Vietnam has long been recognized as a failure caused by political meddling in military operations, coupled with lying by Democrat presidents anxious to protect their image and popularity. Although many Americans – count me in that group – believed that the cause of freedom demanded that communist aggression in Southeast Asia be stopped, implementing this policy demanded presidential leadership. The man in the White House had to tell us why spending treasure and blood to win a war was in our nation’s interest, and he had to explain, at least in broad terms, how we were going to win.
Vietnam was a winnable war. The idea that American military power could not stop a communist attack from the north and a guerrilla war from within South Vietnam was absurd. As Goldwater accurately explained during his 1964 presidential campaign, our command of the air meant that if we let military leaders decide the targeting in North Vietnam, we could “bomb them back to the Stone Age.” (This phrase was twisted by leftists to imply that he wanted to use nuclear weapons.)
Our four Iowa-class battleships – each with nine sixteen-inch guns, which could hit targets in 90% of North Vietnam with perfect precision – if all four were brought out of mothballs, had a combined rate of fire of one sixteen-inch shell every two seconds. Every factory, every bridge, every railway, every anti-aircraft battery, every North Vietnamese Army post, every power generation plant – everything of any military, political, or economic value – could have been utterly destroyed in a few months.
Our minelayers, our bombers, and our submarines had the capacity to completely blockade Haiphong Harbor, where nearly all the munitions, weapons, and supplies the North Vietnamese came through, with an airtight quarantine. The Ho Chi Minh Trail, if hit at irregular intervals by different types of attacks, could have been stopped cold. The very preventable Holocaust that Cambodia and Vietnam endured happened because of gutless American presidents and in spite of the courage and honor of our fighting men.
Whatever the faults of George H. Bush, he fully grasped the reasons we failed in Vietnam, and he scrupulously avoided those in Desert Storm, a war against a much more powerful Iraq (we tend to forget that the battle-tested Iraqi army had outfought, in a decade-long war, an Iranian army three times as big.) We had a specific goal, and we used every weapon we had to achieve that goal. Leftists at the time predicted that this would be “another Vietnam,” but they were utterly and pathetically wrong.
Obama, now, is demonstrating that it is possible to repeat all the mistakes of Vietnam. He is following what fifty years ago was called “escalation,” or the incremental response with American military power to communist aggression with the vague intention of raising the costs high enough so that the rational actors who were leading enemy forces would decide that peace was in their best interest. ISIS leaders, like communists and like similar radical Islamists, are madmen obsessed with the destruction of those they cannot conquer. These are the folks who successfully recruit suicide bombers.
Obama also fails to tell us what victory will look like. Will we establish and support a free Kurdistan? Is our goal to both defeat ISIS and the Assad regime and create a functioning democracy in Syria? Are we trying to prevent a general conflagration in West Asia? Obama doesn’t say, and, scary as this sounds, his dull-witted advisers – truly embarrassingly dumb folks – don’t know any more than he does what we are trying to do.
The “grand strategy” of Obama in the Middle East is an indecent flux of poll numbers and sound bites. It is to react to crises that affect American public opinion until the media and the voters are lulled into thinking that he has done something. The purpose of American national security policy is to make Barry look good.
The price for such selfishness is that innocent blood is spilt for ignoble vanities. Today it is Kurdish blood, but because ISIS is the sort of existential threat to Western values that in time will demand either its defeat or our surrender, inevitably it will be the blood of our best and bravest that will wash away the venality of Obama and his Vietnam.