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August 17, 2005

Comments

this reminds me of something I wrote a few months ago, so I'm just going to repeat it.

"He thinks Vietnam was going a-okay until marauding liberals led by John Kerry stabbed their country in the back and sapped our will.

In general he tends to say: western powers only lose these counter-insurgency wars through failure of will. He cites Algeria as an example.

I am inclined to say to this: ridiculous, showing a complete ignorance of history. We were already losing and we would never have won.

But, actually, in a way, it's true. Guerilla insurgencies against superpowers can't make it impossible for us to continue fighting. We won't run out of weapons, we won't run out of money, we won't run out of men as long as there's a draft. So if we leave, we will have made a political choice to leave. And since this is a democracy, it will have been a choice influenced by public opinion. So the option is always open to you, to blame the war's opponents, the media, all the rest.

To do this though, you have to believe one of two things: you have to discount the possibility that a war may be impossible to lose in the sense of it becoming physically impossible to fight on, but also impossible to win. Or you have to say: it is always better to be fighting--regardless of the number of dead and maimed American soldiers and foreign civilians, regardless of the complete hopelessness of victory, regardless of the geopolitical consequences of staying or going--than to admit defeat.

One of my favorite pieces on Vietnam is by a reporter named Bernard Fall, a French journalist who had been covering Indochina since before Dienbienphu, who tries to make just this point: that not losing doesn't mean you can win or that you're not tearing people apart for no good purpose. My copy of it is in storage right now, unfortunately, but he begins with two quotations. The first is from a piece of his where Fall says basically that: given the power, population, wealth and military strength of the two sides, the United States cannot lose the war on Vietnam--it can keep up this bombing campaign indefinitely. The second is that famous line from Tacitus: "They made a desert and called it peace."

The article is written in response to some general or defense secretary or administration official citing Fall's statement as proof that we are winning or will winning. Fall says, far more eloquently and effectively than I am summarizing it: no. I said you could not lose, that is not the same thing as winning at all, it is not even the same thing as not making it worse."

... our primary goals in Iraq ... have been goals like: creating a stable country at peace with us and its neighbors. No army on earth can achieve that through force of arms alone.

Actually it is possible - I believe its called genocide. There are a few wingnuts who have that in mind, but fortunately Charles isn't one of them.

As the original Tacitus said of the neocons of the day "they make a desert and call it peace".

DD: true. And Kant spoke of the peace of the graveyard.

K: I remember that article. It was wonderful. And you're right.

The lesson of Vietnam is that political goals weren't deeply enough in our national interest and the war was ultimately unsustainable. We wanted another non-communist ally in the Third World - not somewhere the average citizen could place on a map, but still, a Third World ally.

That's of some value, but not a lot. But we sacrificed 58,000 men killed and 153,000 wounded to get that country into our column. We killed millions of Vietnamese for the same reason.

The problem was not insufficent will to win. It was the exact opposite. It was that we had too much will to win. We were in an insane bidding war with Ho Chi Minh, throwing man after man, victim after victim, bomb after bomb. We were to proud to stop fighting, too wilfull to ask the hard questions, like "is this worth it?", until the whole mistaken disaster collapsed under the weight of blood, riots, a broken army, a broken, divided, disunited country.

That's the lesson of Vietnam. All those dead, all those we killed, all those losses, and Charles still doesn't get it.

I am inclined to say to this: ridiculous, showing a complete ignorance of history. We were already losing and we would never have won.

After Pearl Harbor we were losing. The Brits burned down the White House in the war of 1812. Forget the Alamo if you want Texas to be Mexico. Give up on South Korea, the Chinese are too tough, it would be better if they were eatibg tree bark and listening to radios with one station than to be making cars and dvd players. We were losing. For years NK had a better standard of living than SK.

Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Albania, Bulgaria, etc., they were lost, why didnt we just give up? Terrorists in Thailand, Indonesia, Sudan, Nigeria - give up to them too? George Washinton and Abraham Lincoln were also losing at times. Should they have given up?

It aint over until it's over. ya know. I dont want the US to quit and surrender to Zarqawi like you apparently do.

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DaveC, I would respond to your comment, but Max Power's comment immediately above is an excellent rebuttal of your position.

DaveC:

Sometimes giving up is not the right thing to do. Sometimes it is the right thing to do. Listing off a string of examples of times when it was not the right thing to do does not help us get any closer to the goal of working out which is the right choice now.

Hilzoy's whole point is that not wanting to lose, per se, is not sufficient to win. You need a means of getting there. If you have some sense of how Bush et al can produce a positive result in Iraq from here, I'm sure they'd love to hear from you.

What has von got against lattes?

"Hilzoy's whole point is that not wanting to lose, per se, is not sufficient to win. You need a means of getting there. If you have some sense of how Bush et al can produce a positive result in Iraq from here, I'm sure they'd love to hear from you."

Absolutely.

1. Increase pay to the military. Which makes more possible--

2. Authorize an increase in size to the military.

3. Reevaluate how rebuilding works.

4. Make it clear that we aren't leaving while the bombs are going off BUT that we would be thrilled to leave very soon after the insurgency stops (or very nearly stops). If done properly this incentives the end of the insurgency by people who want to see us leave. As opposed to current talk of leaving the mess behind us which emboldens our enemies to push just a bit harder and just a bit longer.

5. Don't repeat the Sadr mistake. When someone openly foments revolution and starts his people shooting at you, you don't give him three chances. This is part of a key insight to human nature which is often ignored in modern talk about war-making. People in a free society will put up with intensely bad things for a short time, but will not put up with pretty bad things for a long time. It is much better to have a year of intense warfare rather than 20 years of medium-level civil war. It is what I think of as premature peacekeeping. Tit-for-tat escalation contributes to disaster because it prolongs the conflict indefinitely and provokes endless hand-wringing about whether or not this precisely calibrated response was precise calibrated enough. Americans are known for being magnanimous in victory--but we need to get to victory first and that can require effective ruthlessness in the short run (as opposed to ineffective ruthlessness--see the torture issue). This would be a good grounds for criticizing the "Mission Accomplished" banner, but the actual criticisms are nothing like that.

Clap harder!


Charles argues that will is a necessary condition for victory, and that lack of will will prevent victory. That's pretty much true, but it misses the point. Will is necessary, but not sufficient. And opposition to the war is based in the belief that a host of other conditions for our victory are not obtaining, and grinding along against that fact out of pride and hope is a fool's game.

Second, he approaches will as a cause, rather than effect. As if it was all a self-help program and you could simply conjure the appropriate state of mind with enough folky aphorisms. Will is an outcome. . an outcome generated by good leadership, good governance, and careful choices about policies to implement. It's not something you generate by clapping hard enough.

Appearance of Winning

Took me a half hour searching to remember the blog I had read this on, but I thought it was important. Digby.

""The most important single factor in determining public support for a war is the perception that the mission will succeed," Gelpi said in an interview yesterday.

[...]

In studying past wars, they have drawn lessons different from the conventional wisdom. Bush advisers challenge the widespread view that public opinion turned sour on the Vietnam War because of mounting casualties that were beamed into living rooms every night. Instead, Bush advisers have concluded that public opinion shifted after opinion leaders signaled that they no longer believed the United States could win in Vietnam.

Most devastating to public opinion, the advisers believe, are public signs of doubt or pessimism by a president, whether it was Ronald Reagan after 241 Marines, soldiers and sailors were killed in a barracks bombing in Lebanon in 1983, forcing a U.S. retreat, or Bill Clinton in 1993 when 18 Americans were killed in a bloody battle in Somalia, which eventually led to the U.S. withdrawal there.

The more resolute a commander in chief, the Bush aides said, the more likely the public will see a difficult conflict through to the end."

Now it could be they have told the boy-king this BS in order to make him feel inportant, but the point then is that Bush believes it.

The most, maybe only, important factor in winning the war is for Bush not to weaken or show fear, lack of resolve.

Well there if a great deal of defeatism about and it permeates the American Right’s attitude to Iraq. For them the complete de-stabilization of the ME that will result if the Iraqi project fails will be almost entirely the fault of their feeble domestic opponents and therefore will barely dent their incredible vanity which after all is what really matters in this. The only lesson they learnt from Vietnam is there are political advantages to be found in failure.

We cannot win until the Sunnis trust the Shia, trust them completely and utterly.

The Sunnis know that democracy means "majority rule," and they know that the Shia are the majority, and that therefore, in Iraq, democracy means Shiite rule. The Sunni know that if they accept democracy, they'll be abandoning their fates forever to the will of the Shia. They won't do that unless they trust the Shia --- and I don't mean "trust" in the sense of "willing to negotiate with." I mean "trust" in the sense of "willing to place your life in their hands."

Now some would argue that complete trust isn't necessary, because of the structural protections for minories built in to any democracy. However, as the "nuclear option" debate in the US proves, structural protections can be easily discarded. For the Sunnis to trust in structural protections, they first have to trust that the Shia won't just ignore those protections. So we're back where we started: the Sunnis need to trust the Shia.

It seems to me that nothing we could possibly do would make the Sunnis trust the Shia. You can't coerce somebody to trust somebody else.

So when Charles says that "we can win," he's wrong. All we can do is wait, to see if somehow the Sunnis and Shia can learn to trust each other. We can wait forever, if necessary, but the actual act of trusting is out of our hands.

What is the parallel between the two wars?

The Viet Nam war was "lost" because the US never had at any time the political will to do what was necessary to win, which was invade the north and defeat the NVA at its source. Instead, we fought a limited war against the NVA (and their much weaker Viet Cong adjuncts) in the south on the assumption that they would eventually get war weary. This did not work (nor had we "won" after the Tet offensive was broken, even though it devastated the much weaker Viet Cong). Moreover, we were fighting for a corrupt regime in the South that was never able to muster the public support to sustain itself in a war effort.

To "win" the Viet Nam war, the requirement was to change the flawed strategy of limited war, which no one was willing to do (including Nixon and Kissinger, except secretly and illegally with their Cambodian adventures).

The Viet Nam experience inspired Powell to make his point now known as the Powell doctrine -- don't half-ass your war effort on the assumption that it will be enough to win anyway.

The Iraq war? Being "lost" because the Bush administration has never had the will to do what was truly necessary -- send the several hundred thousand troops necessary to do the job (and numerous other requirements post-war to nation build). Bush has fought this war in defiance of Powell's basic wisdom, and has half-assed it repeating the exact same mistake of the Viet Nam war. In the second half of 2003 when this was becoming obvious, the entire leadership refused to correct the mistake, instead pretending that half-assed was still good enough.

It was the lack of will by conservatives and Republicans to truly fight this war that is causing this deafeat. Instead of doing the right thing, Bush preferred tax cuts and not asking the American people to make the necessary sacrafices to support his war. That was political cowardice. Charles and his ilk have abetted this failure from day one in defending the flawed half-assed war strategy, and still do today (including scapegoating the powerless liberals as the cause of Bush's failings -- an absurd view of reality).

After all, remember the heckling of Shinsheki by Republicans, and ask yourself why the fervor to reject his advice? Why would political leaders opt to fight the war on the cheap, and destroy someone who pointed out that more was needed? The answer is obvious - in order to avoid the political consequencs of doing what it really took to fight the war properly.

As a consequence, we have largely lost the political war in Iraq for the support of the people. Among their many grievances is the lack of basic security, which is 100% due to inadequate manpower to secure the country. It is in this all important political sense that we are "losing" the Iraq war. The other sense in which the war is "lost" is that the goal of a non-theocratic and somewhat friendly government is probably unachievable. We are going to end up with an Islamist regime more friendly with Iran, which is a huge long-term strategic failure.

We are not "losing" the war militarily, but politically due to a half-assed military effort to secure the place.

Trying to reverse the political loss of the war will be monumentally difficult, if possible at all. Would we win back Iraqi trust by doubling troops strength now? I doubt it. The mess is going to have to play itself on its own, which is the Shia/Sunni conflict. The only hope is to limit the extent of the chaos resulting from that struggle, and the fall-out from such chaos.

As for Iraq becoming the shining symbol to remake the Middle East, nothing could be more laughable now. Our long term relationships will all Middle Eastern countries and peoples has been horribly damaged for a generation.

Meanwhile, conservatives fanatsize about how they can blame this mess on liberals. Expect zero leadership from them to get it right anytime in the near future.

"The most, maybe only, important factor in winning the war is for Bush not to weaken or show fear, lack of resolve."

It's true that if the President shows doubt, it's over. He often makes the point that to change course would "send a terrible message".

But here's the hard part. You can lose quick by showing weakness. But you can't win just by showing toughness.

President Bush thinks, along with many right wing blowhards, that wars are won by displays of resoluteness, by sending the right signals, by staying on message, by showing that you won't back down, by staying the course, supporting the troops, flying the flag.

But if all it took to win wars was some kind of macho bullshit kabuki dance, they'd be a lot easier to win.

Schoolyard bluster and bravado only go so far. In Iraq, the insurgents have called the President's bluff, and the weak hand has been exposed. From now on, winning the war in Iraq cannot happen by "staying the course".

It will have to be won by overwhelming force.

And applying that force will involve true sacrifice at home, much more painful than what has come to pass now. Tax hikes to pay for it, hurting the economy. A military draft to overcome the lack of volunteers, because war supporters like Sebastian Holsclaw won't go. Four to six times as many boots on the ground as we have now, at a minimum. High casualties, on both sides. And all the social and political disruption that goes along with that.

That won't be easy, because we all know now that this was a war started on mistaken premises. So selling this politically may even require the resignation of the President - you can't win with a mistrusted leader. Would he make the sacrifice? Would you?

Max Powers: A military draft to overcome the lack of volunteers, because war supporters like Sebastian Holsclaw won't go.

Unfair, Max - and I'm saying this as someone frequently exasperated by Sebastian myself. You have no right to measure someone's support for the war by their willingness to join the military: you have no idea what their personal circumstances are. (And it's particularly ironic that you should pick on Sebastian of all the supporters of the Iraq war: as an out gay man, he wouldn't be allowed to join the US military.)

Sebastian - you're five tips for winning in Iraq - better military pay and benefits, increasing the size of the Army, better management of reconstruction, making it clear that the US was not looking for a permanent presence in Iraq, and smarter strategy, was precisely the heart of the John Kerry platform of November 2004.

(That plus training more Iraqis and making foreign powers face up to their responsibilities, instead of coasting on the free ride courtesy Uncle Sam.)

Sorry Sebastian - I had you picked as a Bush voter. I should have guessed you wouldn't go for the whole incompetence and gay-baiting thing the Republicans have going there.

Ah, PIMF. Other than that one sentence, I'm in general agreement with you, I should add, but the arguing technique of picking on war supporters and wanting to know why they're not in the military is, really, an unfair and pointless argument: there are much better ones.

Max: Sebastian - you're five tips for winning in Iraq - better military pay and benefits, increasing the size of the Army, better management of reconstruction, making it clear that the US was not looking for a permanent presence in Iraq, and smarter strategy, was precisely the heart of the John Kerry platform of November 2004.

As Sebastian made clear the day after the election, although he campaigned for Bush before the election, he really, really wanted Kerry to win.

Well, the war supporters who believe that this is an existential struggle don't have to join the military, they could simply go over there. Probably the only chance Iraq has, and it's negligible at best IMO, is if there's some semblance of normal life restored there. The official paid guys like KBR aren't up to the job, and there's a lack of NGOs in there right now to take up the slack. The Iraqis need medical personnel, lawyers, programmers, engineers, managers, practically every profession to get going. Of course the people would have to do it for free and a good percentage of them might be killed, so you would have to ask for volunteers.

It would be tough at first, but after a while the volunteers could develop the same sort of protective relationship that protects NGOs in a war zone, when the Iraqis become convinced that they are there not for profit but only for help.

There's a question I never see answered in all this discussion that I think is important.

What do we mean by winning?

The strategic objective is to destroy the NGO that attacked us. [I've a long-winded post on my blog about why I consider it an NGO and all that - irrelevant here.]

The Iraq Operation/Campaign should be a step toward that strategic objective. What is the critical objective of the Iraq Campaign? With that in mind, what other objectives are required and therefore subordinate, and what are desirable and so supplemental?

I really get the impression that we don't really have a clear objective. That instead what we have is a mishmash of objectives toward a vague goal, none given clear precedence. At best we do have an objective, but we've both failed to differentiate subordinate vs supplemental AND we've done a poor job of assigning primary responsibilities for those subordinate/supplemental tasks. Oh, and most importantly, BECAUSE we've failed to do all that we've failed to identify logistic requirements (to include appropriate manpower).

Identify the objective. Determine required and desirable tasks. Assign resources first to required and then as available to desirable tasks. Recognize the ground may shift and so required tasks may be rendered moot or counterproductive, desirables may become required, and previously unknown tasks may need assigned. If your objective is clearly identified and you've properly assigned resources (including keeping a reserve) then you can manage.

In Iraq, though, we're still paying for the fact the top failed to plan for post-invasion. I'm not confident we'll win because I'm not confident we've really identified what winning is. I'm afraid instead we're going to see another banner on an aircraft carrier photo-op and then just pull out.

Arguments like Charles' aren't about figuring out a way to win a war. It's about laying down the groundwork of excuses so they can blame the Left for their failures. And Von's protestations are attempts to retain credibility despite the fact that the man he campaigned for is an incompetent goon.

I think we need to counter this crap strongly. If you are Republican, if you voted for Bush, you are responsible. You don't get to whine that the minority party which is out of power in all branches of government is at fault. You don't get to pretend that Bush is just the wrong Republican.

The Right is losing this war. The Right started this war. The Right is simply wrong.

PZ: von supported Kerry, if memory serves. Thus his question, before the election. But he can speak for himself.

Ah, no. Kerry was about drawing a larger military and NOT putting it in Iraq. He made the point several times that he would not be increasing troops in Iraq.

I dont want the US to quit and surrender to Zarqawi like you apparently do.

I don't want to 'surrender' to Zarqawi, and don't think anyone else commenting here wants to either. No one is talking about 'surrendering to Zarqawi.' Pulling out doesn't mean surrendering to Zarqawi, it means allowing the various well armed Iraqi factions to work their own way to an equilibrium.

Unless, DaveC, you equate our Afghanistan policy since the summer of 2002 as 'surrender to Bin Laden' -- a gross distortion in my view -- minimizing our involvement in a fight where we don't really have a dog, or maybe more properly, where our dog isn't directly involved, is not anything like surrender.

Josh Yelon's point above is a very good way of looking at this: what can we do to encourage Sunnis to trust the Shia? What can get Kurds to trust the central government? These are the real problems, and if they can be resolved -- if a united Shia-Kurd-Sunni state can actually be formed -- Zarqawi will be quickly driven from the scene.

Oh, there will always be some kind of dissent in Iraq, and it will always slip over into violence from time to time. The key, though, is not so much ending this, but getting the mainstream Sunni community on board with a united Iraq. What are WE doing about that? What can we do about that?

It seems to me that our presence is more obstacle than aid to the formation of a united state. Through a combination of factors, including (a) the unity to the opposition that our occupation provides; (b) desire for revenge for our collateral damage; (c) maybe some measure of unwillingness on the part of Shia and Kurds to make the compromises they'd have to make if we weren't there.

To pick up Sebastian's point about the difference between a quick bloody struggle and a long drawn out but less intense one: Iraqi factions are going to have to live together, and they are all armed. Are they not maybe better off fighting their way quickly to an equilibrium of some kind?

We have not been able to simply decree the result, and apparently cannot get even the Kurds -- our clients for nearly 15 years -- to make the compromises necessary to bring about a unitary state. Despite a whole lot of leaning.

I've been thinking about Germany and Japan: the nation building there worked, in large measure, because the slate was wiped so completely clean by WWII. No one wanted to or could cling to the past, but everyone had to march forward into a new day. (The Soviet threat was a helpful factor). The Kurds have neither need nor inclination to leave the past behind. The past -- the many times they've been screwed -- is what keeps them from cutting the deal. The same is true of the Shia, and plenty of Sunni have valid reason to "tremble for [their] country when [they] think God is just."

Maybe they'll end up with a Dayton solution. Maybe with a Pakistan. The project of creating a Switzerland has to be abandoned. (Actually, only the Kurds want that loose a federalism -- the Shia have been more interested in creating a France). Not because of some kind of momentary reverse on the battlefield -- like Pearl Harbor or Bladensburg -- but because our objective is not attainable. We're refighting the Forage War of 1777, only this time we're the Brits, and the insurgents are the NJ militia. The good news, though, is that Zarqawi is no George Washington, there's no Continental Congress backing him, and the equivalent of the NJ royalists are fully capable of fighting back.

First off, I've been on vacation and too busy since then so I haven't had the opportunity to respond in detail in comments, let alone read all the comments. To put it mildly, Hil, I think your analogy about your onetime supervisor stinks. I'm not trying to put a happy face on Iraq (I read the mainstream coverage, too) and I don't believe that we can achieve victory through military means alone. I never have believed that. I also realize this is crunch time for a workable Iraqi constitution, etc. etc. etc. I have written that we're in an information war every bit as much as a hot one, and loser-defeatists like Frank Rich and Joan Walsh are helping us lose that front. Terrorists and Sunni/Baathist punks are trying to destabilize the current government, but they're also trying to weaken our political will because that's the only way they can prevail, by getting us to leave prematurely. The Iraqi people don't stand behind their solutions, which are either theocracy or a return to Baathist dictatorship. We have to be there, we cannot lower our standards and we have to gut it out.

I know there are many, including you I believe, who think that we cannot prevail with Bush in office. Fine, that's your opinion. I don't share it, but I do agree that he's presiding over a substandard operation and that new blood is needed, particularly a new Defense Secretary. More dramatic and effective steps are necessary to defeat these "militants", and Sebastian's five-point plan is one I agree with. The stakes could not be huger.

I also think you underestimate the influence of an overwhelmingly left-of-center mainstream media, not just in their content but in the stories it chooses and where they're placed. The overcoverage of deaths and bombings, and the undercoverage of other events is not helping. When newspaper editors across the country start questioning their own coverage (strangely, Seelye does not mention the editors at her own paper), then that's a problem. As Chrenkoff noted, when a returning soldier says that the two biggest problems are terrorists and the media, that's a problem. All of this builds up, and then it gets lapped up by the doom and gloom brigades like Cole and Kos, and then spread across the blogosphere to thousands of receptive left-wing ears. This is where the echo chamber effect kicks in, and pretty soon it's an Eeyore chorus.

In your first reference to my comment, I should have written: "Noted, that many, if not most, lefties..." My original statement was too much of a broad brush.

Charles Bird: I also think you underestimate the influence of an overwhelmingly left-of-center mainstream media, not just in their content but in the stories it chooses and where they're placed.

Except that the US doesn't have an "overwhelmingly left-of-center mainstream media": it has an overwhelmingly right-wing AND an overwhelmingly uninterested in the world outside the US mainstream media.

The overcoverage of deaths and bombings, and the undercoverage of other events is not helping.

Surely what's really not helping is that there are deaths and bombings, Charles: if US soldiers (and Iraqi civilians, and non-US reporters, and so on) were not being killed in Iraq, and if bombings were not taking place, the US media reporting on them would not be a problem. You cannot solve the problem of the deaths and the bombings by complaining that the media are making the US public aware of them.

Sebastian: He made the point several times that he would not be increasing troops in Iraq.

And the difference between Bush and Kerry on this point is...?

All of this builds up, and then it gets lapped up by the doom and gloom brigades like Cole and Kos, and then spread across the blogosphere to thousands of receptive left-wing ears.

so, if we in the US all clap harder, the various Sunni, Shia and Kurdish factions will all join together in a group hug and stop trying to kill each other ? the problem is that we aren't sending enough happy thoughts in their direction ? if only Kos would run more articles about new paint jobs, there would be no more car bombs ?

Apparently all the NY Times has got is "What about the schools?", which is pretty much descended into joke status.

Charles, you have got to be kidding me. And for your sake, I wish you were.

To put it mildly, Hil, I think your analogy about your onetime supervisor stinks.

You would, since it effectively illustrates how foolish your allegations of "defeatism" are. But you then go on to not only not explain why her analogy stinks, but to demonstrate in your own words why one of its central premises--that her supervisor was attacking her opponents because she was detached from reality--is spot on. To wit:

Terrorists and Sunni/Baathist punks are trying to destabilize the current government, but they're also trying to weaken our political will because that's the only way they can prevail, by getting us to leave prematurely.

Nonsense. They can also prevail by bleeding us indefinitely. In order to do this, a few things are necessary: they must maintain enough popular support or foreign recruits to function, and we must continue to do exactly what we have been doing--what your man calls "staying the course". Anyone with a shred of understanding of the ME and Iraq's geography knows that the former is practically a given, and you stay-the-coursers are hell-bent on giving them the latter indefinitely.

The Iraqi people don't stand behind their solutions, which are either theocracy or a return to Baathist dictatorship.

This statement alone is the most effective antidote to the danger of anyone taking what you have to say about Iraq seriously. The majority of the Iraqi people want a theocracy. They want to write Islamic law into the constitution. It is going to happen. This will be the outcome of a truly democratic process in Iraq. If you can say, presumably with a straight face, that the Iraqi people don't want what they have already demonstrated that they do, then you have a lot more in common with Hilzoy's supervisor than you care to admit.

I know there are many, including you I believe, who think that we cannot prevail with Bush in office. Fine, that's your opinion. I don't share it, but I do agree that he's presiding over a substandard operation and that new blood is needed, particularly a new Defense Secretary.

He's had two and a half years of watching Rumsfeld's conduct of the war, Charles. If the stakes were as high as you and yours seem to think they are, wouldn't a competent president have long since pulled the plug on such an incompetent SecDef?

Your ability to entirely absolve Bush of responsibility for the failures of the people who serve at his pleasure would be quaint if that blinkered loyalty were channeled into rooting for a sports team. In matters of national security, it's simply contemptible.

I also think you underestimate the influence of an overwhelmingly left-of-center mainstream media, not just in their content but in the stories it chooses and where they're placed.

Oh, that darned liberal media! Please. Are you trying for a laundry list of wingnut boogeymen here? It's leftist defeatism! It's the liberal media! To complete the trifecta, Charles, you might throw in HowardDean! or MoveOn! or GeorgeSoros!, but I understand that those are more specific and easier to refute than the other delusional fantasies you cite.

I gave up believing in unicorns and Santa Claus a while ago, Charles. Unfortunately, some conservatives still cling to the fantasy of a liberal media as a convenient scapegoat for their problems.

In your first reference to my comment, I should have written: "Noted, that many, if not most, lefties..." My original statement was too much of a broad brush.

No, your original statement--and its correction--were simply a smear that is disconnected from the world we actually live in. But it was, to be charitable, a nice try.

CharlyCarp

All excellent points to which I would add one more.

One factor which doesn't seem to get discussed enough is that, to a large extent, the Iraqi's do not trust the US intentions in Iraq. If the US wants to get popular support outside of Kurdistan it has to convince the ordinary Iraqi's that it is not there to establish permanent bases and steal the oil. All of its actions to date have indicated that the opposite is true. You won't defeat the insurgents unless you have popular support.

Charles, the "overwhelmingly left-of-center mainstream media" acted as cheerleaders during the leadup to the war. Without their eager cooperation, we probably wouldn't be in Iraq now.

And what special knowledge about media coverage of the war in the US does one soldier just returned from Iraq have? Did he get it from listening to unbiased views on the MSM from Rush Limbaugh, who is available over there?

If the situation in Iraq is too dangerous for people to go out and report on the schools that have been painted (and too dangerous to get to and from the airport without heavy escort), then the situation is objectively bad.

As I read through all the posts and comments, I am struck by one thing in particular: there is no attempt to define what is meant by "winning" or "losing". In a post a couple days ago, Charles defined success as "a free, peaceful, non-theocratic representative republic." Personally, I think this is an unrealistic goal on which to judge a continued US troop presence, because the time frame for its accomplishment is generational. But at least Charles has attempted to establish what our goal is. Few others, including the President, have been so forthcoming as to our objectives. For example, how does one measure whether we have "defeated the insurgency"? By McCain's standard of being able to get from the airport to the Green Zone without getting shot at? And what does losing mean? If Iraq adopts a Constitution generally along the lines now being discussed, the Shia essentially have the majority and form an alliance with Iran, have we won or lost? And if that is losing, how in the hell did we ever expect to win to begin with.

The overcoverage of deaths and bombings, and the undercoverage of other events is not helping.

Not helping what?

"Hiding the death and destruction of this war does not make it easier for anyone except those who want to keep the truth away from the people." - Bill Mitchell

And if that is losing, how in the hell did we ever expect to win to begin with.

i get the feeling that Bush and Co. think the world is just dying to embrace western (if not specifically American) ideals and to live in western-style democracies, friendly to and eager to please the west, etc..

their "decapitation" talk apparently assumed that the only thing keep the Iraqis from realizing their inner democratic-capitalist was Saddam and his sons. with them gone, Iraq would instantly blossom into the very model of a modern middle east democracy, with little help from us - we'd be there to teach them the finer points. we wouldn't be acting as a buffer between rival factions - they'd all want to work together because the idea of democracy would simply override any of the old disagreements.

P.S.

The US is fighting a Sunni insurgency because they have allied themselves with the Shia. If they try to bring the Sunni in and dilute the position of the Shia they will likely be fighting a Shia insurgency. That they cannot win.

Sebastian:
1. Increase pay to the military. Which makes more possible--
2. Authorize an increase in size to the military.
3. Reevaluate how rebuilding works.
4. Make it clear that we aren't leaving while the bombs are going off BUT that we would be thrilled to leave very soon after the insurgency stops

5. Don't repeat the Sadr mistake.

Charles:Sebastian's five-point plan is one I agree with


1. Great idea, except we’ve already increased pay and bonuses several times since the troop shortage started to become pressing and its not working. How much of an increase is it going to take and how do you propose financing it? With tax increases? With further cuts in infrastructure and school funding? Until you answer that question, this proposal is a non-starter. Once again, “whatever it takes” is not a plan, it’s a pipe dream.
Here’s one hint, though: attacking the mother of a KIA (whether or not you agree with her admittedly simplistic view of the middle east) is probably not the best way to build support for the recruiting effort.
2. They can authorize all the troops they want, but until they can entice people to enlist (and then be able to equip and train them) this is meaningless.
3. Rebuilding works by having enough troops to provide security. Which brings us back to the conundrum posed by the first two points.
4. To say that one day the insurgents/terrorists will be completely defeated and all occupation driven violence will end is not very “reality based”. It sounds more like another vicious cycle for us. The longer we stay, the greater the resentment. The greater the resentment is, the greater the chances for violent actions against Iraqi citizens and our troops. But, we won’t leave until the violence stops, which builds resentment and suspicions that we never plan on leaving. Wash, rinse and repeat for the next few decades.
5. Entirely dependent on 1 & 2 above. If we don’t have troops in place, we don’t have much of an option to respond.

Not to nitpick your plan, Sebastian. At least you’re offering one, rather than throwing around blame at the left.

Some random thoughts:

Most successful US counter-insurgency operations in the 20th century involved minimal American forces acting mostly in an advisory capacity to established government forces. They also took several years to achieve results, and few of them had any lasting effect. (See Nicaragua in the 1920s for a prototypical example).

Iraq doesn't have a permanent constitution or government yet, its new armed forces are still in their infancy, and the US military is a major presence. If we had occupied the country in 2003 with 300,000+ troops, we probably could have successfully maintained order and transformed Iraq in a similar fashion to Germany and Japan post-1945. Alternatively, if we had left the Baathists in power (after purging the top ranks) and not disbanded the Iraqi Army, we could (hopefully) have transitioned to a more inclusive, democratic regime with less disruption.

Instead, we tried to split the difference and do more with less. And yes, the Bush administration deserves all the blame for the post-invasion failures. Having said that, I do not think immediate withdrawal would be a good idea, for us or for the Iraqis.

In my (admittedly non-expert) opinion, a US withdrawal right now would result in civil war, and a power vacuum that would probably lead to Iran dominating the Persian Gulf.

Instead, I think we ought to give the Iraqis time to finish putting together a government, and help them build effective counter-insurgency forces, before we declare defeat and go home. Above all else, these things take time.

Those of you who believe the current administration is incapable of doing anything right may be correct, but at this point I doubt there is any alternative strategy to pursue. A massive influx of American troops would only be counter-productive, and a withdrawal would be a disaster.

All we can do now is muddle through for a while longer, and exert as much pressure as possible on the Iraqis to work together and not turn their country into a mini-Iran. I certainly hope Khalizaid, et al. are doing exactly that.

Two things from my point of view.

First we here in the US have neither a left nor right media. We have a sensationalist media. They tend to only report sensational news. They mostly report things that get people excited or emotionally involved so that they can do their main business of selling advertising. This also means they tend to both go after and coddle the current holders of power. If the story can be 'sexed' up it will get reported and the current holders of power will be the heel. If it can't then the story either gets put on page 20 or not reported much at all. Sensational news tends to also be bad news. For every new cure to a previously incurable disease or advancement in science there are 10-20 new bombing, rape, murder or white women of the week stories. If your party is the one currently in power you WILL think that the media is out to get you, while if your party is out of power you wonder why in the world they don't report on more mundane but idiotic things the party in control is doing.

This results in blogs where people like Charles honestly feel that "the overcoverage of deaths and bombings, and the undercoverage of other events is not helping" and people like Jes honestly feel the US "has an overwhelmingly right-wing AND an overwhelmingly uninterested in the world outside the US mainstream media." I think both of you are correct on this and I don't think anything will be changing anytime soon with how our media works here.

Second thing I would like to point out is that apparently this type of news is what American audiences want. If in depth reporting was what we wanted I do believe that the various media outlets would be pandering to that audience because what they(the media conglomerates) want more than anything is to be able to sell their advertising space at as high a price as they can. More eyeballs equals more profit for them and right now flashy news about bombings and steroids abuse is getting more eyeballs than hour long discussions from different points of view on Middle Eastern US policy or US Energy policy. (Also notice I said eyeballs and not brains. Most brains seem to be in the 'idle' position when watching TV here in America.)

One good thing about some blogs is that at least part of the time the brain has to be engaged to defend or destroy a position. And when that happens sometimes just by mistake learning can occur.

And applying that force will involve true sacrifice at home, much more painful than what has come to pass now.... Four to six times as many boots on the ground as we have now, at a minimum. High casualties, on both sides. And all the social and political disruption that goes along with that.

It's worth calling special attention to the fact that the sacrifice needed to "win" this war could also include the sacrifice of tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands, of Iraqi lives. Is that worth it? Are you willing to have that blood on your hands? Can you really be sure that this will make Iraq better off?

Quickly on the media coverage of Iraq: first, I think the idea that we have a liberal media is bizarre. (Downing Street memos, anyone?) But second: as I understand it, the coverage of Iraq is constrained by the fact that most reporters almost never leave their hotels, for security reasons. That leaves them hugely dependent on military briefings and getting embedded and the like, and it gives them approximately no opportunity to go out and discover whatever it is that Charles thinks they ought to be reporting on.

First we here in the US have neither a left nor right media. We have a sensationalist media. They tend to only report sensational news.

In practice, this usually means that the media is liberal on social issues, conservative on foreign policy issues, and confused on economic issues.

Iraq is a foreign policy matter. We might never have invaded if not for the false right-wing propaganda put out by the allegedly liberal New York Times.

Sebastian's 5-point plan is great. Sebastian for president!

But it won't happen. Take point 4. We're not planning to leave. We want permanent bases (= "permanent focal points for unrest and anti-Americanism"). So we can't promise anything like # 4.

Rather than looking to the Left for defeatism, Charles should look to the White House and ask, "what is their motive besides a successful outcome in Iraq?" Because it's pretty obvious that such an outcome is not U.S. policy.

I think this bears passing along:

The point is that in the sway of ideology, or historical imperative, or loyalty to the administration’s hawks, they misrepresented supposition as fact, excused the misconduct of administration officials, and neglected to consider the predictable consequences of the war they promoted. If we truly lived in the culture of consequences that conservatives profess to support, the role of these pundits in our national conversation would be greatly, and justly, diminished.

Shouldn't the same hold true for the pundits of our own mini-world? When can we truly say history's verdict has rendered your opinionating moot?

On the media bias thing, I think that the mainstream media probably was a lot more biased toward the left back in the 80s, with the boomers finally in control and still hoping for the next Watergate. As the country tilted more toward the right in the last two decades, I think the media eventually moved with it. Also, the reporters and anchors mellowed with age. The rise of Fox News may indicate that we are regressing toward more openly partisan news reporting like we had early in the 20th century. I don't watch tv news any more. Like a previous poster said, it's mostly sensationalism these days anyway.

cleek--

"i get the feeling that Bush and Co. think the world is just dying to embrace western (if not specifically American) ideals and to live in western-style democracies, friendly to and eager to please the west, etc.."

Yeah, they do seem to have thought something like that. But they did something worse: they labeled anyone who thought differently a racist.

Anyone who suggested that maybe the middle east was a little more complicated was accused of thinking that foreigners couldn't handle democracy or didn't want democracy.

I have written that we're in an information war every bit as much as a hot one, and loser-defeatists like Frank Rich and Joan Walsh are helping us lose that front.

...All of this builds up, and then it gets lapped up by the doom and gloom brigades like Cole and Kos, and then spread across the blogosphere to thousands of receptive left-wing ears. This is where the echo chamber effect kicks in, and pretty soon it's an Eeyore chorus.

It's delusions of grandeur like these that make me prefer music blogs, book blogs, philosophy blogs, anything, really, over political blogs. At least writers on those topics usually realize that they're merely writers on those topics. However, I can see how someone who fancies himself an "information warrior" and who believes that the "blogosphere" can greatly affect international events one way or another can also believe that entire geographical regions can be changed with good intentions and a small army. Charles's connections to reality may be tenuous here, he's probably representative of the way a certain kind of person (I almost said "conservative" but that's not necessarily so) thinks that communication channels do (or should) work.

Paul: but you don't understand: the crucial point is that while lots of people have perfectly good right-wing brains, their receptive left-wing ears filter out everything except what's lapped up by the gloom-and-doom brigades and spread across the blogosphere. It's the political bias of ears that makes information war so central. What with our receiving all our information aurally, and all that.

Americans love a winner and hate a loser. Nothing can destroy a politician or a party faster than losing a war. This is a war that George Bush wanted very badly, for which he got authorization from the Democrats in Congress, which has been organized and carried under the leadership of people he appointed, funded by a Republican majority in Congress...without question at every level and in every way Bush's and the Republicans' war. The recent defeatist remarks that inspired the current blog discussions came from top Bush advisors and Rumsfield, who suggested that victory needed to be redefined....and Charles thinks that some lefties are causing defeat?
Huh?
We barely have anti-war movement now and personally I am oppposed to the formation of one. This war has gone pear-shaped, to use a lovely British expression, because reality, given enough time, trumps spin and the Bush administration can't spin their way out of a mess. No anti-war movement, no one to scapegoat.
Without a tax increase and/or a draft the Bush administration will have to start pulling out even if the facts on the ground don't justify such a move. The failure will be their decision, driven by their refusal to face the political (the draft)or financial costs of continuing. Blaming it on a largely imaginary anti-war movement or talk from lefties who have no real political power and do not control or even have much access to the media, is a cop-out.
Bush's war, Bush's failure.

"Great idea, except we’ve already increased pay and bonuses several times since the troop shortage started to become pressing and its not working."

Actually we haven't really increased base pay all that much, and I think bonuses are a bad way of attacking the problem because they are one-ofs instead of a commitment. (The reason for doing bonuses as a major pay structure is that Congress and the Pentagon--implicating the President of course--haven't authorized the kind of increases I'm talking about.)

"Sebastian's 5-point plan is great. Sebastian for president!"

Sorry I can't settle for president. I've committed to "Co-dictator by unanimous decree" with Katherine under the idea that anything we can agree on must be worth enacting into law. ;) If Katherine abdicated to Hilzoy I would consent, but I can't be dictator alone--I like my ideas but I don't totally trust them.

Sebastian: all for divided government, eh?

So I should let the wax accumulate on the left side?

Prof H: the sun will most likely rise in the west tomorrow, because I'm going to agree with CB that your analogy has problems.

Let's say you're the new ED. You have a grand vision to expand dramatically the scope of services, which includes putting volunteers in roles previously reserved for paid staff only. You give your staff the grand vision, and the first they say is that it's impossible, due to a third party requirement.

now at this point i (and presumably you) would ask what it would take to include volunteers on the insurance policy, and if not possible whether the insurance broker could find an underwriter who would cover volunteers.

but a big-vision person might not do that and instead get frustrated about staff's refusal to buy into a paradigm shift.

so it is in iraq. the big-picture guys are looking for staff to buy into a paradigm shift and just make it work. they don't want to hear about the details.

now, in the real world there may be no insurance company willing to issue that policy and there may have been no possible path to take a Saddam-led iraq to a pro-west peaceful non-theocratic representative republic.

but that won't necessarily satisfy the big-picture people who believe that anything is possible given the right resources.

between this post and von's earlier post, i have found myself contemplating (once again) how desperate this war in iraq has become. from the first night i saw the fireworks display over bagdad up till today when i read about "private security companies" in the NYTimes magazine, my heart has ached for the innocent lives being lost.

what's most difficult is accepting that now that our troops are in iraq and we have removed the historical means of control, we have to stay there until there is at least a modicum of peace. understanding this, i try to wrap my head around the multitude of mistakes and miscalculations that went into the preparation and execution of this war, looking for a way that this peace can be accomplished without losing more lives. the truth is that despite my distaste for the war, i continue to hope that there is a way to bring peace and perhaps a taste for democracy to a country used to violance and tyranny. i don't see how this can occur with the current plan. i wonder why the administration has not hired more iraqi-americans and middle eastern experts to head-up military and political operations. i firmly believe that there are experts out there who have the skills and the knowledge necessary to turn the tide in this war, but they are not being consulted. instead, the white house is playing favorites with old oil buddies and yes-men.

i also wonder why they haven't spent the money that's being allocated to private mercenary companies on training and protecting the american troops that are at war and perhaps showing adequate support for the veterans who return home(less). there is so much money that's being passed around the table and yet the US troops see the least of it. perhaps that's why morale is low and talk of the draft has resurfaced.

How do you know morale is low, moosk?

It all comes down to "faith based reality." If you wish, just really, really wish it will happen. And "bad thoughts" are treason.

The Republican's own this government for now, they've made the choices. One of these was ignoring and shouting down any criticism even those that suggested better policies because that would destroy the faith. So any concern, even those from traditionalist centrists is equated with "leftist treason," a desire for defeat.

If you say we need more troops or better armor it is considered subversion.

Charles:

I have written that we're in an information war every bit as much as a hot one, and loser-defeatists like Frank Rich and Joan Walsh are helping us lose that front.

No. Loser right-wing pundits torpedo the information war by reciting propoganda as truth. Nothing undermines the home morale for the war more than the official lying by the Bush adminitration about this war, which you seem to gladly echo in the false belief that it helps win the information war. If you want to diagnose a reason why the information war is not going well, look to the right wing nonsense that has become the staple of conversation about this war.

By the way, that was also the crucial lesson about Viet Nam which is being paralleled now. The Tet offensive was devastating politically because it exposed the utter falsehood of the official line that had been used to sustain the war effort. It devastated home support precisely because it undermined the credibility of the leadership prosecuting the war.

The parallel today? -- Cheney and the "last throes" insurgency. Or right wingers despairing over Rumsfled's comments that acknowledge the lesser expectations about what can be accomplished.

You cannot win the propoganda war with bad information, or by bad-mouthing those who stand up and say the emporer has no clothes.

How do you know morale is low, moosk?

Could it be stories like these?

Slarti, if morale ain't low, then I have to wonder what they're putting in our troops' Coke.

You're stationed in a miserable desert amongst people who look different, don't speak your language, and don't much want you around. Some of these may be enemies about to blow you up or gun you down, but it's hard to tell which until they're actually doing it.

Your mission has no set goal other than "ending the violence," and while you're doing your best to follow your orders, those orders don't seem to be doing the trick.

You're over there because you fell for the "get money for college!" ads, or b/c you're in the Guard, and your family back home misses you, and you've been away from your job for a good while now & wonder what's going to happen when/if you go home in one piece.

At any time in history that you care to name, these & similar factors would translate into less than optimum morale. Why should things be any different now?

Wow, that was about as light on relevant fact as anything I've read on the subject. Light enough that this ought to counterbalance it nicely.

Oh goodness. Against "light on relevant fact," you're submitting a photo op on the Today Show?

I feel so ... refuted.

Ah, the long-awaited and eagerly-anticipated "stab in the back" argument. If only those who had opposed the invasion has shut the hell up; those who had mentioned that the idea of democracy-by-imposition was naive because everything had to go right in order for it to work; those who thought that this kind of regime change could not be planned and implemented by a President who didn't know the name of the head of government of their largest trading partner; those who pointed out that finding bin Laden and stabilizing Afghanistan was surely more important than a game of Calvinball in Iraq; if only, only we had kept quiet, even if we were right, then surely the things we fretted about would not come to pass.

The only good thing about the emergence of the stab-in-the-back argument is that it's a sign of mental despair, a recognition that things haven't unfolded as one thought they would, and the searching out of ways in which to blame those that you disagree with for the occurence of things they predicted.

It's sad, but surely a sign that we're near the end. At last.

And back to Slarti's thing, what exactly would anyone expect a captain to say on network TV? Morale would have to be subzero for officers to get on NBC and start spouting off. To say nothing of what vetting, etc. governs who gets to talk to Katie's buddy oncamera and what he gets to say.

Or maybe "light"..oh, excuse me..."lite" stories like this?

I know less about Iraq than many of the posters here, so I'm content to lurk, mostly.

When it comes to parallels to Vietnam, however, I do claim some modest expertise, in that I've been teaching about that war on the college level for almost thirty years, off and on. And when someone gets that wrong, whatever parallels may be drawn tend to break down. Example, from dmbeaster [Aug. 17, 10:19 am], excerpted below: (Apologies for not knowing how to change the typeface, &c. I'm something of a technoklutz)

>>The Viet Nam war was "lost" because the US never had at any time the political will to do what was necessary to win, which was invade the north and defeat the NVA at its source.<<

No. If we had invaded the north - which was of course contemplated from time to time, over about 20 years, the following two scenarios were possible:

1) BAD. China enters the war, just as in the Korean War (to which there would have been strong parallels - see the summer and fall of 1950), sending half a million, or 1-5 million "volunteers" across to save socialism by combatting us. (As I'm sure you know, we had made unofficial pledges to China NOT to invade the north, or bomb too close to the border. This cunning arrangement kept the Chinese, who were supplying the north, out of the south - there are no confirmed accounts of US soldiers encountering Chinese soldiers in combat - but obviously would break down if we invaded openly.)

In all likelihood, the Soviet Union then jumps in too, because they cannot be seen to be lax in saving socialism either. They would strike wherever they felt us to be most vulnerable, not necessarily in VN.

Outcome: Korean War II or World War III.

2) NOT MUCH BETTER: Somehow our military- diplomatic "gamble" pays off, and the PRC and USSR don't come in? (How do we buy them off? Possibly by letting the PRC take Taiwan?) We then defeat the NVA, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of lives.

We now rule over a population of some twenty million people (not counting the other 20 million in the South, still far from "pacified") who hate us, who have already experienced and hated decades of French rule, which they overturned by sheer force of will, who are therefore battle-hardened, who have ruled themselves for a decade or more, who are united under a single ideology and single party antagonistic to us, and who apparently love their great national leader (Ho Chi Minh) rather than fear him (as Iraqis feared Saddam).

They start revolting the moment we arrive, and they don't stop. They didn't stop for 70 years under the French, and they don't stop under us. We try to find an acceptable non-communist leader, but this is hopeless. Hell, we couldn't even succeed in the south, where we had a 15-year head start and where communism had never been firmly implanted.

Result: An ongoing colonial occupation, involving at a minimum 100,000s of American troops, lasting from whenever this invasion was to the present (2005) and beyond. God knows how many Vietnamese lives lost, or what this does to our relations with the rest of the post-colonial world, where we would stand in shocking contrast to the French, British, Dutch, even the Portuguese, all of whom Got Out when they had to. That's the _best_ outcome under this scenario: this is "victory."

That's it. Those are ALL of the realistic possibilities. Johnson knew it; Nixon knew it. You should know it too.


>> Instead, we fought a limited war against the NVA (and their much weaker Viet Cong adjuncts) in the south on the assumption that they would eventually get war weary. This did not work (nor had we "won" after the Tet offensive was broken, even though it devastated the much weaker Viet Cong). Moreover, we were fighting for a corrupt regime in the South that was never able to muster the public support to sustain itself in a war effort. <<

This is actually quite a reasonable analysis. We weren't going to win a "limited war"; you got that right. But that fact does NOT prove we would win an "unlimited war." I'm now associated with a university with a really lousy football team. Usually our ground game grinds to a halt early. Alas, this does NOT mean that our passing game will work. We just lose.

>> To "win" the Viet Nam war, the requirement was to change the flawed strategy of limited war, which no one was willing to do (including Nixon and Kissinger, except secretly and illegally with their Cambodian adventures).<<

But you continue to assume that because there is a problem, there must therefore be a solution. (If not strategy A, then strategy B.) It's a common error, particularly among the military, which is always encouraging a "Can Do" mentality. A soldier is never supposed to say, imply, or even _think_ that an assigned task is impossible. He just say's "Can Do, Sir!" and goes off and tries. Admirable in action (under wise leadership), this is NOT a good guide to analysis.


>> The Viet Nam experience inspired Powell to make his point now known as the Powell doctrine -- don't half-ass your war effort on the assumption that it will be enough to win anyway. <<

The unspoken corollary to this, which most conservatives overlook, is that if you can't win by a limited effort OR by a larger effort, don't start the war!

(Or if you somehow get in by miscalculation, get out as soon as possible. The fact that you are involved does NOT mean there must therefore be a way to win, any more than Duke _must_ be able to beat Florida State, just because we scheduled them.)

Back in 1966, I believe, Sen. Aiken proposed, tongue-in-cheek, a brilliant plan to end the Vietnam War: Declare Victory and Come Home. [The Chinese actually did this when they invaded VN in 1979 - attacked and left quickly, claiming they had "taught them a lesson," though most military analysts believe they took more casualties than they inflicted.]

I'm not sure if this is the way to go in Iraq today, though I must admit I find it appealing. I *do* know that there's absolutely NO guarantee that if we're not "winning" by applying X amount of force, we will therefore "win" if we apply X+1 (or X times 10) amount of force. The failure of one strategy does not guarantee the success of any alternative. And in fact the results of the alternative may be much worse - a global war, or the perpetual occupation of a country who are unwilling to be "pacified" in any meaningful sense.

dr. ngo: thank you.

Dr. Ngo, that sounds very thoughtful and expert, but do you really see the Soviets going to war against the U.S. in 1968 or 1970 or whenever?

That sounds terrifically implausible to me, but I am willing to be persuaded.

but do you really see the Soviets going to war against the U.S. in 1968 or 1970 or whenever?

Could you ever see Russia going to war with Austro-Hungary over Serbia? Or Germany against Russia? Or France and Britain against Germany?

And so on.

Rationality is not always in the driver's seat.

Quite right, 2shoes, but rationality wasn't what I had in mind. Given the leadership & policies of the Soviets at that time, it seems highly unlikely that war with the freakin' U.S. was on their list of things to remotely consider initiating.

Your counterexamples certainly meet the "rationality" test but there were, obviously, specific facts that made war nonetheless an appealing option.

So I just wondered whether Dr. Ngo had anything handy to cite for the notion that the Soviets would have thought that a potentially unlimited war with the U.S. was a good idea to protect their "leadership of socialist nations" or whatever.

Or maybe "light"..oh, excuse me..."lite" stories like this?

That's more like what I was looking for, 2shoes. The exact thing would be here.

You can see that maybe there's a little difference in quality between this and your earlier offering about three deserters, no?

Dr. Ngo, I'm curious what difference (if any) you believe it would have made if the Army had pursued the counter-guerilla warfare tactics proposed by the Marines (I think Gen. Krulak, as exemplified by the CAP program) from the beginning, instead of Westmoreland's big-battalion search-and-destroy operations. Any thoughts?

You can see that maybe there's a little difference in quality between this and your earlier offering about three deserters, no?

Google is such a fickle mistress.

It's possible the pigeons haven't been fed with precisely the blend of millet and quinoa that optimizes performance.

Given the leadership & policies of the Soviets at that time, it seems highly unlikely that war with the freakin' U.S. was on their list of things to remotely consider initiating.

Oh sure. And they weren't on speaking terms with the PRC, either.

Your counterexamples certainly meet the "rationality" test but there were, obviously, specific facts that made war nonetheless an appealing option.

True, too. But one of the scariest things about the start of WW1 was how automatic it was, as in out of the control of leadership, the example being more of the nations could only fully mobilize, and that mobilization triggered other uninvolved nations to mobilize.

As for the Soviets in '68, I think only a study of the Kremlin archives could produce an answer. It remains a scary hypothetical.

You can see that maybe there's a little difference in quality between this and your earlier offering about three deserters, no?

You must have read that link pretty quickly, Slart.

The same night, interviews with three soldiers who are seeking refugee status in Canada, where they have become minor celebrities, dominated prime time television. They are among more the than 5,000 troops that CBS’s 60 Minutes reported on Wednesday had deserted since the war began.
The information that there have been 5,000 desertions is not what I'd call info-lite.

Five thousand desertions???

Wowzer.

Let the executions begin!

---On second thought, maybe we should wait until after the midterm elections ... doubtless the Democrats would try to make some sort of point ... but wait, let's check the polls:

"51% of Americans polled say that shooting is 'too good' for deserters, reports FOXNews."

That's all we need, then! Carry on!

You must have read that link pretty quickly, Slart.

No, I read it.

The information that there have been 5,000 desertions is not what I'd call info-lite.

I would. First, it's not exactly news. Second, it's not even close to being accurate.

First, it's not exactly news. Second, it's not even close to being accurate.

I must be missing something. The figures he quotes indicate about 6,000 in the "Number of Deserters" column from the army for the years 2003-2004. How is that not close to accurate?

I'm sorry, which war did you think they were talking about?

Not that it matters; the number of desertions doesn't correlate with combat activities in any way that helps with the morale point. Number of Army desertions in 2000: just under 4000. Number of Army desertions in 2003: just under 3700. Army desertions in 1999-2000: nearly 8000. Goodness, that's not nearly as many as 5000.

Do you see the point, here? Do the data show anomalously large numbers of desertions that correlate with the Iraq war? I say they don't. Even if they did, the excess number wouldn't be anywhere near 5000.

dr. ngo--

If you are willing to take questions--

I have been under the impression for some years that part of what made the American position untenable in VN was the degree of support for the NV among the general populace in the South.

I have in mind stories about the guy who works at the US PX during the day, greets all the GI's with a smile, and during the night is actively aiding the Viet Cong insurgency.

Is there any truth to this picture? I.e., was there wide-spread support for the VC even in Saigon? And was this among the causes of our loss?

(Obviously there were also many people in the South, esp. those with ties to the official govt, who were strongly opposed to the north and who feared its victory--the people who tried to get out, for instance. But an infiltration rate of 20% does a lot more harm than a support rate of 20% does good--or whatever the numbers might be.)

That's the lesson of Vietnam. All those dead, all those we killed, all those losses, and Charles still doesn't get it.

Vietnam was more than just a loss of political will, Max, but the information war did play its part. It was also the most incompetently fought war in American history, a multitude of errors and misjudgments compounded over a decades' time that brought us down.

But second: as I understand it, the coverage of Iraq is constrained by the fact that most reporters almost never leave their hotels, for security reasons.

Yet, Hil, large areas of Iraq are safe (going back to Chrenkoff, how does Luke Baker at Reuters do his reporting), and why aren't more reporters embedding themselves? Why aren't mainstream media outlets hiring on-the-ground webloggers who can actually give firsthand accounts? Why doesn't the Washington Post engage Michael Yon? What self-respecting reporter would settle for sitting around a hotel waiting for the next press gaggle?

We can easily go back to that Pew poll and you can see for yourself the self-described political leanings of national media: only 7% consider themselves "conservative".

...and Charles thinks that some lefties are causing defeat?

Lily, did I or did I not write a recent post recommending that Rumsfeld spend more time with his family? Tell me how that can be construed as blind support for Bush.

Can I ask one too?

I am fairly clear that the various governments in South Viet Nam through around 1965 were corrupt and repressive, but oddly, despite having actually started to become aware of stuff shortly after that, I have no clear sense of whether the succeeding governments were also awful, or whether they were less dreadful but it was too late, or what. (Though I do have vivid memories of the buttons worn by adults I knew saying: "Vote for Thieu! Consider the alternative!")

Not asking for a long disquisition; "the former/latter" would be helpful.

Thanks.

As much as I hate me-tooing, anyone who's got any kind of interest in combat operations in Iraq, for any reason at all, really needs to keep an eye on Michael Yon's weblog that Charles links to above. If it's your first time, take the time to go through his archives. It's all pretty gripping.

Do you see the point, here? Do the data show anomalously large numbers of desertions that correlate with the Iraq war? I say they don't. Even if they did, the excess number wouldn't be anywhere near 5000.

I may be being a bit thick on this, or perhaps my comprehension is slipping because you're being ironic, but my point was that the number of desertions during the Iraq war may in fact be around 5,000. Is that correct?

If so, then mentioning that the desertion rate is going down is certainly a valid point in refuting the theory that army morale is down. However, it does nothing to refute the point that the actual number of desertions, as mentioned earlier and as refuted by you as inaccurate, is in fact accurate. And that the linked piece that you mocked as info-lite was not discussing three deserters as you stated, but 5,000.

Thieu was President from '65-75 and was generally considered very corrupt.

It was also the most incompetently fought war in American history

I do believe it's been dethroned.

2shoes: Thanks. On reflection, I think my feeling of uncertainty about that question was probably caused by dim memories of Ky.

C,

"It was also the most incompetently fought war in American history"

Present company excepted, yes?

"a multitude of errors and misjudgments compounded over a decades' time that brought us down"

Do you feel more qualified on that topic than dr gno? My understanding of his summary -- one that I found convincing and one that I have encountered before in many convincing guises -- is that there was no strategy that would have been successful short of glassing Vietnam, which would obviously have political problems of its own. In other words, the set of requirements and constraints presented to the principle actors was inherently impossible to actualize in the real world. Due mostly to human nature and the existence of however million people across the Pacific who disagreed with us. No amount of good sense or salt-of-the-earth sticktoitiveness would have changed those factors. The belief that sticktoitiveness would have changed them (and natural pride) is what led to the unfortunately long drawn-out conclusion to that war, in which innumerable people were maimed or killed for the sake of the defense of gumption.

The parallel is striking. Here are the new requirements as fed to the polity: We will make a single, free, independent, democratic, capitalistic, non-theocratic Iraqi state that will serve as a stable exemplar of the benefits of those things as well as a stable base for projection of American power, and to do it cheaply (no increase in military size) and without undue sacrifice (tax cuts, no draft). To a number of people, (ironically very few of them conservatives, who wisely preached for decades about the folly and hubris of declaring yourself able to remake nations. Funny how quickly they jumped on the utopian bandwagon) this smacked of impossible. No matter how big our military budget. Because it isn't up to us. It's up to however million people across the Atlantic who don't agree with us. And no amount of gumption makes it possible. And no amount of sticking your finger in your ears and la-la-laing when CNN reports on more war dead is going to make it possible.

"did I or did I not write a recent post recommending that Rumsfeld spend more time with his family? Tell me how that can be construed as blind support for Bush."

The belief that the grand strategy's undoing is all Rumsfled's fault is a pristine example of support for Bush (I don't even know how to characterize 'blind', though it gets thrown around a lot).

Charles, I may have accused you at some point of blind support for Bush, but not on this thread. On this thread I repudiated your attempt to blame Bush's failed policies on lefties.

Lily, did I or did I not write a recent post recommending that Rumsfeld spend more time with his family? Tell me how that can be construed as blind support for Bush.

If one assumes that the buck stops at Don Rumsfeld's desk, it can't. Otherwise, it should be patently obvious.

And that the linked piece that you mocked as info-lite was not discussing three deserters as you stated, but 5,000.

Whoops. The info-lite article, once again, briefly mentioned a 60 Minutes piece about 5000 desertions. Since the start of some war or other. GWOT? OIF? Who's to tell? Inaccurate? Imprecise? How can we tell? If the linked article can be considered to be a discussion of 5000 desertions, this sentence can be considered a thesis on General Relativity simply by mentioning it.

Ok, strike inaccurate; we don't know nearly enough about what they meant by 5000 desertions, and probably, neither do they. Imprecise, then.

And of course, not a case in point for much at all.

Feel free to quibble on the rest, not that there really is all that much "the rest" to quibble over.

I am pleased (and somewhat surprised) that my previous posting brought a number of thoughtful questions and a minimum of obvious snark. With that in mind, I will attempt to answer respectfully:

(1) "do you really see the Soviets going to war against the U.S. in 1968 or 1970 or whenever?
That sounds terrifically implausible to me, but I am willing to be persuaded."

Implausible, perhaps, but then I bet you didn't grow up in the worst of the Cold War, when we *all* thought the Soviets might attack us at any moment, over anything. (Remember the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962?)

There is no doubt, IMHO, that if the US had invaded NVN, the USSR would have felt obliged to do *something.* If not, they would simply have to concede leadership in the "socialist camp," which they valued, to China. (They were already troubled by the rivalry.)

What that "something" might be, as I intended to convey originally, was and is unknown. Probably even the Moscow archives, if they were completely open, wouldn't answer the question definitively, any more than American archives pre 9/11 could have told us for sure exactly what the US would do in case of major terrorist attacks. Even if we were to learn later what conflicts there were in the Politburo and what constraints there would be on Soviet action, this knowledge was not available at the time. (Note also in passing how bad CIA intelligence on the USSR was right up to the point of its collapse.)

No one is suggesting - well, I'm certainly not! - that the immediate response to US Marines coming ashore at Haiphong would be unleashing ICBMs in the direction of Washington. Global war would be a last resort, not a first one, no doubt. There are literally dozens of possible, less immediately drastic, responses the USSR might have contemplated, from simply "jawboning" us in the UN to sending troops and advanced weaponry to NVN to seizing the moment to attack elsewhere, e.g. cutting off access to Berlin, who knows? Most responses would have been "open-ended," in that if _we_ responded to their response, they might feel obliged to act again, to escalate further. (The references later on the thread to the origins of WWI seem apposite to me. No One "wanted" that war, then, but it happened anyway, as push literally came to shove.)

My point, I guess is that this was a well-armed state, notoriously unreliable and unprincipled (remember Reagan calling it an "Evil Empire"?), which would almost certainly feel backed into a corner by such an aggressive American action, and would therefore do Something. We couldn't know what, but the options ranged upward to nuclear war. So, it comes down to the old "Dirty Harry" question: How Lucky Do You Feel?

2) "Dr. Ngo, I'm curious what difference (if any) you believe it would have made if the Army had pursued the counter-guerilla warfare tactics proposed by the Marines (I think Gen. Krulak, as exemplified by the CAP program) from the beginning, instead of Westmoreland's big-battalion search-and-destroy operations. Any thoughts?"

I'm not a military strategist, but the consensus from those who are, and were there, seems to be that Westmoreland's policy was a disaster. OTOH, as noted in my earlier comment, that does not of itself indicate that alternative strategies would have succeeded.

To my mind, far and away the best book on this whole topic is a little jewel, now more than 30 years old, Jeffrey Race, _War_Comes_to_Long_An (Berkeley, 1974?). Race was an Army officer in Long An province in the mid-1960s, and he was trying to figure out what was - or mostly wasn't - working. He finished his tour, got out, went to graduate school, wrote his dissertation (in political science - you can skip his theorizing, which is mercifully limited) on this question, in the process returning to Long An as a civilian to interview whoever he could - US military, ARVN (military), RVN officials, ex-VC, &c. - and combine this with close analysis of documents from all three parties: USA, RVN, NLF [very few NVA around in that period].

I don't want to do this book a disservice by summarizing it too cavalierly, but the conclusion - by someone whose loyalty was unquestioned (I hope) - was that the RVN was *never* going to win the war, because they didn't understand the nature of the war, and the US wasn't either, because it was making exactly the same strategic errors, even when it was tactically superior. Three of his main chapters are chronological, one before the US was in VN, one while we were there in an "advisory" capacity, and one while our combat troops were on the ground. What is striking, from the local/peasant perspective, is how _little_ the essential situation changed over this decade or so (roughly the 1960s).

The problem was, literally, one of "hearts and minds." Long An, and, by extension, all of South Vietnam, could only be "won" by creating a situation in which the _people_ were convinced that it was more in their interest to support RVN than the NLF. Race doesn't go for the metaphysical or nationalistic arguments deployed by Frances Fitzgerald and others. His peasants are hard-headed survivors, struggling for a modicum of land and justice - which the NLF provided - not rural philosophers wondering who had the "mandate of heaven" today.

RVN/USA signally failed to win these hearta and minds, mainly because they didn't figure out (or listen to) what the people wanted and try to give it to them. The NLF did. I defy anyone to read that book closely and not think (even if only for a moment), "If *I* had been a peasant in Long An, I would not have been loyal to the Saigon regime and, if pushed to it, might have taken up arms with the NLF."

This is not to say that Race applauds the NLF, or regards them as infallible. (Far from "wanting" them to win, he clearly wanted us to beat them, and was frustrated as hell that we couldn't.) As he points out, the NLF didn't have to be perfect; they only had to be better than the RVN government, which wasn't all that hard.

At this level, the US was almost irrelevant. We could "secure" specific locations, defeat specific attacks, yes. But we could not, possibly, under any strategy, be everywhere at once. So long as the US/ARVN saw their primary aim as killing the "enemy," all the NLF had to do was lay back and wait for the opportune moment to strike again. None of this was changing the "political balance" in the province, which continued to favor the NLF, because the Saigon government was corrupt and dominated by the landlord class, who were the "natural enemies" (my term, not Race's) of most of the peasantry.

(Could we have pressured the Saigon government to reform? We tried, and we failed. One Hanoi leader commented sagely on Diem: "It's not that he was a puppet; he was a bad puppet." And if we had succeeded, it would only have fed into the Vietnamese nationalist suspicion that we were imperialists, and the reforming rulers were just American stooges - which, of course, they would have been.)

So, back (at last) to your question. I think the small-group counter-guerrilla tactics advocated by some Army officers (e.g., John Paul Vann, about whom read Neal Sheehan, _A_Bright_And_Shining_Lie) and some marines would have been tactically more effective than Westmoreland's "big battalion" strategy. Perhaps fewer US lives lost; perhaps more VC (=NLF) killed. Less general violence (bombing, napalm, &c), which was usually counterproductive.

But to the extent that these tactics did not imply any different _political_ strategy, any different attitude on the part of Saigon (or Washington) as to what the whole conflict was about, it is hard to see that they could have made any real difference in the outcome of the war. The peasants of Long An would still have favored the NLF over RVN, because the former appeared to be more on their side. So more recruits would have appeared, to replace those killed or captured.

Maybe the timing would have been different. The Tet Offensive might have come in 1969, or even 1970, instead of 1968. But that's hardly a victory.

(3) "I have been under the impression for some years that part of what made the American position untenable in VN was the degree of support for the NV among the general populace in the South.

I have in mind stories about the guy who works at the US PX during the day, greets all the GI's with a smile, and during the night is actively aiding the Viet Cong insurgency.

Is there any truth to this picture? I.e., was there wide-spread support for the VC even in Saigon? And was this among the causes of our loss?

(Obviously there were also many people in the South, esp. those with ties to the official govt, who were strongly opposed to the north and who feared its victory--the people who tried to get out, for instance. But an infiltration rate of 20% does a lot more harm than a support rate of 20% does good--or whatever the numbers might be.)"

Finally, a question to which there is a short answer. Yes. The dissidence among Southerners was considerable.

("Infiltration" is a misleading term, since it implies that those in the south who opposed the war were mostly northerners. They were not - and if they had been, their accents would have given them away! Imagine "infiltrating" a bunch of Noo Yawkas into the Confederacy.)

Among the many sources reflecting this, I might recommend two books still available in paperback: Truong Nhu Tanh, _A_Vietcong_Memoir_, and chapter 5 of David Lamb, _Vietnam,_Now_, in which he describes Pham Xuan An, the best-known Vietnamese newsman in Saigon, former JUSMAAG advisor, ace of _Time_ magazine's staff, regarded as totally reliable ... and a secret member of the communist resistance from 1945 to 1975.

We're back to "Hearts and Minds" again. An active minority of the people of South Vietnam were supporters of what had once been the "Viet Minh," who fought the Japanese and defeated the French, and who claimed independence for _all_ of Vietnam in 1945. We had arbitrarily and artificially cut off half of the country in 1954, but were not able to create a regime in the south capable of inspiring a loyalty that would over-ride the original nationalist dream. (Imagine that a foreign power forces the separation of the USA at, say, the Mississippi, and sets up a compliant government in, say, San Francisco, which claims to be the _real_ government of the entire country, or at the very minimum the sovereign over "West America." Do you not suppose that many "West Americans," living under this regime, might remain loyal to, and act on behalf of, the "United States," and its rulers in Washington DC, even after decades of this usurpation?)

(4) "I am fairly clear that the various governments in South Viet Nam through around 1965 were corrupt and repressive, but oddly, despite having actually started to become aware of stuff shortly after that, I have no clear sense of whether the succeeding governments were also awful, or whether they were less dreadful but it was too late, or what. (Though I do have vivid memories of the buttons worn by adults I knew saying: "Vote for Thieu! Consider the alternative!")"

Basically, they were just as dreadful. RVN had Ngo Dinh Diem from 1954 to 1963; then a quick series of incompetent generals; then the Thieu-Ky tandem, who may have been the most corrupt of the lot. (There's some evidence that Ky actually ran opium down from Laos when he was in the Air Force.) Some people have argued that they weren't the worst governments ever, and that's probably true. They were roughly in the same ballpark with Sukarno and Suharto in Indonesia, Ne Win and SLORC in Burma, and better than the worst African dictators by a long shot.

A country already in decent shape could have survived these guys, as the Philippines has survived Marcos and Estrada, albeit shakily. But SVN was, from its controversial inception, at war for its very existence, and needed, if it was to survive, what it never had - a government that would inspire loyalty.


The government of Myanmar (Burma) is, so far as I can see, deservedly unpopular for its brutality and incompetence. But a Burmese who doesn't like SLORC (nowadays SPDC) has no real alternative except keeping her/his head low and hoping for better times. A (South) Vietnamese who despised the various Saigon regimes, on the other hand, always had the NLF ready to play on his/her larger loyalty and recruit him to the cause.

******************

I think this answers all the questions directed (directly) at me, and I've certainly rambled long enough for now. As before, I will resist making direct parallels between Vietnam (which I know pretty well) and Iraq, on which others are obviously more knowledgeable. You may, therefore, draw your own conclusions. (E.g., in my view you may argue that we can still "win" in Iraq, but you may _not_ base your argument on the contention that we could have "won" in Vietnam.)

Allow me to declare my unabashed love for Dr Ngo...

I'm not exactly sure what the following phrase means, though I can guess at it:

"that there was no strategy that would have been successful short of glassing Vietnam, which would obviously have political problems of its own."

glassing?

I probably shouldn't follow up, but it's 3:30 AM and my judgment is impaired; at any rate that's my excuse. The following joke, in very poor taste (let me acknowledge), circulated among GIs in the late 1960s or early 1970s.

What should we do in Vietnam?

1) Take the 100 best men and 100 best women in all of Vietnam, and put them on a raft in the South China Sea.


2) Bomb the entire country flat.


3) Sink the raft.

Allow me to declare my unabashed love for Dr Ngo...

...especially considering he's my dad.

"...our primary goals in Iraq have never been military goals like holding a town; they have been goals like: creating a stable country at peace with us and its neighbors..."

who sez?

Our primary and ONLY goal has always been to steal oil; no American leader in the Bush regime ever gave a thought to freedom, democracy, or stability; their only interest in Iraq is underneath its sand.

Sure, a lot of Americans like you, and even a few Republican members of Congress would like us all to believe that our intentions have been honorable, but the truth is that we are coveting, lying, murdering thieves, and there is no getting around it by pretending we ever gave a shit about Iraq or Iraqis beyond the black gold lying beneath the forbidding sand.

Our primary and ONLY goal has always been to steal oil

Which explains the recent dip in oil prices, I imagine. Really, is this based on anything at all, or did you just make it up?

Slarti,

Since when are the profits of Oil Corporations relative to the average American's personal finances?

Most of the wars, throughout history, were to benefit a minority of wealthy folks while the average folks were told it was all about God and country and salvation.

Since when are the profits of Oil Corporations relative to the average American's personal finances?

I'll respond to this at some point after you've tied your response to anything at all that I've said.

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