Andrew Bacevich, Ending War, American-Style

Yves here. Note that for all of Trump’s considerable faults, including hiring John Bolton in the first place and taking too long to get rid of him, Bolton’s opposition to finding a way for the US to extricate itself from the war in Afghanistan was reportedly the last straw.

By Andrew Bacevich, who serves as president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. His new book The Age of Illusions: How America Squandered Its Cold War Victory will be published in January. Originally published at TomDispatch

When the conflict that the Vietnamese refer to as the American War ended in April 1975, I was a U.S. Army captain attending a course at Fort Knox, Kentucky. In those days, the student body at any of our Army’s myriad schools typically included officers from the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN).

Since ARVN’s founding two decades earlier, the United States had assigned itself the task of professionalizing that fledgling military establishment. Based on a conviction that the standards, methods, and ethos of our armed forces were universally applicable and readily exportable, the attendance of ARVN personnel at such Army schools was believed to contribute to the professionalizing of the South Vietnamese military.

Evidence that the U.S. military’s own professional standards had recently taken a hit — memories of the My Lai massacre were then still fresh — elicited no second thoughts on our part. Association with American officers like me was sure to rub off on our South Vietnamese counterparts in ways that would make them better soldiers. So we professed to believe, even while subjecting that claim to no more scrutiny than we did the question of why most of us had spent a year or more of our lives participating in an obviously misbegotten and misguided war in Indochina.

For serving officers at that time one question in particular remained off-limits (though it had been posed incessantly for years by antiwar protestors in the streets of America): Why Vietnam? Prizing compliance as a precondition for upward mobility, military service rarely encourages critical thinking.

On the day that Saigon, the capital of the Republic of Vietnam, fell and that country ceased to exist, I approached one of my ARVN classmates, also a captain, wanting at least to acknowledge the magnitude of the disaster that had occurred. “I’m sorry about what happened to your country,” I told him.

I did not know that officer well and no longer recall his name. Let’s call him Captain Nguyen. In my dim recollection, he didn’t even bother to reply. He simply looked at me with an expression both distressed and mournful. Our encounter lasted no more than a handful of seconds. I then went on with my life and Captain Nguyen presumably with his. Although I have no inkling of his fate, I like to think that he is now retired in Southern California after a successful career in real estate. But who knows?

All I do know is that today I recall our exchange with a profound sense of embarrassment and even shame. My pathetic effort to console Captain Nguyen had been both presumptuous and inadequate. Far worse was my failure — inability? refusal? — to acknowledge the context within which that catastrophe was occurring: the United States and its armed forces had, over years, inflicted horrendous harm on the people of South Vietnam.

In reality, their defeat was our defeat. Yet while we had decided that we were done paying, they were going to pay and pay for a long time to come.

Rather than offering a fatuous expression of regret for the collapse of his country, I ought to have apologized for having played even a miniscule role in what was, by any measure, a catastrophe of epic proportions. It’s a wonder Captain Nguyen didn’t spit in my eye.

I genuinely empathized with Captain Nguyen. Yet the truth is that, along with most other Americans, soldiers and civilians alike, I was only too happy to be done with South Vietnam and all its troubles. Dating back to the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the United States and its armed forces had made a gargantuan effort to impart legitimacy to the Republic of Vietnam and to coerce the Democratic Republic of Vietnam to its north into giving up its determination to exercise sovereignty over the entirety of the country. In that, we had failed spectacularly and at a staggering cost.

“Our” war in Indochina — the conflict we chose to call the Vietnam War — officially ended in January 1973 with the signing in Paris of an “Agreement Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam.” Under the terms of that fraudulent pact, American prisoners of war were freed from captivity in North Vietnam and the last U.S. combat troops in the south left for home, completing a withdrawal begun several years earlier. Primary responsibility for securing the Republic of Vietnam thereby fell to ARVN, long deemed by U.S. commanders incapable of accomplishing that mission.

Meanwhile, despite a nominal cessation of hostilities, approximately 150,000 North Vietnamese regulars still occupied a large swathe of South Vietnamese territory — more or less the equivalent to agreeing to end World War II when there were still several German panzer tank divisions lurking in Belgium’s Ardennes Forest. In effect, our message to our enemy and our ally was this: We’re outta here; you guys sort this out. In a bit more than two years, that sorting-out process would extinguish the Republic of Vietnam.

Been There, Done That

The course Captain Nguyen and I were attending in the spring of 1975 paid little attention to fighting wars like the one that, for years, had occupied the attention of my army and his. Our Army, in fact, was already moving on. Having had their fill of triple-canopy jungles in Indochina, America’s officer corps now turned to defending the Fulda Gap, the region in West Germany deemed most hospitable to a future Soviet invasion. As if by fiat, gearing up to fight those Soviet forces and their Warsaw Pact allies, should they (however improbably) decide to take on NATO and lunge toward the English Channel, suddenly emerged as priority number one. At Fort Knox and throughout the Army’s ranks, we were suddenly focused on “high-intensity combined arms operations” — essentially, a replay of World War II-style combat with fancier weaponry. In short, the armed forces of the United States had reverted to “real soldiering.”

And so it is again today. At the end of the 17th year of what Americans commonly call the Afghanistan War — one wonders what name Afghans will eventually assign it — U.S. military forces are moving on. Pentagon planners are shifting their attention back to Russia and China. Great power competition has become the name of the game. However we might define Washington’s evolving purposes in its Afghanistan War — “nation building,” “democratization,” “pacification” — the likelihood of mission accomplishment is nil. As in the early 1970s, so in 2019, rather than admitting failure, the Pentagon has chosen to change the subject and is once again turning its attention to “real soldiering.”

Remember the infatuation with counterinsurgency (commonly known by its acronym COIN) that gripped the national security establishment around 2007 when the Iraq “surge” overseen by General David Petraeus briefly ranked alongside Gettysburg as a historic victory? Well, these days promoting COIN as the new American way of war has become, to put it mildly, a tough sell. Given that few in Washington will openly acknowledge the magnitude of the military failure in Afghanistan, the incentive for identifying new enemies in settings deemed more congenial becomes all but irresistible.

Only one thing is required to validate this reshuffling of military priorities. Washington needs to create the appearance, as in 1973, that it’s exiting Afghanistan on its own terms. What’s needed, in short, is an updated equivalent of that “Agreement Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam.”

Until last weekend, the signing of such an agreement seemed imminent. Donald Trump and his envoy, former ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, appeared poised to repeat the trick that President Richard Nixon and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger pulled off in 1973 in Paris: pause the war and call it peace. Should fighting subsequently resume after a “decent interval,” it would no longer be America’s problem.  Now, however, to judge by the president’s twitter account — currently the authoritative record of U.S. diplomacy — the proposed deal has been postponed, or perhaps shelved, or even abandoned altogether.  If National Security Advisor John Bolton has his way, U.S. forces might just withdraw in any case, without an agreement of any sort being signed.

Based on what we can divine from press reports, the terms of that prospective Afghan deal would mirror those of the 1973 Paris Accords in one important respect. It would, in effect, serve as a ticket home for the remaining U.S. and NATO troops still in that country (though for the present only the first 5,000 of them would immediately depart). Beyond that, the Taliban was to promise not to provide sanctuary to anti-American terrorist groups, even though the Afghan branch of ISIS is already firmly lodged there. Still, this proviso would allow the Trump administration to claim that it had averted any possible recurrence of the 9/11 terror attacks that were, of course, planned by Osama bin Laden while residing in Afghanistan in 2001 as a guest of the Taliban-controlled government. Mission accomplished, as it were.

Back in 1973, North Vietnamese forces occupying parts of South Vietnam neither disarmed nor withdrew. Should this new agreement be finalized, Taliban forces currently controlling or influencing significant swaths of Afghan territory will neither disarm nor withdraw. Indeed, their declared intention is to continue fighting.

In 1973, policymakers in Washington were counting on ARVN to hold off Communist forces. In 2019, almost no one expects Afghan security forces to hold off a threat consisting of both the Taliban and ISIS. In a final insult, just as the Saigon government was excluded from U.S. negotiations with the North Vietnamese, so, too, has the Western-installed government in Kabul been excluded from U.S. negotiations with its sworn enemy, the Taliban.

A host of uncertainties remain.  As with the olive branches that President Trump has ostentatiously offered to Russia, China, and North Koea, this particular peace initiative may come to naught — or, given the approach of the 2020 elections, he may decide that Afghanistan offers his last best hope of claiming at least one foreign policy success. One way or another, in all likelihood, the deathwatch for the U.S.-backed Afghan government has now begun. One thing only is for sure. Having had their fill of Afghanistan, when the Americans finally leave, they won’t look back. In that sense, it will be Vietnam all over again.

What Price Peace?

However great my distaste for President Trump, I support his administration’s efforts to extricate the United States from Afghanistan. I do so for the same reason I supported the Paris Peace Accords of 1973. Prolonging this folly any longer does not serve U.S. interests. Rule number one of statecraft ought to be: when you’re doing something really stupid, stop. To my mind, this rule seems especially applicable when the lives of American soldiers are at stake.

In Vietnam, Washington wasted 58,000 of those lives for nothing. In Afghanistan, we have lost more than 2,300 troops, with another 20,000 wounded, again for next to nothing. Last month, two American Special Forces soldiers were killed in a firefight in Faryab Province. For what?

That said, I’m painfully aware of the fact that, on the long-ago day when I offered Captain Nguyen my feeble condolences, I lacked the imagination to conceive of the trials about to befall his countrymen. In the aftermath of the American War, something on the order of 800,000 Vietnamese took to open and unseaworthy boats to flee their country. According to estimates by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, between 200,000 and 400,000 boat people died at sea. Most of those who survived were destined to spend years in squalid refugee camps scattered throughout Southeast Asia. Back in Vietnam itself, some 300,000 former ARVN officers and South Vietnamese officials were imprisoned in so-called reeducation camps for up to 18 years. Reconciliation did not rank high on the postwar agenda of the unified country’s new leaders.

Meanwhile, for the Vietnamese, north and south, the American War has in certain ways only continued. Mines and unexploded ordnance left from that war have inflicted more than 100,000 casualties since the last American troops departed. Even today, the toll caused by Agent Orange and other herbicides that the U.S. Air Force sprayed with abandon over vast stretches of territory continues to mount. The Red Cross calculates that more than one million Vietnamese have suffered health problems, including serious birth defects and cancers as a direct consequence of the promiscuous use of those poisons as weapons of war.

For anyone caring to calculate the moral responsibility of the United States for its actions in Vietnam, all of those would have to find a place on the final balance sheet. The 1.3 million Vietnamese admitted to the United States as immigrants since the American War formally concluded can hardly be said to make up for the immense damage suffered by the people of Vietnam as a direct or indirect result of U.S. policy.

As to what will follow if Washington does succeed in cutting a deal with the Taliban, well, don’t count on President Trump (or his successor for that matter) welcoming anything like 1.3 million Afghan refugees to the United States once a “decent interval” has passed. Yet again, our position will be: we’re outta here; you guys sort this out.

Near the end of his famed novel, The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald described two of his privileged characters, Tom and Daisy, as “careless people” who “smashed up things and creatures” and then “retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness” to “let other people clean up the mess they had made.” That description applies to the United States as a whole, especially when Americans tire of a misguided war. We are a careless people. In Vietnam, we smashed up things and human beings with abandon, only to retreat into our money, leaving others to clean up the mess in a distinctly bloody fashion.

Count on us, probably sooner rather than later, doing precisely the same thing in Afghanistan.

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28 comments

  1. RBHoughton

    Bacevich is right. Vietnam was a tragedy. Here we are at Ground Hog Day in Afghanistan.

    I was touched by the author’s recollection of Capt Nguyen. I well know that awful moment when , reflecting on some past event, I have recognised my own actions as insensitive, crass and unfeeling. How do we get so wrapped-up in ourselves that the feelings of others hardly impinge on our sensitivities? What happened to society? Is that where the West has gone wrong?

    Btw, quote “to judge by the president’s twitter account — currently the authoritative record of U.S. diplomacy” unquote. I hope those owning the Twitter Nest note the future use of their archive.

    Reply
  2. VietnamVet

    Andrew Bacevich is right. However, there is an amazing human disinclination to face facts but live with delusions which risk extinction for immediate gratification. The lessons from Vietnam were never learned. The Bush/Cheney fateful decision to occupy Afghanistan at the same time as invading Iraq ultimately led to the current predatory corporate military rule that will never voluntarily withdraw from overseas. The intent of the media/intelligence coup against the President is to prevent peace from breaking out. Executives and wealthy shareholders would lose their taxpayer gravy train. The troops and contractors now in Eastern Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are expendable. They will not have two years to get out. No planning, deep-sixing science, and profits over safety all assure that sooner or later there will be another black swan event. Be it Brexit, closure of Strait of Hormuz, subprime auto loans, WWIII, or climate change, assuredly something will give the final push and the American Empire will collapse.

    Reply
    1. Mattski

      “Après moi, le déluge! is the watchword of every capitalist and of every capitalist nation. Hence Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the labourer, unless under compulsion from society.”

      Reply
  3. No Pasaran

    Prof. Bacevich is very perceptive and he writes well; his essays are always worth reading. Nevertheless, he is a retired US Army officer after all and there is that thing about leopards and spots. There is a tell in this article, when he speaks of the day that Saigon ‘fell’. I too remember well that day in April of ’75. I was studying in Madison, on the GI Bill. My friends and I all rejoiced on that day, as Saigon had finally been ‘liberated’.

    Reply
    1. Donald

      Why rejoice? The point should be that the US had no business in Vietnam, not that one group finally succeeded in uniting the country under the rule of one dictatorial party. Not all Vietnamese welcomed the “liberation” and many died fleeing the country.

      I am sure this will be misunderstood, so I’ll add that I think that the US role was one massive war crime and we never should have been there at all, that Ho Chi Minh probably would have won a fair election in the 1950’s etc…

      Being antiwar has nothing necessarily to do with favoring the side our government opposes. It simply means that there is no moral justification for the US invading Vietnam or Iraq, supporting jihadists in Syria, helping the Saudis and the Israelis bomb civilians, and so on.

      Reply
    2. The Rev Kev

      Prof. Bacevich has an personal stake in what he writes about. His son, Lt. Andrew John Bacevich, was killed in action by an IED during the occupation back in 2007. He was already a severe critic of the war at the time but I am guessing that this underlined the futility of it tall.

      Reply
  4. Ignacio

    Although it is true that the willing of Trump to put an end to the Afghan occupation must be seen as a positive, his policy of ever increasing military budgets make this affirmation from Bacevich “the incentive for identifying new enemies in settings deemed more congenial becomes all but irresistible” truer that ever. These expenditures must be justified in practical terms and It worries me what the new enemies in Trump’s brain are.

    Reply
      1. Ignacio

        Ha, ha hah!
        Yes, Hollywood has made a big effort to explain us, the common people, that US’s military expenses will protect us from Centaurians, Klingons, meteorites and some other rogue invaders. I cannot imagine any other reason.

        Reply
  5. Steve H.

    > Prizing compliance as a precondition for upward mobility, military service rarely encourages critical thinking.

    John Boyd: “And you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go.” He raised his hand and pointed. “If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments.” Then Boyd raised his other hand and pointed another direction. “Or you can go that way and you can do something — something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide you want to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference. To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision. To be or to do? Which way will you go?” [Robert Coram]

    Reply
  6. Jesper

    Which is worse? Living in a cave in Afghanistan or living in a prison in Europe/US?
    If the invasion of Afghanistan was about capturing some people and then imprisoning them then that question might possibly be relevant.
    If the invasion was about prestige then sometimes the best revenge and biggest insult is to treat that someone as irrelevant and insignificant. If the opportunity presents itself to do something then by all means do something, do what prestige demands but if that does not happen then what?
    Sometimes the measure of someone is had by the measure of his/her enemies. Giving someone the significance of being the enemy might provide that someone with a better life. There are people with money who’d be willing to fund the enemy of their enemy. But how do those financiers know if they are funding some chancers/charlatans or the real thing? Spread some uncertainty about who are charlatans/chancers and see what happens to the funding…. Maybe the guilty ones might feel it necessary to publicly provide the necessary proof of their guilt, doubtful but… & if the location of them is found then threaten closure of the diplomatic missions of the nation where they are unless they are handed over. The diplomatic missions are cushy positions and closing them will only hurt the ‘elite’, the general population is left unharmed.

    Afghanistan is unlikely to change anytime soon. As with all predictions of the future that one might be very wrong. However, the ones predicting that Afghanistan can and will change due to military occupation are in my opinion the ones who need to somehow provide support for their prediction.

    Reply
  7. The Rev Kev

    A few predictions here. After the US and the rest of the Coalition leaves Afghanistan, not much happens for awhile. But then the government starts to lose ground. Slowly at first, and then quickly. Eventually Kabul falls. Long before then the US and other countries would have had evacuated their embassies so that there is no repeat of the frantic helicopter evacuations like happened in Saigon. There is a swell of refugees, particularly those who worked with the Coalition but Trump refuses all entry of them into the US saying that there are “very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very, very bad drug dealers” in Afghanistan.
    Five years after the last troops are out of Afghanistan the war is all but forgotten in the same way that the vets of the Korean War were forgotten. Not for nothing did they call Korea the “Forgotten War.’ By then the US is immersed in another campaign – probably in Africa – and news about what is happening in Afghanistan is relegated to the back pages. The vets will remember, but the nation will ignore them in the same way that Vietnam vets were forgotten after that war ended until the striking Vietnam Veterans Memorial was built in Washington by the vets themselves. In West Point text books, the war is relegated to the back pages as the cadets will instead study peer warfare with Russia and China.

    Reply
    1. Alex Cox

      One very important question remains.
      By 2001 the Taliban had reduced opium production to virtually zero. Every year since the US/NATO invasion, opium production has increased.
      What will the Afghans do when the US and British are no longer around to facilitate the heroin trade? Perhaps that’s why negotiations are proving so difficult.

      Reply
      1. ewmayer

        “By 2001 the Taliban had reduced opium production to virtually zero.”

        You need to update things past 2001:

        The Taliban banned the cultivation of opium in 2001, shortly before being ousted by the US-led NATO coalition. However, after 2005, the Taliban began to regroup, and encouraged opium production to finance its insurgency by forcing locals to grow opium and punishing those who refused. Besides, major opium traffickers annually pay vast amounts to the Taliban in exchange for safe transport routes secured by the group.

        The Taliban uses the money it collects from the opium trade to pay fighters’ salaries, buy fuel, food, weapons and explosives. Based on some reports, around 40% of the Taliban’s funding comes from opium production, while the rest of its expenditure is borne by foreign patrons and tax collections. The group’s annual income from the opium trade was estimated to be $400 million in 2011, but it is believed to have significantly increased in recent years.

        The Taliban collect two types of taxes from opium businesses: a transportation tax from drug trafficking and a 10% tax from opium cultivation. In exchange, the group provides security for the drug convoys and carries out attacks on government institutions like checkpoints in order to allow drug convoys to pass. The group has also launched attacks on government forces to safeguard drug labs and factories.

        The Taliban don’t need US/UK to facilitate things. In fact, getting the US out of the country might eliminate one of their major Heroin-related business rivals, the CIA.

        Reply
  8. Ian Perkins

    Bacevich states, “Rule number one of statecraft ought to be: when you’re doing something really stupid, stop. To my mind, this rule seems especially applicable when the lives of American soldiers are at stake. In Vietnam, Washington wasted 58,000 of those lives for nothing.”
    Why does he find his rule especially applicable to the paltry number of US dead, given that at least fifty times as many Indochinese died?
    This attitude is surely one reason for the loathing felt by much of the world toward the USA. People are justifiably sick of hearing how US lives are inherently more valuable than their own.

    Reply
    1. juliania

      I guess you missed this part of the article:

      “…That said, I’m painfully aware of the fact that, on the long-ago day when I offered Captain Nguyen my feeble condolences, I lacked the imagination to conceive of the trials about to befall his countrymen. In the aftermath of the American War, something on the order of 800,000 Vietnamese took to open and unseaworthy boats to flee their country. According to estimates by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, between 200,000 and 400,000 boat people died at sea. Most of those who survived were destined to spend years in squalid refugee camps scattered throughout Southeast Asia. Back in Vietnam itself, some 300,000 former ARVN officers and South Vietnamese officials were imprisoned in so-called reeducation camps for up to 18 years. Reconciliation did not rank high on the postwar agenda of the unified country’s new leaders.

      Meanwhile, for the Vietnamese, north and south, the American War has in certain ways only continued. Mines and unexploded ordnance left from that war have inflicted more than 100,000 casualties since the last American troops departed. Even today, the toll caused by Agent Orange and other herbicides that the U.S. Air Force sprayed with abandon over vast stretches of territory continues to mount. The Red Cross calculates that more than one million Vietnamese have suffered health problems, including serious birth defects and cancers as a direct consequence of the promiscuous use of those poisons as weapons of war.

      For anyone caring to calculate the moral responsibility of the United States for its actions in Vietnam, all of those would have to find a place on the final balance sheet. The 1.3 million Vietnamese admitted to the United States as immigrants since the American War formally concluded can hardly be said to make up for the immense damage suffered by the people of Vietnam as a direct or indirect result of U.S. policy….”

      Note in particular the phrase “the people of Vietnam” in the last sentence. I find your criticism to be unwarranted.

      Reply
      1. Ian Perkins

        I neither missed nor ignored Bacevich’s caveat.
        I was focusing on his ‘rule number one’, which seems to make the lives of a few US soldiers more sacred than those of the many people – civilians as well as soldiers – they kill.
        I am not trying to say that Bacevich is as evil and abhorrent as say Bolton. I don’t think he is, though I suspect he’s on the same side when it comes down to it.
        I am suggesting that the USA will fail to win the hearts and minds of the world’s people while killing them and belittling their deaths.

        (and you might note the phrase “can hardly be said to make up for” in the last sentence!)

        Reply
        1. John Wright

          As I remember the movie Dr. Strangelove, as the USA nuclear weapon was launched toward Russia, Russia was given an option to destroy some USA cities as a way of the USA doing fair and suitable penance.

          I don’t imagine the USA’s military is viewed in the world as other than operating in the USA elites’ interests, despite any media (Cable, internet, print,Hollywood films) verbiage about “bringing democracy” or “bringing freedom” to other nations.

          I believe the Peace Corps was established as a way to make the world a better place with USA’s expertise and as a way to win “hearts and minds of the world’s people”.

          Per https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peace_Corps, the Peace Corps budget in 2018 was 398 million.

          The USA defense budget for 2019 is shown as 686 billion putting the Peace Corps budget as 0.058% of the, perhaps understated, defense budget.

          I believe winning the world’s hearts and minds via USA military action is very unlikely at best.

          The small Peace Corps budget is evidence that concern about winning hearts and minds in foreign countries is a very small priority in Washington D.C.

          Reply
  9. Ford Prefect

    If you fund, arm, and train an army for a decade and it still can’t defend itself against insurgents, then you have to wonder whose side is right? If it actually had the backing of the people on the ground and dedicated troops and government, then it should be able to hold its ground well.

    The US has had exactly the same outcomes in Vietnam and Afghanistan with training the respective armies.

    In Iraq, it is largely coherent tribal entities of Kurds and Shiites that have been providing the backbone of relatively successful military organizations (not the same one despite being in the same country). Both groups have their own independent goals. The US forefeited its abiltiy to create a true national army in Iraq when they disbanded the former Iraqi Army shortly after invading. That resulted in a well-trained insurgency.

    Reply
    1. Ian Perkins

      “The US has had exactly the same outcomes in Vietnam and Afghanistan with training the respective armies.”
      Hardly. From 1979 the US funded, armed and trained the Mujaheddin, who won. I’m not aware of them funding, arming or training the Viet Cong or Viet Minh.
      They didn’t win when they backed the losing sides, that’s true. But it isn’t saying much beyond the obvious.

      Reply
  10. Susan the other`

    I like Bacevich but he really demurred from making his underlying point. He asked “Why Vietnam” and then he proceeded to fluff through that question. But the analogy to Afghanistan remains at a much deeper level. That level (imo) is this: Why Vietnam? Because, at that hysterical cold war turning point, Vietnam was the gateway to Southern China (Gore Vidal). Our main objective was to position ourselves to invade Southern China and protect the old imperialist interests of the UK and France (aka Nato). But we dithered and hesitated. Thank god. It could have been a much worse debacle. So here it is: We invaded Afghanistan and sent a zillion dollars worth of materiel to Iraq in order to take over the Middle East. And that meant invading Iran. But just like China, Iran was a dangerous plan. Too many things could go wrong, so everyone knew they would go wrong. Duh. And so we dithered and hesitated. And made up for it by blatant propaganda for 15 years. We’re “outta there” because we should never have been in there. And one of the tragedies is our abandonment of the Kurds. Just like the South Vietnamese. Bacevich didn’t mention the Kurds. He implied our abandonment would upset the poor Afghans. But, they won’t care at all. They’ll be flipping all of our departing helicopters the bird. Still there was a point to be made about our fecklessness. Interesting aside here that Bacevich, a well thought-out moral person, is the new President of the Quincy Institute. It will probably become famous for deep, murky contradictions. And pompous rationalizations without ever really making the point. Just to the taste of Soros and the Kochs.

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    1. Susan the other`

      I suspect, re Afghanistan, there is an upside that will never be made into a finer point. That is, we have worn out the appetite for a wider war for all concerned and managed to come to agreement with all parties of interest in Middle East oil. Including Russia. And Israel. And nobody will make much fuss about it, but we will still leave a very high-tech military contingent in Afghanistan because Eurasia is a vast opportunity.

      Reply
    2. barrisj

      Vietnam War strictly motivated by the “Domino Theory” and “monolithic Asian communism”, per Dean Rusk, McGeorge Bundy, et al. Kennedy was said to be having “second thoughts” about expanded US presence at the time of his assassination; however, LBJ went all-in, urged on by McNamara and the generals…11 years later it all went tits-up, Nixon ended the draft, all relatively quiet on the war front, then Carter and Brzezinski funded Islamic militants in Afghanistan to harry the Russkies…and ca. 20yrs later, Cheney-Bush repeat the Russian quagmire…plus ça change…etc”.

      Reply
      1. Susan the other`

        Yes. Another interesting parallel is that when we lost our conviction and decided not to engage China in a war that would have been a huge mistake, we shook hands, and offered them an intro to capitalism; a tentative offer of cooperation. Just like Trump is being very open and friendly with the Taliban and with Iran. So if you can’t beat em, join em. Make a deal. Invite them to join us. The Taliban are such hardened revolutionaries they are not cooperating – they seem too uncivilized. Iran seems to be more than ready to bury the hatchet. The Chinese smarter than all of them. They took us up on our offer and gradually turned into the China we see today. Making us look almost incompetent by comparison… differences aside. When Bacevich says we declare a “pause” and then sneak away and call it peace it’s not really how the confrontation ends because we still negotiate for part of our goal. It’s nice that war as we have known it is obsolete because it is pointless.

        Reply
  11. stan6565

    The author is too limited in his appraisals of USA wars, and the commentariat here too polite to expand on the list of the criminal wars waged by the USA since Vietnam.

    Iraq and Afghanistan were mentioned, yes, but there were also open wars of aggression against Yugoslavia, then Serbia, Grenada and Libya as well as clandestine wars against a good chunk of the globe, Israel/Palestine, Russian backyard countries, China, Venezuela, a swathe of Central American countries, and so on ad infinitum.

    USA’s holy grail of subjugating all oil producing countries in the world, except for those that can fight back, and purported payment to those unable to fight back, with readily printable papers of questionable value, is not a long term strategy. Not long term as in 10 or 20 more years. Then what? John Bolton or his clone on a cocktail of steroids and amphetamine, lobbing nuclear weapons indiscriminately all over the place?

    The Indispensable Nation.

    Reply

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