of engagement that prevent the U.S. forces from going all-out.
In Vietnam, the United States lost. In Afghanistan...we're not winning.
Have the Democrats learned anything from Vietnam? Actually, they have learned many important lessons.
First, they have learned that anti-war riots and protests should be conducted only against Republican presidents, not Democratic presidents. (Isn't it amazing how Code Pink and Cindy Sheehan disappeared after George W. Bush left office?)
Second, they have learned to not send Jane Fonda to enemy territory to pose for enemy propaganda photos. Unlike the warm reception she received in Hanoi, the Taliban would probably behead her live on the internet for failing to wear a burqa.
Third, they have learned that if a Democratic presidential candidate plans to conduct a foreign policy of national self-abasement and groveling before our enemies, it is probably better to not announce it during the campaign. George McGovern promised that he'd "crawl on his hands and knees to Hanoi and beg for peace" in 1972 and lost 49 states. Obama did not apologize to the Muslim world and bow before foreign monarchs until after he was elected.
Finally, the most important lesson the Democrats have learned is that they should not draft long-haired, stoned hippies and America-hating radicals on college campuses and send them to war. They'll only riot and try to bomb the Pentagon (like Bill Ayers did). And it makes no sense to offend the voters who are virtually guaranteed to support the Democratic Party anyway.
It's far better to prosecute a war with patriotic, America-loving volunteers from red states who probably voted Republican in the first place, and to play them for suckers by sending them on a mission about which you've said you're "uncomfortable" using the term "victory."
The Democrats have indeed learned a lot from Vietnam, haven't they?