Wednesday, July 06, 2005
VDH Watch 4: VDH prepares his stab-in-the-back theory for the Iraq WarVic is cooking the historical books once again: Real Lesson of Vietnam by Victor Davis Hanson: 07/04/05. (Also available in Jewish World Review 07/30/05 issue). And would we settle for less from our man Vic? I should hope not!
According to VDH, The Terrorists are trying to break the public's Will, which in the Republican Party line equates to support of whatever the Bush position on Iraq is at the moment (my emphasis):
The al Qaedists and former Ba'athists anticipate another impending U.S. retreat, like the 1984 flight from Lebanon or the 1993 exit from Somalia after the horrific dragging of American bodies in the streets of Mogadishu. Both pullouts, enshrined in al Qaeda propaganda, contributed to the pre-September 11, 2001, folklore that the United States lacked the stamina to defeat terrorists.
Here is the heart of Vic's "lesson" for us:
By 1973, the goal of fashioning a South Korean-like, noncommunist entity in Indochina was supposedly obtained and the war over. The Paris peace agreements recognized two autonomous Vietnamese states. Almost all American prisoners were returned. The last few U.S. ground troops came home.And this is the grand conclusion he draws from it:
There are lessons here. When the United States has stayed on after fighting dictatorial enemies - admittedly for decades in Italy, Germany, Japan, Korea and the Balkans - progress toward democracy and prosperity ensued. Disengagement from unresolved messy problems - whether from Europe after World War I, Vietnam in 1973, Beirut after the Marine barracks bombings, Afghanistan after the Soviet defeat, or Iraq in 1991 - only left murderous chaos or the "peace" of dictators.Yes, when it comes to cranking out hack work, Vic is consistently superlative.
Before we take some time to savor the full extent of his hackery on this one, we should keep in mind that his column is not really about Vietnam. You have to wonder if historical events register in the minds of Bush Doctrine fans as being anything independent of the latest Party slogan. But in any case, this is really an early version of the civilian incarnation of the stab-in-the-back theory to divert responsibility for the disaster in Iraq from the Bush dynasty and their subservient Republican Party onto someone else, i.e., the Democrats.
Also, it would be a shame to spoil our admiration of a truly fine hack job by too many pithy comments. But I can't resist one or two. Now, Vic likes to tell us about "Islamofascism" and how bad it all is. And Dear Leader Bush constantly tells us how The Terrorists hate everything we stand for, hate our freedoms, want to kill us, have no civilized values at all and so on and so forth. Well, if all this is so, why does Vic rely on Al Qaeda propaganda claims to say what American policy should be?
Yeah, Bin Laden would make fun of Bush's private parts if the US withdrew from Iraq. Withdrawing would also deprive the jihadist groups of their most potent recruiting tool of the moment. The fact that Al Qaeda would give their own propaganda spin to it doesn't make it a bad idea from the US point of view. They're puuting a propaganda spin our our staying in Iraq, as well. There's a serious lack of sense in this way of approaching things.
Now, let's go back to a primary source on this particular rightwing fairy tale. Richard Nixon in his No More Vietnams (1985) devotes a chapter to "How We Lost the Peace." Before we explore a "reality-based" version, we'll look at Tricky Dick's. In Tricky's version, as in VDH's, the 1973 Paris Peace Accords gave South Vietnam a solid basis to survive in political and military competition with North Vietnam. But the cowardly, wimpy Congrss blew it:
Congress proceeded to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Since our troops were out of Vietnam, Congress initiated a total retreat from our commitments to the South Vietnamese people. First, it destroyed our ability to enforce the peace agreement, through legislation prohibiting the use of American military power in Indochina. Then it undercut South Vietnam's ability to defend itself, by drastically reducing our military aid. Within two years the balance of power swung decisively in Hanoi's favor. When the North Vietnamese Army was poised to launch its final offensive, South Vietnam's army was in its weakest condition in over five years, reeling from the effects of congressional budget cuts that had strapped it with severe fuel and ammunition shortages.Can't you feel the contrast to Vic's hackery already? I mean, put VDH up against a world-class liar like Nixon, and you almost feel sorry for him. Compared to the real thing, Vic is just a pale, pale imitation. I love that "total retreat from our commitments" bit, which we'll explore more in a moment. Tricky Dick doesn't mention there that one of "our commitments" was a letter of 02/01/73 that he kept secret from Congress, and possibly even from Secretary of State William Rogers, and was first released in 1977 under pressure from Congress. It promised the following (my emphasis):
1. The Government of the United States of America will contribute to postwar reconstruction in North Vietnam without any political conditions.Could that have been a pledge of what in all but name were reparation payments to Communist North Vietnam pledged by a Republican president? Pledging unconditionally even? For beter or worse, this commitment was not fulfilled. No Republicans fretted over much about how not living up to that commitment would undercut our credibility and yadda, yadda.
In the Nixon version, everthing would have been fine if the Democratically-controlled Congress had just appropriated every dollar the Nixon and Ford administration had requested for the Thieu regime in South Vietnam, and also employed American air power to assist them in conventional warfare against the North Vietnamese PAVN (People's Army of Vietnam).
But one thing that could make a person almost nostalgic for Nixon's brand of lying is that he managed to mix it up with enough truths and partial truths that you actually had to think carefully to distinguish them. For example, this is true: "Our [i.e., US] military power was the principal disincentive to Hanoi's breaking the cease-fire."
Especially given that Tricky Dick was laying out a stab-in-the-back argument, its fairly remarkable that he would admit that. In fact, Nixon's 1973 agreement would hve required a long-term, effectively permanent US military presence and participation in combat operations for who knows how many years to come, if it was going to guarantee the survival of an independent, non-Communist South Vietnam (which had been the war aim from the start). There was nothing remarkable - and I'm confident that Nixon himself knew this - about the fact that Congress wouldn't go along.
And if you read Nixon's argument closely, even he is saying that it wasn't just Democrats or liberals that were oppossed to maintaining an active military role in Vietnam after the 1973 agreement. Without going into the details of his agreement, he gripes that Congress by banning US military operations and also by refusing to grant the aid to North Vietnam, "both the carrots and the sticks" had been removed, and "Hanoi as a result had no reasons to comply with [the agreement's] terms." Watch closely now for a pure Nixonian approach (my emphasis):
The antiwar sentiment was largely limited to Indochina. While some media critics irresponsibly charged that I called an alert of United States forces during the Yom Kippur War in October 1973 solely to divert attention from Watergate, there was overwhelming support in the Congress for the massive airlift and other military actions I took to save Israel. But Vietnam was different. Without Watergate, we would have faced the same opposition to our use of military power to enforce an agreement that would bring peace to Vietnam.In other words, the American people were sick of the Vietnam War. They didn't believe it was worth the continuing cost it was demanding. And that sentiment was reflected in Congress on both sides of the aisle. It wasn't an unwillingness to confront substantial threats to American national security or a general abandonment of allies, as Nixon explains there. It's just that sometimes, you have to recognize that a lost cause is a lost cause. And that was one of those times.
But Nixon being Nixon, even after that fairly frank recognition that the public and Congress were done with the war after the 1973 agreement, he comes back with the kind of accusation that so endeared him to his younger admirers like Karl Rove, Rummy and Dick Cheney (my emphasis):
I was shocked by the irresponsibility of the antiwar majority in Congress.What's sad and almost nostalgic about that is that even rank demagoguery like that seems almost tame by the standards of today's Birchified and OxyContin-ed Republican Party. How much better off we would be if we only had to deal with Nixon's level of dishonesty in the national government today. (A reminder of Molly Ivins' warning that no matter how bad things get, there's always a chance that we'll look back on today as the "good old days." Yikes!)
I know this is long, but I promised to put in a reality-based version. And sometimes, it's just nice to take your time and savor the true extremes of hackery that are available for those who look.
Okay, to the reality-based part. Was it only the alleged faint-heartedness of Congress that stood in the way of South Vietnam's victory over the North Vietnamese PAVN? Well, even after American efforts beginning in 1961 to build up the South Vietnamese government and army, by 1973 they still were not able to survive on their own, politically or militarily, even with continuing American aid. One reason why is given by Stanley Karnow in Vietnam: A History (1983):
South Vietnam's crumbling economy eroded army morale, which had been surprisingly high until then. A survey conducted during the summer of 1974 by the U.S. mission in Saigon found that more than 90 percent of the soldiers were not receiving enough in wages and allowances to sustain their families. Inflation was only one cause, however. Corruption was now exceeding all bounds as commanders robbed payrolls and embezzled other funds. Quartermaster units often insisted on bribes in exchange for delivering rice and other supplies to troops, and even demanded cash to furnish the fighting men with ammunition, gasoline, and spare parts. Officers frequently raised the money by squeezing local villagers, whose support they alienated in the process, and many traded with the Communists privately. The American report cautioned that the "deterioration" had to be halted "if the South Vietnamese military is to be considered a viable force." Ambassador Martin dismissed the warning with a tired cliche: "a little corruption oils the machinery." There was nothing he could do, in any case. Thieu's wife and cronies and their wives, indifferent to the danger, were reaping fortunes in real estate and other deals, and they set the code of misconduct for the entire officialdom. Or as an old Vietnamese adage put it: "A house leaks from the roof."Congress authorized $1 billion in aid for South Vietnam in 1974, but appropriated only $700 million. Did that cut the feet from under our allies who would otherwise have won?
Karnow again (my emphasis):
[US] Ambassador [to South Vietnam Graham] Martin and others were to assert that the cuts in U.S. assistance had prevented the South Vietnamese from resisting the Communists effectively, but a Pentagon study later noted that only about two fifths of the $700 million allocated actually reached Vietnam; the rest was committed to equipment that awaited shipment or had not yet been spent.Yes, hard as it may be for the Victor Davis Hansons of the world to recognize (at least in their published utterances), not all events in the world can be dictated by the will of Washington.
But would American airpower have made a decisive difference in the outcome of the conventional-war battles of 1975? Air power true believers would insist that it did. But Jeffrey Record is more convincing when he writes in The Wrong War: Why We Lost in Vietnam (1998) (my emphasis):
Aside from the venality and professional incompetence of much of its senior officer corps, the [South Vietnamese] RVNAF [armed forces] could hardly be expected to shoulder the immense technical and logistical demands imposed upon it by the American style of warfare it was trained and equipped to wage. Though by 1975 the war had been thoroughly Vietnamized, the RVNAF had been transformed into a military force incapable of sustaining itself in combat, notwithstanding the mountains of American military equipment and ammunition that were transferred to the RVNAF between 1973 and 1975. Vietnamization, wrote a young Sen. Sam Nunn on the eve of Hanoi's final offensive, "has resulted in the Americanization of the Vietnamese" via "the dumping of massive amounts of military equipment and supplies on a South Vietnamese force that was unprepared and incapable of coping with the logistics and maintenance requirements related to that equipment.It's true, as Record says (my emphasis):
The United States abandoned its cause in Indochina because it was strategically, politically, fiscally, and morally exhausted. Never prepared (nor should it have been) to make anything remotely approaching the proportional sacrifices in blood and treasure in Indochina that its communist enemy was willing to—and did—make, and being a democracy in which official policy fundamentally hostile to the electorates wishes could not be indefinitely pursued, the United States withdrew from Vietnam because it had no other choice.
But to simply label this a contemptible failure of "will" is as ahistorical as it is foolish. Every war involves some calculation of costs and benefits, however warped those may be by emotion and war fever. The United States disengaged from Vietnam after investing an enormous amount of lives, money and effort into supporting an ally that was never able to carry its war on its own.
Deciding enough was enough at that point was a realistic judgment of American interests, however influenced that may be by emotion and war weariness. Did that decision meet with the approval of the enemy in Hanoi? Yes. But that didn't make it a wrong decision for the US, anymore than Al Qaeda's propaganda provides a reliable guidepost to what American policies should be in 2005, 30 years after the fall of Saigon. It was a recognition of reality. A better understanding of Vietnamese realities and a more sober view of American interests in that region in the early 1960s would have avoided a great deal of unnecessary killing and destruction.
Record concludes, looking at the whole period of the Vietnam War:
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the United States lacked any strtegically decisive and morally acceptable war-winning military options in the Vietnam War. Options considered - and not considered - were either peripheral or, if potent and at least theoretically decisive, unacceptable. The military's vain push for ground war options in Laos and Cambodia and expanded air war options against North Vietnam was a push, in effect, for an extension of the military stalemate in Indochina at a higher and more costly level of violence, though these rebuffed options continue to serve the cause of those who believe that the Vietnam War was a case of American self-defeat.VDH's stab-in-the-back whining is as vapid today as it was in 1975. It's just that in 1975, fewer people were willing to swallow such nonsense after all those years of the Vietnam War.
[For other installments, see Index to the VDH Watch.]
Tags: iraq war, jeffrey record, nixon, stab-in-the-back, stanley karnow, vdh watch, victor davis hanson, vietnam war
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No subject for immortal verse
That we who lived by honest dreams
Defend the bad against the worse."
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