Will Congress Lose Afghanistan Like It Lost Vietnam?

As you prepare for your imminent deployment to Afghanistan, I guess it’s inevitable that I’m thinking of that time forty five years ago that I prepared for my deployment to Vietnam as a young lieutenant of Marines. We’ve talked about the similarities in our respective wars, but there’s a lot more I could say. The concurrent publication of my Politically Incorrect Guide to the Vietnam War has sharpened our discussions and my ability to comment on your questions.

First, it is critically important for Americans to understand the true history of our involvement.  Most important is the fact that the U.S. military fought brilliantly and defeated the Communist aggressors in Vietnam.  Yes, that’s right.  We won the war.  And then we saw the Congress of the United States throw away that victory by abrogating our obligations to continue support of the South Vietnamese.

Why is that so important? Simply because that fact illuminates the only way we can similarly lose in Afghanistan. You will not be defeated on the battlefield. Of that, there is no question.

But, as in Vietnam, the administration has all but eliminated the phrase “win the war” from its rhetoric about the conflict. As the administrations prior to President Nixon did in the Vietnam War, the Obama administration will continue to confuse and dissemble, not trusting the American people’s wisdom, will and judgment.

The Obama team is —  like the Johnson administration did so often — debating the very definition of winning and even question that possibility.

However, although there are complicated and sometimes conflicting elements of the war in Afghanistan, the fact is that America (and the West) cannot abandon that part of the world to hundreds of thousands if not millions of West-hating combatants who will have access to increasingly destructive weapons, recruits and, yes, atomic weapons. Some of the latter are already in place in Pakistan, a nation whose future is very much at risk. 

We are not in a war against Islam. But we are at war with an Islam-derived ideology and – if we’re truthful about it — not just the terrorists but the nations that finance, arm and comprehensively support them. And — facts are what they are — those nations and terrorist groups are almost without exception, Islamic.

The terrorists and the terrorist-sponsoring nations believe that a non-conventional war can be fought successfully against the greatest military force ever assembled. And why wouldn’t they believe that, given the timid and hesitant proclamations coming out of Washington?

The recently deceased leftist ‘intellectual’ Howard Zinn, in his People’s History of the United States, begins the chapter on the Vietnam War thusly: “From 1964 to 1972, the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the history of the world made a maximum military effort, with everything short of atomic bombs, to defeat a nationalist revolutionary movement in a tiny, peasant county — and failed.”  The undeniable truth is that the U.S. used a faulty strategy far short of a maximum effort and succeeded overwhelmingly.

The considerable gap between those two statements — failure and success — is important and that’s why I wrote the book. And that’s why the American people need to know what happened between the end of 1972 (really early 1973 when the North Vietnamese surrendered) and 1975 when South Vietnam was lost. We cannot let it happen again.

I recently read a brilliant book by David Kilcullen, The Accidental Guerrilla; Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One. I hope you will have a chance to read it. In it, he outlines the “Islamic Way of War.”

Simply put, the basics are “terrorism against the population, subversion, economic warfare (there is no doubt that America fights expensive wars and even we have practical limits), propaganda, and hit and run tactics.” He also quotes the Chinese ‘rules of conventional war’ which calls for combat by electronic, diplomatic, cyber, terrorist, political, economic and propaganda means. Both methods (completely taken from the North Vietnamese/Communist playbook, although updated) are designed to overload, deceive, and exhaust the United States. Kilcullen also restates the first rule of non-conventional warfare — there are no rules.

What a discomforting paradox the U.S. finds itself in. In the first half of the past century we sent our troops abroad praying that they had the wherewithal, courage and stamina to conquer our enemies. Now our troops leave our shores praying that those left at home can find the courage and stamina to support their almost certain battlefield successes.

So I hope that in some small way my book can help alert Americans to the true path of defeat. That it can alert them to the only way our enemies can hope to succeed against us — the loss of heart, determination to do what’s right and necessary, and the failure of leadership such as that which resulted in the shameful forfeiture of blood-won victory in Vietnam.