President Bush Fails to Learn
the Lessons of Vietnam!
By Robert Freedland
November 23, 2006
President Bush visited Hanoi last week as part of a three-day
Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
Our President was asked about the "lessons of Vietnam"
in relation to our involvement in Iraq.
"Yes, I mean, one lesson
is, that we tend to want there to be instant success in the world,
and the task in Iraq is going to take a while,''' he said. "But
I would make it beyond just Iraq. I think the great struggle
we're going to have is between radicals and extremists versus
people who want to live in peace, and that Iraq is a part of
the struggle. And it's just going to take a long period of time
to -- for the ideology that is hopeful, and that is an ideology
of freedom, to overcome an ideology of hate.
"Yet, the world that we live in today is one where they
want things to happen immediately,'' he said. "And it's
hard work in Iraq We'll succeed unless we quit.''
Were these the real lessons
That we could succeed "unless we quit"? Was this the
extent of his understanding? That our ideology of "freedom"
was struggling to overcome an ideology of "hate"?
Robert McNamara was Secretary of Defense during most of the Johnson
Administration, and was involved in the development and implementation
of Vietnam policy for this country.
In 1995, years before our current involvement in Iraq, Secretary
McNamara summarized his understanding of the lessons and the
reasons behind our failure in Vietnam.
"The important point is
the decision was ours, not Eisenhower's. And we were wrong. We
made the decision; he didn't make the decision. And to demonstrate
how and why we went wrong, I review in key detail the key decisions
that we faced over the ensuing seven years. And I discuss each
of them. What the alternatives were, how we evaluated the alternatives,
why we acted as we did, what might have happened if we'd chosen
a different alternative. And it's from that review that I identify
our failures, and it's from that review that I draw from the
lessons, which I believe will be applicable and relevant to the
21st century. Now, I'm going to go through. There are eleven
"The first point is we
misjudged them, and I think we're misjudging today the geo-political
intentions of our adversaries. In that case, it was the geo-political
intention to North Vietnam and the Viet Cong supported by China
and the Soviet Union. And we exaggerated the dangers to the U.S.
of those adversaries. And I think we're continuing to do that."
Perhaps instead of the "domino
theory" , we are frightened into supporting this war
with the lie that we will have to fight them here if we aren't
fighting them there!
Cheney frequently points out:
"We can't guarantee there
won't be another one, obviously, but we've gone over four years
now. And I think it's been because we've been fighting them on
their turf instead of having to fight them here on the streets
of our own cities."
"Second mistake. We viewed
the people and leaders of South Vietnam in terms of our own experience.
We're still doing that. We saw them as having a thirst for a
determination to fight for freedom and democracy. We totally
misjudged the political forces within that country."
Again, we have made the same mistake. As President
Bush himself stated after the last Iraq elections:
"Our efforts to advance
freedom in Iraq are driven by our vital interests and our deepest
beliefs. America was founded on the principle that all men are
created equal, and we believe that the people of the Middle East
desire freedom as much as we do. History has shown that free
nations are peaceful nations. And as Iraqi democracy takes hold,
Iraqi citizens will have a stake in a common and peaceful future."
Do Iraqis really believe that
all men are created equal? Are we reading into Iraq our own values?
The answers are obvious.
Again, back to McNamara:
"Thirdly, we underestimated the power of nationalism to
motivate people. In this case, the North Vietnamese and the Viet
Cong. Then we underestimate the power of ... (inaudible) to motivate
a people to fight and die for their people."
"Fourthly, our misjudgments
of friend and foe alike reflected our profound ignorance of a
history, culture and politics of the people in that area, and
the personalities and habits of their leaders."
As reported on RAW
"In his new book, The
End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created A War Without
End, Galbraith, the son of the late economist John Kenneth Galbraith,
claims that American leadership knew very little about the nature
of Iraqi society and the problems it would face after the overthrow
of Saddam Hussein.
A year after his "Axis
of Evil" speech before the U.S. Congress, President Bush
met with three Iraqi Americans, one of whom became postwar Iraq
s first representative to the United States. The three described
what they thought would be the political situation after the
fall of Saddam Hussein. During their conversation with the President,
Galbraith claims, it became apparent to them that Bush was unfamiliar
with the distinction between Sunnis and Shiites.
Galbraith reports that the
three of them spent some time explaining to Bush that there are
two different sects in Islam--to which the President allegedly
responded, I thought the Iraqis were Muslims!
"Fifth, forsaken lesson. We failed then as we have since
to recognize the limitations of modern high technology military
equipment and forces in doctrine in confronting unconventional
highly motivated people's movements."
Baum wrote in the New Yorker in January, 2005:
"In Iraq, the Army s marquee high-tech weapons are often
sidelined while the enemy kills and maims Americans with bombs
wired to garage-door openers or doorbells. Even more important,
the Army is facing an enemy whose motivation it doesn t understand.
I don t think there s one single person in the Army or the intelligence
community that can break down the demographics of the enemy we
re facing, an Airborne captain named Daniel Morgan told me.
You can t tell whether you re dealing with a former Baathist,
a common criminal, a foreign terrorist, or devout believers.
"Sixthly, we failed and we came damn close to making
this mistake in connection with the Gulf War. We failed to draw
Congress and the American people into a full and frank discussion
and debate of the pros and cons of large scale U.S. military
"And seventh, after the action got underway, and unanticipated
events forced us off our planned course, we fail to retain popular
support, in part, because we hadn't explained fully what was
happening and why we had to do what we did."
The support for the Iraq war continues to plummet. As
reported four days ago:
"Washington | Americans' approval of President Bush's handling
of Iraq has dropped to the lowest level ever, increasing the
pressure on the commander in chief to find a way out after nearly
four years of war.
The latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll found just 31 percent
approval on his handling of Iraq, days after voters registered
their displeasure at the polls by defeating Republicans across
the board and handing control of Congress to the Democrats. The
previous low in AP-Ipsos polling was 33 percent in both June
Erosion of support for Bush's Iraq policy was most pronounced
among conservatives and Republican men - critical supporters
who propelled Bush to the White House and a second term in 2004."
Back to McNamara:
"Eight, we didn't recognize that neither our people nor
our leaders are on a mission. To this day we seem to act in the
world as though we know what's right for everybody. We think
we're on a mission. We aren't. We weren't then and we aren't
today. And where our own security is at stake, I'm prepared to
say act unilaterally, militarily. Where our security is not at
stake, not directly at stake, narrowly defined, then I believe
that our judgement of what is in another people's interest, should
be put to the test of open discussion, open debate, and international
forum. And we shouldn't act unilaterally militarily under any
circumstances. And we shouldn't act militarily in conjunction
with others until that debate has taken place. We don't have
the God-given right to shape every nation to our own image."
"Ninth, we didn't hold to the principal that U.S. military
action other than in response to direct ... (inaudible) to our
own security should be carried out only in conjunction with international
forces who are going to share in the cost. And I don't mean financial
cost, although I certainly include financial cost, but I mean
primarily the blood cost, the blood risk."
"Tenth, we failed to recognize that in international affairs,
as in other aspects of life, there may be problems which there
are no immediate solutions, certainly no military solutions."
"And finally underlying many of these ten mistakes lay our
failure to organize the top echelons of the executive branch
to deal effectively with the extraordinarily complex range of
problems that we were facing. Political issues, military issues."
No Mr. President. The lesson of Vietnam was far more complex
than we can succeed if we don't quit.
The lessons include not trying to impose our way of life on others
who might not share our cultural values. Includes understanding
what those cultures are before we get there. Not assuming that
high tech can defeat low tech as we have learned from the deaths
from IED's. Not lying to Americans about WMD's or 'fixing the
facts' to get us involved in the conflict. Not attacking with
our military when we were not militarily at risk. And maintaining
the communication and cooperation with Congress to maintain support
for this effort.
No Mr. President, our failure is much due to your failures. And
Americans continue to pay the ultimate cost.
We need a new direction in America.
La Crosse, WI
Received November 22, 2006 - Published November 23, 2006
About: "I am a physician in Wisconsin also concerned about
the political welfare as much as the medical health of Americans."
Note: Comments published
on Viewpoints are the opinions of the writer
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Sitnews.
Send A Letter -------Read
E-mail the Editor at
Stories In The News