30 October 2009

Advice on Afghan Strategy

For my recent post on the Cuba embargo I looked up the Vietnam War on Wikipedia to see what the death toll was (or what it was reported to be). I could not resist skipping down to a section near the end called Effect on the United States. Almost the entire section is composed of quotations from senior US Commanders about the lessons of Vietnam. It's a shame that they did not refer back to Wikipedia for advice before heading to Afghanistan, they might have remembered saying these kinds of things and avoided the temptation of the 'dangerous illusion' (emphasis mine). Decide for yourself:

"As General Maxwell Taylor, one of the principal architects of the war, noted "first, we didn't know ourselves. We thought that we were going into another Korean war, but this was a different country. Secondly, we didn't know our South Vietnamese allies... And we knew less about North Vietnam. Who was Ho Chi Minh? Nobody really knew. So, until we know the enemy and know our allies and know ourselves, we'd better keep out of this kind of dirty business. It's very dangerous."[182][183]
Some have suggested that "the responsibility for the ultimate failure of this policy [America's withdrawal from Vietnam] lies not with the men who fought, but with those in Congress..."[184] Alternatively, the official history of the United States Army noted that "tactics have often seemed to exist apart from larger issues, strategies, and objectives. Yet in Vietnam the Army experienced tactical success and strategic failure... The... Vietnam War('s)... legacy may be the lesson that unique historical, political, cultural, and social factors always impinge on the military... Success rests not only on military progress but on correctly analyzing the nature of the particular conflict, understanding the enemy's strategy, and assessing the strengths and weaknesses of allies. A new humility and a new sophistication may form the best parts of a complex heritage left to the Army by the long, bitter war in Vietnam."[185]

U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger wrote in a secret memo to President Gerald Ford that "in terms of military tactics, we cannot help draw the conclusion that our armed forces are not suited to this kind of war. Even the Special Forces who had been designed for it could not prevail."[186] Even Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara concluded that "the achievement of a military victory by U.S. forces in Vietnam was indeed a dangerous illusion."[187]

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