Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Quagmire, if you can make it 

I'm currently reading Mark W Woodruff's "Unheralded Victory: Who won the Vietnam War?". Highly recommended for history and military buffs, this book makes it painfully clear that the American forces, together with South Vietnamese army and other allies have convincingly won every military engagement of the war, from 1965 to the American withdrawal in 1973, in the process almost completely destroying Viet Cong and inflicting staggering casualties on the North Vietnamese Army. Vietnam War, sadly, is another example of conflict won militarily but lost politically.

In fact, the American armed forces have remained extremely lethal in recent conflicts. In Vietnam, for over 50 thousand Americans killed in action, 1.1 million North Vietnamese troops perished in fighting, the deadly ratio of some 20:1. This is quite similar to another American defeat, Mogadishu in 1993, where the engagement immortalised in "Black Hawk Down" cost the lives of less than 20 American soldiers but anywhere between 500 and 1,000 Somalis. Military actions in Iraq, both during the major combat operations phase as well as during significant anti-insurgency operations ever since, have resulted in similar ratios of enemy deaths. The United States armed forces continue to have the ability to significantly degrade the opponent's fighting capacity. It's what is made of military victories afterwards that's a problem.

When reading Woodruff's book I was struck by how much the Vietnam War resembles the current conflict in Iraq - not in the way that the left says it is - a military quagmire - but in the way the left wants to make it so. What we have in both cases is a highly successful military operation conducted under restrictive rules of engagement, resulting in serious defeat of enemy forces but portrayed by the media as an inconclusive stalemate at best, while at the same time the public support for the action is being white-anted by a small but influential section of the elite.

In the early 1970s, the Nixon Administration realists gave us "Peace with Honour" and condemned the whole of Vietnam to tyranny that continues to this day. Today, their intellectual heirs (if not the original players themselves; Kissinger, after all, is still alive and kicking) have their own designs on "Iraq without illusions." Let's hope and pray that this time around the rush to disengage from the "quagmire" will not again live an Asian country at the mercy of the enemies of freedom.


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