Tuesday, May 13, 2008

McCain's military views and the stab-in-the-back theory of the Vietnam War

Phil Carter's blog Intel Dump is now resident at the Washington Post site, where hopefully it will get even greater visibility. Carter is an attorney who has been writing for years on intelligence issues and has served in the Iraq War as an army captain.

He writes in Vietnam Ghosts 05/10/08 about the stab-in-the-back version of the outcome of the Vietnam War and its influence in the officer corps:

Ah yes, the "stabbed in the back narrative."

This narrative is popular among American military officers of a certain age, who believe if only they'd had gutsy political leadership, support from the homefront, and a willingness to steamroll North Vietnam with overwhelming force, we might have won the war.

It's a good story, but it's wrong. No amount of America firepower could have crushed the North Vietnamese people's will. It's true that we made many missteps in waging the Vietnam War, and that we might have achieved a better outcome in the short term had we backed better South Vietnamese leaders, implemented smarter counterinsurgency strategies sooner, and pursued Vietnamization earlier. But the ultimate outcome was ordained long before 1973, and probably long before American combat troops arrived in 1965. Most of the histories I've read suggest the die was cast sometime around when the French surrender at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. We didn't lose the Vietnam War because of any "stab in the back." We lost because we failed to see the strategic environment correctly, and we chose a war of a time, place and manner that we could not win.
Glenn Greenwald picks up on Carter's post in John McCain's Vietnam-based view of war Salon 05/12/08.

Greenwald talks about how that stab-in-the-back myth informs the views of "100 Years War McCain. I'll note one thing here that is a little confusing. In an update, Greenwald mentions there may be some question as to whether McCain in a quote from 1990 he uses was referring to Vietnamese or American casualties. It seems clear to me that in describing the 1972 Christmas Bombing of North Vietnam, McCain was referring to the heavy use of air power minimizing American casualties.

I would note that while the bold Maverick seems to think the Christmas Bombing was 100% successful, the US actually experienced major losses of aircraft during that operation. And except in the militarist fantasies of people like McCain, no political gain to speak of. The terms of the peace treaty signed just afterward were essentially identical to the one they could have signed before the Christmas Bombing campaign.

Greenwald is right in this analysis:

John McCain is the ultimate embodiment of America's hoary, Vietnam era "stabbed-in-the-back" myth. [That theory holds that] We should fight wars with massive bombing campaigns and unleashed force, unconstrained by excessive concerns over "collateral damage" and unimpeded by domestic questioning. That's how we could have (and should have) "won" in Vietnam and how we'll "win" in Iraq. That's why the central truth of the 2008 election is that, when it comes to foreign policy, the Kristol/Lieberman-supported John McCain is a carbon copy of the Bush/Cheney warmongering mentality except that he's actually more extreme about its core premises.
The one point I would add to Greenwald's analysis is that when McCain talks about the American people not caring how long the US stays in Iraq as long as American casualties are not being incurred, that most likely means that McCain believes that an intensified air war would minimize opposition to the Iraq War among the US public. As I've discussed before, this belief of his is based on extremely shaky premises. But my guess is that's the real notion he has in mind: intensify the air war whose magical powers will force whatever it is that the bold Maverick sees as "victory" in Iraq.

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