Mark Mardell is, predictably, reverting to type – what a surprise. He is now focussing his laser like mind on Afghanistan and – yes, you guessed it – Viet Nam keeps popping up.
“That’s what Obama will be worried about,” says Gary, adding that if a bad economy destroys presidencies, an unpopular war does the job even more effectively. “Vietnam” is simply shorthand for “quagmire”.
Gary is ABC’s chief pollster, Gary Langer (ABC of course – how did I know that Mardell would not be chatting to anyone from Fox News…)
He naturally delves deeper into the 1960s
This interesting article argues the world would be different if LBJ had listened to writers, not generals, and that Obama should be listening to free thinkers.
By writers he means Norman Mailer and the implication that military men are so blinkered in their thinking that they can only come up with the idea of more troops whereas if LBJ had only listened to Mailer rather than his generals then the US would have got out of Viet Nam in 1965 and everyone would have been much better off.
Mardell’s line is beginning to conform to the general BBC playbook on Afghanistan – it’s a quagmire, like Viet Nam, it can’t be won so let’s get out now and leave the place to the Taliban. As long as the Talib concentrate on executing dissidents and flogging women and closing schools for girls the Beeb will just look the other way – unless they start blowing up Buddhas – then that will be a real tragedy.
This theme was hammered home in a Newsnight piece several days ago when a book called “Lessons in Disaster” by Gordon M Goldstein was described as the current must read in the White House. It is said to describe the LBJ administration in 1965 being marched into an escalating war by a military viewing the conflict too narrowly to see the perils ahead. In other words it conforms to the accepted mythology that the whole venture was doomed from the start and the generals were wrong and Jane Fonda was right – and that, of course, fits fair and square into the BBC student union mindset.
But what Mardell and the BBC don’t mention (I wonder why?) is that, according to the WSJ, another book on Viet Nam is circulating widely in Washington – “A Better War” by Lewis Sorley. Originally published in 1999 it points out that the replacement of Gen. Westmoreland by Gen, Adams in 1968 was a big key turning point in the war.
Gen. Abrams abandoned the “search and destroy” tactics of his predecessor for a policy of protecting villages, and began to push for Vietnamese institutions to take over tasks once run by Americans — just the policies Gen. McChrystal has advocated in Afghanistan.
Sorley’s book on Abrams influenced the thinking of Gen Petraeus, the architect of the Iraq surge. It also argues that the final conquest of South Viet Nam by the communist North was definitely not a foregone conclusion.
By the time of the enemy’s 1972 Easter Offensive virtually all U.S. ground troops had been withdrawn. Supported by American airpower and naval gunfire, South Vietnam’s armed forces gallantly turned back an invasion from the North amounting to the equivalent of some 20 divisions, or about 200,000 troops.
Critics were quick to attribute the successful defense to American airpower. Abrams would have none of it. “The Vietnamese had to stand and fight,” he said. If they hadn’t done that, “ten times the [air] power we’ve got wouldn’t have stopped them.”
However in 1974 the new Democrat controlled Congress refused President Ford’s plea for extra support for South Viet Nam, instead voting for deep cuts in military aid. The North Vietnamese, always concerned about a resumption of US bombing, took this as a green light and launched a massive invasion in 1975. Even in the face of this onslaught some ARVN units stood firm but with the USA’s cut and run the end was inevitable. Sorley’s premise is that with longer term US support South Vietnam might well have been able to resist the Communists and developed into a viable state.
Unfortunately, just as the US military had worked out how to counter the communist insurgency, the politicians in Washington ignored the evidence and gave up the fight.
It’s clear that the BBC had made up its mind about Afghanistan, just as it did about Iraq and the Falklands. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that they are as wrong about the first as they were about the other two.