Friday, July 01, 2005

Cutting and Running

I've addressed this topic before here in regards to some comments made by Senator Chuck Hagel, but a recent comment by Alice over at this post at Libertopia has driven me to revisit it.

The subject is cutting and running; pulling up shop and pulling out. As Alice alludes to, it has happened relatively few times in American history because Americans, for better or worse, love a winner. We love to win and won't accept defeat. Our record in military action bears that out. We are 11-2-2, with the losses being Vietnam and Somalia, and the ties being Korea and the War of 1812. Is this pigheadedness responsible for needless deaths? Alice would have us believe that it is, implying that if we had left Vietnam earlier, many lives would have been saved, which is a valid point. However, an even more valid point is that the Vietnam War could have been ended in 1965, with minimal U.S. troop involvement. To digress for a moment, the reason Vietnam turned into the quagmire that it was is not competence on the part of the enemy, or the failure of U.S. tactics and weapons. The issue is the failure of our strategic vision due to political interference by McNamara and LBJ. Through the continued application of airpower in the North, the Vietnamese could have been deterred from ever escalating the war. This hypothesis is borne out by the effect the 1972 Christmas bombings had on the North. But that seems like a topic for another post; possibly to be discussed in the comments if you wish.

To get back on topic, the point here is that using Vietnam as a posterchild for the "get out now and save lives" argument is a false one, as Vietnam still could have been won at any time up until 1975 if we had simply been willing to apply airpower for an extended period of time. The fact that airpower was never used is a failure of political and strategic means, not tactical and military. The bottom line is that yes, getting out early would have "saved lives," in the literal sense. But it still has the same end result: the failure of U.S. foreign policy in SE Asia, the burgeoning of Soviet power abroad, the loss of credibility of the U.S. with our allies, and most importantly, the abandonment of millions to re-education camps and firing squads.

So you ask, why did LBJ conduct the war this way? After all, if Americans supposedly love a winner, why would one conduct a war in such a way that would make it more difficult to win? One major reason, obviously, was the strength of the "anti-war" movement. I wonder, do those who opposed U.S. victory in SE Asia truly understand the ramifications of their actions? I doubt it. History provides a sobering lesson for those who wish to support the troops by brining them home...NOW. Their "support" of the troops in this way only caused the soldiers' sacrifices to be in vain.

But, you say, Vietnam isn't a good example. South Vietnam didn't have a government supported by the people, North Vietnam is stronger than you make them out to be, you are simply an idiot who still believes in Douhet and Mitchell when it comes to airpower. (I do, but that's a story for another day; for that matter, $5 and a cookie to any of my readers, other than the sky jocks, who know who Douhet and Mitchell were.) Anyway, while I disagree with those statements, I say fair enough and offer up exhibit B.

Mogadishu, Somalia, 1993. As many of you well know, the country has been consumed by famine. Warlords rule, and use food shipments as a weapon. A U.N. force is inserted, led by 20,000 Marines, to restore order and allow aid to pass, unrestricted, to the people. Following success, the Marines are withdrawn, and the warlords resume their activities. U.S. special forces are deployed to curtail the warlords and try to get the country to return to some semblance of civilization. The events depicted in the excellent book and movie Black Hawk Down happened, and the U.S. withdrew all forces within weeks.

The reason I bring this up is not the massive geopolitical ramifications the withdrawal had; it had none. Our involvement was of a strictly humanitarian nature. The point here is to illustrate a serious problem with the "support the troops by brining them home" argument. To digress, again, for a minute, I was watching a documentary on the events of that October day. At the end, several of the interviewees were asked if they were mad for the deaths of their comrades. They all answered, to a man, that the deaths of their buddies would not have been as painful if they had meant something. By cutting and running before our mission was completed, we spat upon the graves of those who died attempting that mission. We are telling their families that their sons', husbands' and fathers' deaths were in vain, that their sacrifice meant nothing. That in all honesty, the fact that they fought and died in a country far from home didn't change anything; they could not have gone, and the end result would have been the same.

Simply put, think about this the next time you hear some one say that they support the troops but don't support their mission. How would you feel if someone told you that they support you individually, as an employee, but that the work you do is crap and the company you work for is evil?

Reasonable people can have differences about U.S. policy in Iraq; reasonable people can have differences about whether we should have invaded in the first place. But you cannot claim to support the troops without supporting their current mission.