Friday, January 26, 2007

What is Victory?

Tony Lake's op-ed in the Globe today focuses on what has gone wrong in Iraq:

[He] asked why some who supported the war were arguing that we must persist because we could not afford another "defeated army " of the kind we had seen after Vietnam. Here is what I told him:

Their argument is wrong in fact and unintentionally unfair to our troops. Our Army was never defeated in Vietnam. They were not driven out of Vietnam. They won their battles. The fault lay not in their performance, but in their civilian leaders in Washington. They were given an unattainable goal. "Success" in Vietnam could only be achieved if we could leave behind a Vietnamese government that could survive on its own -- a political goal. And even after the longest war in our history, it was unattainable. Lacking enough support by its people, the government in Saigon became more and more dependent on the United States -- further limiting its political support among a highly nationalistic Vietnamese people.

Lake was Clinton's National Security Adviser, and served in Vietnam with the State Department.


Rob said...

I've always thought that the use of any of the lines of reasoning that try to make decisions based on morale of our troops pretty disingenuous. Ideally, you make decisions based on clear goals/acceptable risks to our citizens and then use the military to execute those decisions. You don't look at the state of the military and then use that to influence a decision for or against the war ... which would be a bit of the tail wagging the dog. Had some thoughts on that earlier in the year:

Matt Henshon said...

I agree that Lake's citing of the results of the Military Times poll is neither here nor there.

But your comments (both here at at the CBDR blog) seem consistent with Lake's main point. Back in 1/2006 you wrote:
"The American military is a professional fighting force that doesn't want thank you. What it does want is clear strategy provided by its civilian leadership. Thank you's don't prevent any more combat deaths; strategy can."

Isn't "strategy" (i) the setting of goals; (ii) identifying what is attainable to reach goals, and (iii) then figuring out how to make it happen?

Lake writes later in today's piece:
"But their subsequent mission has not been accomplished because they were given a mission impossible. As in Vietnam, our civilian leadership failed to understand the internal divisions and nationalism of a foreign society. You cannot fix another country's politics and resolve its internal fractures primarily through military means, coupled with floundering political, economic, and social programs that create as much dependency, corruption, and resentment as progress."

Finally, and in response to Lake, I think too much can be made of the "Vietnam analogy". The risks of the dominoes falling in SE Asia was, in retrospect, overestimated at the time; the risk of -- and effects of -- "dominoes falling" in the Middle East seems to have been underestimated by this Administration.

Rob said...

Agreed, I'm fairly inline with Lake's comments. I was responding more to the question his student asked regarding "another defeated army". I know the politicizing of the military and military service reaches all the way back to the Roman Empire and is going to be a reality, like it or not.