Saturday, October 24, 2009

Stab-in-the-back keeps on stabbing

Mark Moyar elaborates a version of the stab-in-the-back history of the Vietnam War in Disastrous Lessons Foreign Policy Online 10/19/09. That would be the version in which our brilliant generals brilliantly won the Vietnam War but were undercut by the gutless wimpy politicians and cowardly civilians back home.

This should be read in conjunction with this article from Rick Perlstein from a couple of years ago, which Digby recently highlighted: The Best Wars of Their Lives The Nation 09/27/09 (10/15/09 edition). Rick analyzes a couple of examples of books elaborating a stab-in-the-back viewpoint, one of them by Mark Moyar, Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965 (2006), which he describes as follows:

Here is right-wing Vietnam revisionism at its most respectable.

Moyar's method is simple: Take what the "orthodoxy" says and revise it 180 degrees hard to starboard. For instance, in 1954 the insurgent Communist forces of Ho Chi Minh beat French colonial forces (whom the United States backed) at the French garrison of Dien Bien Phu. Most have discerned in France's humiliating defeat a classic example of a hubristic colonial power foolishly underestimating a nonwhite enemy. Not Moyar. He cites Communist sources--more on this move later--to argue that France barely lost.
He walks through Moyar's fantasy version of the Vietnam War in more detail, noting that there are distinct and incompatible versions of the stab-in-the-back myth. In Moyar's version, it was William Westmoreland who had brilliantly won the war as chief commander in Vietnam.

In another version, represented in Rick's essay by Lewis Sorley, it was Westmoreland's successor, Gen. Creighton Abrams, who instituted a brilliantly brilliant counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy that recognized the need to secure the population and etc., etc. We've heard quite a bit of this version lately from advocates of endless war in Afghanistan and Iraq as alleged historical evidence for the magic virtues of COIN thinking. Which for the US military in practice has been a less-preferred method of justifying heavy use of bombing and artillery on largely civilian targets.

I don't want to dismiss the value of COIN thinking. I've quoted before Steven Metz' Metz, Rethinking Insurgency (June 2007), which makes a realistic argument for recognizing different types of COIN situations and adopting approaches appropriate to the practical possibilities presented by each one. But as we saw in some the footage from Frontline's recent program on the "AfPak" conflict, Obama's War, in a war now into its ninth year with no end in sight, American COIN approaches to winning the confidence of the population involves heavily armed American soldiers going out to talk to Afghan peasants in English, relying on an interpreter may not be able to communicate that well with the soldier in English to communicate the soldier's message to the Afghans. In other words, the current McCrystal COIN strategy is to a large extent a marketing ploy for the American public and Congress, not a dramatic change from the strategy of the previous eight years.

This 10/22/09 interview with Tom Hayden at also goes into the reality of COIN as it is being implemented in our current wars.

Here's a real-time news report: U.S. forces kill four Afghans in car: police by Ismael Sameem and Golnar Motevalli, Reuters 10/24/09.

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"It is the logic of our times
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