C.P. Snow makes some comments in his book on science and government that seem to me to apply to aspects of our lives today.
Be wary, Snow writes, of "the euphoria of gadgets" combined with "the euphoria of secrecy." He explains, "anyone who is drunk with gadgets is a menace. Any choice he makes -- particularly if it involves comparison with other countries -- is more likely to be wrong than right. The higher he climbs, the more he is going to mislead his own country." This made me think of some of the goofier programs in ballistic missile defense.
He also takes a pop at American exceptionalism: "it often seems that Americans endanger themselves most when they get possessed by a sense of their own uniqueness."
By Christopher Mewett
Best Defense guest columnist
1) In re the question about "search and destroy" versus "clear/sweep and hold"
General Westmoreland himself would admit that his efforts to substitute a less charged tactical description never quite took hold. "Search and destroy" was one element of a three-phase operational concept detailed in September 1965 in Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) Directive 525-4, Tactics and Techniques for the Employment of US Forces in the Republic of Vietnam.* Here's Westmoreland's simplified recollection of it, from a 1991 panel set up by the LBJ Library:
Then the third phase was what we called search and destroy, and that was terribly distorted by the press. They tried to make the point that we were searching for enemy and destroying civilian property, which was not the case at all. "Search and destroy" was a poor choice of words, and when it was distorted I tried to change it to "reconnaissance in force" or "sweeping operations," but that terminology didn't catch on, "search and destroy" was so ingrained in the press and in everybody else. Search and destroy meant that you were trying to search out enemy camps and training and assembly areas, using ARVN [Army of the Republic of Vietnam] and American forces if appropriate to destroy the enemy's war-making capability. Search and destroy was not a strategy, as some of the journalists called it, it was a tactic. (Gittinger 83-84)
Gen. William DePuy served as Westmoreland's J-3 in 1964-65 and was the primary author of MACV Directive 525-4. He had also been an architect of the Hop Tac program in 1964, in which a similar approach had been laid out for ARVN to defeat the insurgency (prior to the introduction of significant numbers of U.S. combat troops). He had this to say when interviewed in 1979:
In the outer ring of our target [DePuy used the imagery of a pacified, government-controlled area as the bullseye of a target rather than an expanding oil spot] we provided for an effort by the elite and more effective elements of ARVN to operate aggressively against the [Viet Cong] Main Force units, keeping them on the run, and destroying them whenever possible. This was the origin of the term, "Search and Destroy." It was a perfectly logical description of the function -- search for and destroy the Viet Cong Main Force units. Unfortunately, television coverage of a Marine putting his cigarette lighter to a thatched roof in a small hamlet turned "Search and Destroy" into a dirty word. (Brownlee and Mullen 130-131)
Something that's often misunderstood or misrepresented about "search and destroy" is that it was not a synonym for clearing operations. It was instead intended as a separate effort to take offensive action against enemy base areas, staging grounds, and supply caches -- a sort of harassment and interdiction in force. This was an approach that was calibrated to the unique operational environment of South Vietnam from at least 1963 forward: The presence of main-force Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army (PAVN) regular formations in the country and the existence of ample untouchable sanctuary meant that ARVN and U.S. forces absolutely had to undertake offensive and spoiling operations in order for the village war -- the liquidation of insurgent infrastructure -- and pacification to have any hope of success.
*525-4 actually laid out seven "military tasks which must be performed to fulfill the strategy" it outlined. The additional four -- defense of bases and lines of communication; provision of reserve and reaction forces; provision of air support in support of all other tasks; and conduct of maritime operations in connection with all other tasks -- can be viewed as supporting activities. The big three: "conduct offensive operations against VC forces and bases"; "conduct clearing operations on a systematic basis to purge specific areas of VC elements as a prelude to pacification"; and "provide permanent security for areas earmarked for pacification" (Carland 559).
2) On the issue of Abrams and big operations
Recognizing all caveats about the value of statistics, here are some statistics: According to an analysis done in 1973, the average number of U.S. battalion-days per month spent on large-unit operations (not defined, but presumably battalion-sized or larger) increased from 3,328 in the last year of Westmoreland's command to 4,557 in the first year of Abrams's, remained high at 3,648 in the mid-1969 to mid-1970 reporting period, and only then declined to 2,225 and 2,215 in the 70/71 and 71/72 reporting periods, respectively (Bendix in Birtle 1230).
3) On supposed lessons of Ia Drang and how they informed future strategy and operational approach
Charles argues in his blog post that after Ia Drang, "each side came away believing that the war's outcome would depend on force-on-force encounters." This is a very, very broad conclusion, and prompts the reader to wonder which people on "each side" are meant to have believed such a thing. It's certainly true that big-unit war had a part in each side's vision for how the war might be brought to a successful conclusion, but this statement misrepresents the level of consensus among decision-makers on both sides and fails to address exactly how each side imagined that "force-on-force encounters" would contribute to victory.
Ia Drang may have validated some tactical and operational concepts, but Andrew Krepinevich was certainly wrong when he wrote in The Army and Vietnam that American officers drew the simple conclusion that "standard operations were working; therefore, no alternative strategies needed to be explored" (169, cited in Daddis 245). The very reason the 1st Cavalry Division was sent to the Central Highlands was to assuage Westmoreland's concerns that the PAVN 325th and 304th Divisions (parts of which were already in the South, with other formations in Laotian staging areas) would drive eastward through II Corps and split South Vietnam in two. The military situation in late summer and early fall of 1965 was one of near-crisis. There was, as yet, no such thing as "standard operations." The Airmobile Division had arrived to blunt the enemy offensive and help avert the feared collapse of the ARVN and the government of Vietnam (GVN). No one -- not Westmoreland, not McNamara, not the Joint Chiefs -- thought they would win the war.
This should be evident from a message Admiral Sharp, Westmoreland's immediate superior and commander-in-chief, Pacific, sent to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in January 1966 -- less than two months after the fighting finished at Ia Drang. Adm. Sharp noted that the bombing campaign against North Vietnam had shown little sign of damaging Hanoi's will to continue supporting the Southern insurgency, calling it "essential, therefore, that the vital relationship of military operations against [North Vietnam] to a coherent overall strategy for Vietnam be recognized" (FRUS 1964-1968, Vol. IV, Doc. 17). He went on to say that operations in the preceding months had made it clear that the enemy was willing to suffer incredible casualties "as long as success appeared possible," and that Hanoi seemed to base its chances of success on the certainty that U.S. efforts could not long endure.
"Viewed in this context then," he wrote, "Hanoi may not have been idly boasting when they claimed that Operation Starlite, near Chu Lai, and the battle of Ia Drang were actually victories for their side. Unfortunately, this could be true in a strategic sense unless our strategy makes full use of our superior air power to reduce casualties and foreshorten the time required to achieve our limited objectives." (Emphasis mine.) It is evident from this and other contemporary assessments that senior American military officers did not simply believe that victory would come as the result of a succession of Ia Drangs.
Nor was this precisely the view from Hanoi, though this is much closer to the truth. PAVN histories argue that the campaign in the Central Highlands was mounted to draw American and ARVN forces into battle and annihilate significant numbers of them, a goal that would have been consistent with what we now know about the communists' strategic concept during that time period (Duiker, Pribbenow). Le Duan confirmed in December 1965 his belief that victory for the Southern revolution would come through smashing the RVNAF, toppling the GVN, and compelling the United States to concede defeat. "We advocate fighting until the puppet army has essentially disintegrated and until we have destroyed an important portion of the American army so that the American imperialist will to commit aggression will be shattered and they are forced to recognize our conditions," he told the 12th Plenum of the Vietnamese Workers' Party's Central Committee (Pribbenow trans.).
North Vietnamese accounts claim that the intent of the broader Plei Me campaign was "to deal a painful blow to the puppet army in order to lure American troops in so that we could kill them" (Military History Institute of Vietnam 158). But it's also true that the major tactical actions at Ia Drang were not in fact the result of a trap set for the Americans, but rather a chance encounter in which the PAVN units were surprised by arriving U.S. forces. Vietnamese military analysis of the battle found that "NVA [PAVN] commanders had seriously underestimated their opponent" and shocked by the fearsome firepower and mobility of the American cavalry. (There's no small irony, recalling French failures at Dien Bien Phu, in reading how the North Vietnamese commanders had thought it impossible for artillery to be brought in support in such close and difficult terrain.) All three PAVN regimental commanders involved in the Plei Me campaign were subject to official criticism for tactical mistakes and leadership failures (Pribbenow 96).
In other words, though both sides were self-critical and learned lessons from the engagement, Ia Drang didn't exactly serve as a tactical or strategic template for the communists, either. Just a few months after the battle, a captured letter from a senior leader in the North (Anh Sau, a pseudonym attributed to Nguyen Chi Thanh, Le Duc Tho, or sometimes Le Duan) mentioned the continuing need to attack both U.S. and ARVN forces, but emphasized the latter: the primary objective, the letter said, was "to basically annihilate the puppet army" (Duiker 244). The message from on high continued to be destroy the ARVN, and kill Americans when you get the chance.
The broader question of how American and communist strategies interacted and impacted one another is something I'm hoping to illuminate in longer form, so for now I'll leave it at that.
Christopher Mewett is a military analyst, strategic planner, and Army support contractor. He studied history at Texas A&M and did graduate work at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland. His views are solely his own, and do not represent the U.S. government or his employer.
Lt. Don Gomez, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest columnist
I served twice as an enlisted paratrooper in Iraq and it was that experience, of being in a country we knew so little about, which led me to separate from the Army and go to school for Middle East Studies. I studied Arabic in Morocco and Egypt while an undergrad and then went to London for graduate school. I spent a year there interviewing aging Iraqi veterans in seedy London pubs for my graduate dissertation on Iraqi military perceptions of the Iran-Iraq war and the experience of the Iraqi veteran.
I've since rejoined the Army and feel much better prepared to be dropped into a foreign country -- especially in the Middle East -- and "do the right thing." I make a concerted effort to read the news about Iraq -- however dismal -- to see what's going on there precisely because I have spent a significant amount of time on the ground and back home thinking about it. This past year, on my blog which is named after a speech Saddam Hussein gave during the Iran-Iraq War, I've been writing about my experience in Iraq in 2003, which has been both rewarding and terribly painful.
And I'm not the only one. A friend of mine who worked on the controversial Human Terrain System left Iraq and got his Ph.D. in Middle East Studies and has recently finished his book, The Death of Mehdi Army. Over the last several years I've met many people who have served and have had the same or similar experiences. There have been numerous articles written on the influx of post-9/11 veterans rushing to Middle East studies. FP's Marc Lynch wrote about it in 2009, arguing that the influx of post-9/11 veterans may bring more emphasis on Iraq, which has been largely ignored in Middle East Studies.
So while certainly there are those who are done with it and want nothing to do with Iraq, there are others, like myself, who feel more engaged than ever. Whether I like it or not, my existence is forever entwined with Iraq, and I choose not to ignore it.
Lt. Don Gomez is a prior service Army officer currently assigned to Fort Hood, TX. This article represents his personal views and are not necessarily those of the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, or the U.S. government.
AZHER SHALLAL/AFP/Getty Images
So asks my smart friend, Navy Capt. Henry Hendrix. It makes sense the amount of damage caused by storms is increasing (though not necessarily their frequency or intensity). He wrote this in an email exchange Tuesday that I am quoting, of course, with his permission:
I have been suggesting for about five years now that we ask the Philippines to allow us to dock a hospital ship there with her non-medical caretaker crew. This would allow the ship to cut its response time to the disasters that predominate in the region. The medical crew could be flown out and the caretaker crew could ensure that the ship would not be trapped in port when a storm hits. I also think that we should suggest basing a squadron of unarmed JHSVs there to aide with intra-theater logistical lift. I think we could get the Philippine government to agree to both of these suggestions and would create the core of an influence squadron there in the P.I.
So suggested "Outlaw9" in a recent comment. Very interesting. I hadn't heard of this before. I knew SF trainers were active, but did that become SF shooters? Anyone got more?
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Earlier this week, FP's own Elias Groll wrote an in-depth profile about intrepid reporter Robert Young Pelton and his plan to track down the notorious African warlord Joseph Kony. Apparently, though, it's not just Pelton who's going all-in on going after Kony. In his Washington Post article, "Kony 2013: U.S. quietly intensifies effort to help African troops capture infamous warlord," Rajiv Chandrasekaran reports that U.S. forces are sending in tracker dogs:
African troops and their U.S. advisers are also being aided by two American philanthropists, who are paying $120,000 a month for six Belgian Malinois tracking dogs and their handlers. The dogs have accompanied soldiers on patrols and raids. In September, they were helicoptered into the rebel camp near Garamba to assist in the search for fleeing Kony loyalists.
The dog teams are funded by Howard G. Buffett, the eldest son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, and Shannon Sedgwick Davis, an activist from Texas who heads the Bridgeway Foundation, the charitable arm of Bridgeway Capital Management, a large investment firm that devotes half of its after-tax profit to human rights causes.
The United States used tracker dogs with tremendous success during the Vietnam War. Navigating the tangled brush of the jungle was no easy task; not only did the dogs help keep their handlers and the men who followed behind them on a safe path, but patrols that were accompanied by dog teams were almost always able to avoid being ambushed. And though it's a less-utilized skill deployed by the military's dog program nowadays, tracker dog teams still offer the same advantages, especially in a manhunt scenario. I've followed behind a tracker dog team and watched SF dog teams train. Their skills are unparalleled.
So, the question in this instance really is not "Why would Special Forces employ dog teams on the Kony manhunt mission?" but, "Why wouldn't they?"
In a brief exchange over Facebook, I asked Pelton what he thought about sending these elite dogs in on the hunt for Kony.
"Obviously I have seen these dogs in action," he wrote. "But I have also seen that part of Africa ... These well trained dogs are typically used in close encounters (flushing a suspect out of a hiding place, rather than across hundreds of miles of swamps, grasslands and forests.) They are good, but nothing replaces HUMINT and man trackers." He added: "The Special Forces are the best of the best... but they are also restricted by a number of rules, resources and just the vast scope of the region. I wish them luck!"
And so do we.
Rebecca Frankel is special projects editor at Foreign Policy.
Rajiv Chandrasekaran had a very good look at U.S. special operators pursuing warlord Joseph Kony. Well worth your reading.
But in it, my hackles were raised by this comment from an American diplomat:
"Is Joseph Kony a direct threat to the United States? No," said Scott DeLisi, the U.S. ambassador to Uganda. "He's not targeting U.S. citizens. He's not targeting U.S. embassies. He's not al-Qaeda."
Instead, DeLisi said, Kony merits U.S. involvement because his malign behavior runs counter to "our core values."
"Why is the United States engaged in the world, for God's sake?" he said. "If we are true to what we believe in as Americans ... we need to get rid of Joseph Kony."
Justifications like that make me sympathetic to the Bacevichians who want us to pull back. If the U.S. mission in the world is to get rid the world of evil, we are going to be fighting for a loooong time. Among other things, that likely will undermine our nation. So by trying to enforce American values abroad we may lose them at home.
Col. Henry Gole, U.S. Army (Ret.)
Best Defense guest author
But for the diagnosis of diabetes in 1939, Smith's name would probably be as familiar to the public today as, for example, Bradley, Clark, Stilwell, Collins, Wedemeyer, perhaps, according to one of them, even Eisenhower. He was a good soldier, a very good writer, and one of the last of the "establishment" families, in the Cabot, Roosevelt, Acheson tradition.
When the ink was still drying on my biography of General William E. DePuy, the historians and archivists at MHI (the Military History Institute, Carlisle, PA) encouraged me to read the papers of Truman Smith and the unpublished memoir of his wife, Katharine Alling Hollister Smith, My Life. I did. I was hooked. His writings -- personal, academic, and official -- are the very model of lucidity. The U.S. Army encourages its writers to be clear, concise, and complete. He is.
Kay Smith is expansive, colorful, often wrong, but always fun to read. Here is a sample of how her admiration for all things French turned to venom. The French "are the most immoral and dirty-minded lot I ever saw." (She is just warming up.) "Her dress up to her knees belied her face, which clearly not that of a young woman.... Her brilliantly painted face beamed coquettishly at the tiny French officer who was nobly dancing with her. And dancing under difficulties, for that expansive bosom completely eclipsed his view of the ballroom." That's as irresistible as a second martini -- about which she also has something to say.
Other sources, few as deliciously presented as Kay's, also fell in my lap. Perhaps that's why it took me four years to write a book I told my wife would take a year or a year and a half.
In 1919, Smith conducted negotiations with German civil authorities on behalf of the Office of Civil Affairs of the Army in Coblenz under Colonel I.L. Hunt. On one occasion he had a long talk with Konrad Adenauer, mayor of Cologne and future chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. Smith enjoyed working with the Germans, but he became increasingly critical of French vindictiveness in the occupation of Germany. In a May 8, 1919 letter to his wife Kay, he said of treaty-making: "Evidently some would-be humorist at Paris thought this war wasn't enough and decided we should enjoy another trip to Europe in fifteen years or so to help poor embattled France again.... France, that pure savior of civilization, is certainly a sorry spectacle today." And, in a letter of May 11, after studying the treaty terms: "If Wilson could have prevailed, it would have been far different.... We have no place here amongst these racial hatreds. Let us go home.... Certainly Germany will bide her time until the first dissension appears in the Entente, and then..."
Smith served in the American Embassy in Berlin from 1920 to 1924. Ambassador Alanson B. Houghton sent him to Munich to talk to Prince Ruprecht to determine the strength of the separatist movement in Bavaria; to Erich von Ludendorff to determine his political ambitions; and to Adolf Hitler to get a sense of his National Socialist Labor Party. On November 20, 1922, Smith became the first American official to interview Hitler. He met Hitler in a house at Georgen Strasse 42, Munich, a shabby place. Smith wrote, "A marvelous demagogue. I have rarely listened to such a logical and fanatical man. His power over the mob must be immense." Smith said Hitler's party was the Bavarian counterpart to the Italian Fascisti. Among the major points Smith reported were: anti-Semitism, parliament must go, overthrow socialists and communists, win labor to nationalistic ideals, monarchy is dead, establish national dictatorship.
Smith used Charles Lindbergh to penetrate the Luftwaffe in 1936 and reported detailed findings to G-2, War Department General Staff. Smith was thoroughly familiar with the German army but keenly aware of his ignorance regarding the rapidly improving German air force. Knowing that the Nazis wanted to show the world the progress made since their assumption of power in 1933, Smith made a deal. Lindbergh would make an appearance at the Olympic games in Berlin in 1936; in return, Smith and his assistant attaché for air would accompany Lindbergh on visits to aviation research, production, test, and operational facilities. Lindbergh sat in the cockpits or flew all of the aircraft with which Germany entered WW II. This great intel coup was entirely the result of Smith's initiative.
A routine physical before Smith's promotion to lieutenant colonel in 1939 revealed diabetes. By Army regulation he should have been medically retired. But Chief of Staff Marshall retained the officer best informed about Germany -- and a first-rate strategist -- in his G-2 shop. Marshall kept Smith's medical file in a cabinet in his office. In 1941, when Marshall was clearing leadership of those who could not keep up in mobile warfare, a general complained that Marshall was favoring regulars over reservists and National Guard officers, using Smith as an example. Smith was retired in the autumn of 1941, but Marshall personally called Smith, then residing in Connecticut, shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, asking him to return to active duty in the G-2 shop. Smith said he never wanted to leave. Smith enjoyed the high opinion of his peers. General Albert Wedemeyer expressed his gratitude for Smith's assistance in developing the Victory Plan and said: "Had [diabetes] not intervened, Smith might have played a role equal in influence to Eisenhower's in WW II."
Smith fought and respected the German Army of King and Kaiser in 1918. From 1919 to 1924, he served in Germany where he observed the Reichswehr, the German Army of 100,000 well-trained volunteers. While at Fort Benning as one of Marshall's men, he monitored the German Army and became a close and lifelong friend of Adolf von Schell, the first German exchange officer after WW I. Schell later served as a major general in the Wehrmacht. Marshall and Schell also became friends. As military attaché in Berlin from 1935 to 1939, Smith enjoyed excellent relations with Wehrmacht officers, some he had known for years, some in key posts, and some close friends. In Washington from 1939 to 1945, he was a German specialist and the ETO briefer during WW II. He knew Germany, Germans, and the German Army very well. In April of 1945, even before the war in Europe ended, General Hans Speidel sent Smith a letter. The Smith-Speidel correspondence continued until two weeks before Smith died in 1970. Smith at first sent food packages to his old friends and reconnected with them. Because he was so well wired to Germans (among them: Schell, Warlimont, Pappenheim, Reichenau, Horst Mellenthin) and to Americans in key positions (among them: H. Hoover, Acheson, Marshall, Wedemeyer, O. Bradley, Joe Collins, both Dulles brothers, Hanson Baldwin) Smith played an important role as German rearmament was considered. It can be said that he was midwife at the birth of the Bundeswehr in 1955. However, in his "Estimate of the German Army," December 15, 1963, he says that army "is unworthy to stand comparison with any German army of the past two centuries." The reason: "psychological isolation from the nation."
Henry G. Gole is a retired Special Forces colonel who began his military career as a BAR man in the Korean War. Among his four tours in Germany were assignments in infantry, special forces, and as an attaché, the last in Bonn from 1973 to 1977. Among his three tours in Asia were 5th Special Forces Group and MACVSOG in Vietnam. He has taught at the United States Military Academy at West Point and at the Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, PA. He earned a Ph.D. in history and has written four books: The Road to Rainbow: Army Planning for Global War, 1934-1940 (2003); Soldiering: Observations from Korea, Vietnam, and Safe Places (2005); General William E. DePuy: Preparing the Army for Modern War (2008); his most recent book (2013) is Exposing the Third Reich: Colonel Truman Smith in Hitler's Germany. He resides with his trophy wife in Mechanicsburg, PA.
A monograph written at Ft. Leavenworth's School for Advanced Military Studies finds that "the likelihood of military aggression in the immediate future is low."
The reasons for that conclusion, writes Maj. Corey Landrey, are that:
China's military doctrine is clearly focused on local and regional conflicts.... Though it has aggressive leaders within the PLA, they answer to the less aggressive leaders of the CCP. While the possibility exists for aggressive leadership to emerge in China, such transition of power would not occur without warning.... Combined with its reliance on international trade and manufacturing, China's foreign debt holdings provide serious financial incentive to avoid conflict. China's economy, while slowing its pace of growth, is still expanding at a rate much higher than that of developed countries, and the quality of life of its citizens continues to rapidly improve. It is also expanding its access to foreign resources with little resistance from the international community. China is also an active participant in all major international organizations, and one of only five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
By Andrew Kwon
Best Defense diplomatic bureau
Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai, speaking recently at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, took as his lesson the need to respect others and act responsibly.
That's a pretty powerful message to convey, given that the man at the lectern was the ambassador of the very state the United States has long criticized for not being a responsible power. Responsibility, the ambassador said, is "being prudent and cautious" in regards to interests, "acting positively and constructively" when confronting and managing differences and challenges, and "taking the long-term view" when calculating gains.
In addition, the talk provided the platform for unveiling China's proposed linchpin for the "new great power relationship": mutual respect. The ambassador stressed that, to understand China and its policies it requires "a close look at its history and culture." He later added, "To respect [each other's] differences, is to show respect to history ... to appreciate why there are these differences will lay the foundation for constructive and productive relations." Overall, if the United States seeks to work with China, it asks to be accepted, and respected, as it is.
It was an interesting time for such a lecture, given the current shutdown of the federal government.
Reading this casualty report yesterday (Tuesday), it occurred to me that we have been fighting in Afghanistan for about as long as our soldiers there can remember. They were 12, 10, maybe even 7 years old when the fighting began.
The four soldiers killed on Sunday west of Kandahar were from a specially trained team that engages Afghan women, reported Drew Brooks of the Fayetteville Observer. One of them, Lt. Jennifer Moreno, 25, was saluted by the commander of the 75th Rangers as "a talented member of our team who lost her life while serving her country in one of the most dangerous environments in the world. Her bravery and self-sacrifice were in keeping with the highest traditions of the 75th Ranger Regiment."
This is the first statement I can remember from the Rangers about a female soldier, but I haven't gone looking closely at their statements, so I might have missed some.
On the other hand, I have read every single damn casualty statement released from the Pentagon for the last 12 years. I am not sure how long I will continue to do it. But I still feel like I shouldn't stop. Or maybe I can't.
British Generals in Blair's Wars offers some new views of, and information about, the Iraq war. It made me wish I had interviewed more Brits for my books Fiasco and The Gamble. On the other hand, I doubt they would have told me back then, in the thick of things, some of the things they say here. In sum, for the British, the Americans appear to have been friendly but often unthinking allies, rather painful to deal with.
Most startling to me in this volume was the revelation that L. Paul Bremer, III, the American proconsul in Baghdad in 2003-04, had officially requested the removal of the British commander in Iraq, Maj. Gen. (ret.) Andrew Stewart. This is discussed by Stewart and others. "I was charged with not killing enough people," he recalls. "The CPA asked for my removal." Another officer, Gen. (ret.) John McColl, adds that, "The demarche had gone from Bremer to Washington to London without the military commanders being consulted. Indeed, they, the [U.S.] military leadership, seemed to be content with the British approach."
In the spring of 2004, adds Col. (ret.) Alexander Alderson, when he and another British officer tried to brief U.S. Army Lt. Gen. David McKiernan on counterinsurgency doctrine, the American officer pounded the table and stated that he was not going to face an insurgency. "Damn it," he shouted, according to Alderson, "we're warfighting."
I also was surprised to see Maj. Gen. (ret.) Jonathan Shaw's comment that the Americans decided in December 2006 on "the surge" in Iraq later the same winter without consulting the British: "This shift happened over Christmas 2006 after all our Whitehall briefs which had focused on transition and reductions in troop levels. I arrived with national orders to reduce our footprint, at a time when the US was increasing its."
But Colonel Alderson does note that as the surge occurred, "There was now a much greater level of coherency in what the US was trying to achieve." I had observed the same phenomenon in Iraq in 2007 and had tried to write about it in The Gamble, but did not summarize it as well as Alderson does in that one sentence.
(One more to come.)
By Stuart Montgomery
Best Defense defense seminars bureau
A recent panel at Georgetown University was supposed to be about Syria, but it turned out to be about the lessons of the American experience in Iraq, seen in light of the possible use of American force in Syria.
Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who served in Iraq and many other Mideast posts, opined that we don't know if Iraq was worth it yet. He said that we do know that we have paid a large price, in both dollars and blood, to build a relationship with Iraq and put it on the right trajectory.
Professor Andrew Bacevich's opinion on the Iraq War was more concise: no, it was not worth it. Examining the war through a Clausewitzian lens, he argued that the war's original aims were not met. That is, the United States didn't find any weapons of mass destruction, and the war's later objectives were murky and amounted to a mission beyond what the military should handle: changing the way people live.
When the conversation turned to Syria, the panelists' comments had a common theme: restraint and limitation. Crocker emphasized the unintended consequences that accompany war and the need to understand other countries and their "ground rules." He said we don't understand all the parties involved or the situation in its entirety. The best option, he said, is to contain the conflict in Syria from spreading throughout the region, and to provide assistance to the refugees.
Both panelists argued for reconnecting military action to political discussion. Bacevich highlighted the current absence of civil-military dialogue in our nation. Crocker noted that Clausewitz taught that war is a continuation of politics, and so the end of war must be a return to politics. He emphasized that war must be thought of in the full extent: Why we are fighting, what we desire to accomplish, and how we plan to end the war?
A secondary issue was how Iran may perceive the outcome if the United States declines to intervene in Syria. Here again the panelists emphasized the need for restraint, and Bacevich emphasized the need to develop a deterrence posture. Both men noted that, after 12 years of war, the nation is not just tired of war and tired of paying for it, but also questioning the value of war. We still haven't fully answered that question about Iraq, and current public opinion is not in trying to find new answers in Syria.
By John H. Haas
Best Defense guest respondent
Tom recently confessed to being bothered by U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power's speech on Syria of September 6, in which she said, "The American people elect leaders to exercise judgment, and there have been times in our history when presidents have taken hard decisions to use force that were not initially popular, because they believed our interests demanded it."
Tom responded, "Power's stance is profoundly undemocratic. The American system is founded on the belief that the people do indeed know what is best for them. So I conclude that Power's argument is itself yet another reason not to intervene in Syria -- if we have to erode our system to do it, it certainly is not worth it."
Tom's discomfort with what has been called "the imperial presidency" is understandable, and is widely shared by smart, thoughtful, careful people on both the left and the right. It has an intuitive appeal to anyone who's instincts have been shaped by democratic principles. If our republic is just that, a res publica, or "public thing," then shouldn't the public have a say in what its "thing" does in the world? And what could be more morally momentous and practically consequential than a violent attack on another nation that will extinguish lives, and may suck the republic into a wider war?
In our current debate over an attack on Syria, Republicans in particular have been forthright that the Constitution gives the president no authority to do any such thing without congressional approval. California Republican Rep. Tom McClintock: "If a president on his authority and in direct contravention of the Constitution plunges our nation into war, if that's not impeachable, what is? The Constitution does not require consultation. It does not require informing Congress. It requires Congress' specific act to authorize a war." Republican Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina: "... any president who bypasses the Congress to bomb another country without provocation, and this is actually in the Constitution, then they should be impeached."
For his part, President Obama agrees: "The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." Well, agreed. That was in 2007. Now? "I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization..."
To complicate matters further, Republican Rep. Peter King of New York agrees with the Obama of 2013, and thinks he's actually wrong to seek congressional authorization: "President Obama is abdicating his responsibility as commander-in-chief and undermining the authority of future presidents. The President does not need Congress to authorize a strike on Syria."
Well. We would seem to have something of a pickle here, as Uncle Billy might say. Who's right? The Obama of 2007, or the Obama of 2013? Obama's Republican critics, or Obama's other Republican critics? Samantha Power,or Tom Ricks?
It seems to me that we have at least three avenues of investigation that we need to consider as we search for an answer. First, there is what the framers put in the Constitution itself. There are also the framers' intentions, as revealed by what they wrote elsewhere, and by what they did when they held office. And then there's the subsequent historical record -- the body of precedent that constitutes America's "unwritten constitution."
Let's start with those most basic of facts, the numbers. A few years ago, Yale historian Harry Stout added up all of America's military operations and found 280 foreign interventions, along with 29 Indian wars. We'll leave the latter aside, and we'll also admit that many of those "operations" don't look a lot like "wars" from a chronological distance (but then, neither would Obama's proposed "limited attack" on Syria in a few years -- unless you were on the receiving end).
Of these, five have been formally declared wars, and on another 13 occasions Congress has issued an expressed authorization of military force. John Yoo counted 125 occasions of presidents ordering military operations without congressional authorization.
What do those numbers tell us? It would be hard to argue that a formal declaration of war is required. From the earliest years of the republic, presidents have gone to war without a declaration. Founding fathers John Adams (the Quasi War) and Thomas Jefferson (the Barbary Wars) did, representing the two political parties then in existence (the Federalists and the Democratical-Republicans). Congress, with many of the signers of the Constitution on board, approved of these wars, and no move to impeach either of them was made. If a formal declaration of war is required by the Constitution, these gentlemen would have known about it. Most scholars agree that the Constitution does not specify what counts as a "declaration of war," and that authorizations of force are legitimate equivalents.
We also might note that a formal declaration of war is no guarantee that later generations will agree that the war was wise, or just. Of our five declared wars -- the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish War, World War I, and World War II -- only the last escapes serious moral censure from mainstream critics. "I do not think there was ever a more wicked war than that waged by the United States on Mexico," said Ulysses S. Grant -- and he was a veteran of that war.
Similarly, regrets trail in the wake of many of our congressionally authorized wars. We might wonder, for example, about the necessity of Buchanan's attack on Paraguay in 1859, or Wilson's occupation of Veracuz in 1914, or his wading into the Russian civil war in 1918, or the wisdom of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution of 1964 that gave us Vietnam. Reagan's disastrous, tragic, and pointless incursion into Lebanon in 1983 was authorized by Congress with healthy majorities. Most recently, George W. Bush received overwhelming congressional support for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
At the same time, several congressionally unauthorized attacks are relatively uncontroversial -- the Korean War ordered by Truman, Reagan's incursion into Grenada and his attack on Libya, the first Bush's invasion of Panama, and Clinton's 78-day war in Kosovo -- at least when judged by the standard of popular approval. Indeed, one of them is among the most admired examples of presidential leadership in recent history: the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. Facing no actual or imminent attack, President Kennedy ordered a partial blockade (an act of war) against Cuba, initiating the most dangerous confrontation between major powers in world history. In the judgment of one historian, this confrontation over the Soviet missiles based in Cuba was essentially a contest for "prestige." It is unclear whether, had Congress or the American people been consulted, they would have agreed that the mere presence of nuclear missiles 90 miles off our coast was worth risking nuclear holocaust -- especially if it had been explained that the Soviets had been deploying submarines armed with nuclear missiles since 1955, arguably rendering the Cuban question tactically moot.
We need to beware of reading too much into these events. Neither the fact that a majority of our nation's military operations were initiated and fought without either formal declaration or congressional authorization, or that many of those that were declared or authorized were mistakes, or that some that weren't authorized seem to most Americans successes, neatly decides the question. The Constitution and what it says, as well as the founders' intentions, remains critical. However, we do need to acknowledge that America -- not just presidents -- has behaved as if neither declaration nor authorization was necessary on numerous occasions. In no instance has there been a congressional or popular outcry that jeopardized any president with impeachment for his actions. We seem, as a nation, to have made our peace with this arrangement. Whether we should have is another question.
Does the Constitution mandate that we withdraw our approval of this arrangement and institute a requirement that presidents ask for and receive congressional authorization before going to war? Even the War Powers Resolution of 1973 -- passed by the congress most hostile to the imperial presidency in our history -- doesn't say that. It only requires that presidents get congressional authorization or terminate the operation within 60 (or 90 -- depending on conditions) days. (No president has ever admitted the resolution's authority, and no president has ever been impeached for defying it--as, arguably, Clinton and Obama have done, in Kosovo and Libya respectively.) It is significant that even the 93rd Congress did not appeal to the Constitution's enumerated power to declare war, but to the "necessary and proper" clause, as its justification for limiting the president's power to wage war.
Moreover, Congress did not move to impeach President Nixon for continuing the Vietnam War even after it had repealed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution in 1971.
Reps. McClintock and Jones, then, are surely mistaken. And it appears the Obama of 2007 was also wrong. A president may indeed "unilaterally authorize a military attack." If, in the aftermath, it were discovered that there was no threat to the nation -- and especially if it was discovered that the president knew there was no threat -- that might constitute very good grounds for impeachment. Yet -- again, arguably -- there was no clear "threat" to the United States, as threats are conventionally understood, that necessitated the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Kosovo, or Libya.
We swim in deep waters here. The War Powers Resolution explicitly denies that merely funding a war constitutes de facto authorization. Many would argue -- against the case I've made -- that failing to even try to impeach a president similarly should not be interpreted as anything like approval. There are many reasons we might not want to impeach a president, even if he is guilty of a minor misdemeanor like starting an unauthorized and unnecessary and unjustifiable war.
But what about Tom's contention? The finer points of constitutional law aside for a moment, does a president launching a unilateral attack when the public's disapproval of that attack is known violate the spirit underlying the Constitution, if not its letter? Is it the case that the "American system is founded on the belief that the people do indeed know what is best for them"? Would such an attack "erode our system," and so should not be ordered?
Many readers will recall the slogan of the late 1960s, "Power to the people!" Some might recall the slogan evolving into a more comprehensive, "All power to the people!" While both the SDS, then, and the Tea Party, today, evidence an affection for this sentiment, it is not one that the founders shared.
At the end of the day, of course, the people are sovereign and have the power to alter the republic in profound ways. Presidents and congressmen (and since 1913, senators) have to submit themselves regularly to the will of the people as expressed in elections. In the meantime, the Constitution grants them much freedom of action. If they act in ways the people do not approve of, they can be tossed out. They can be impeached. The people can alter the Constitution in any way they see fit by amending it, thus restricting their powers. So, ultimately, our system is grounded in the will of the people.
But that is not to say that it's grounded in the belief that "the people ... know what is best for them." The founders placed the selection of the president not directly into the hands of the people, but into those of the electoral college. They denied the people the power to directly elect senators, whose advice was required when a president makes treaties and appoints ambassadors. The founders also operated within a system that restricted the franchise much more tightly than today, allowing only adult white males who met property requirements (and who were, therefore, presumably educated and responsible) to vote. Theirs was a hierarchical society, in which men were presumed to know what was best for their wives and children, gentlemen were presumed to know what was best for the commoners, and rulers knew more about what was "best" than the ruled.
But those weren't their only convictions. They were well aware, from history and experience, that even representative, regularly accountable, impeachable rulers could go astray when it came to the momentous issue of war. And so, in their sublime system of checks and balances, they included an escape hatch from war, and brought it as close to the people as they could.
The president, as commander in chief, has immense power. They gave him the power -- "energy in the executive," Alexander Hamilton called it -- to act swiftly to meet national emergencies. This they believed was necessary, not because they were naive about executive power and its potential abuses, but because they lived in a dangerous world. So they maximized the president's power to meet military threats.
But the Constitution also balanced that power. Among Congress's powers as enumerated in article I, Section eight, is the requirement that "no Appropriation of Money" to raise and support armies "shall be for a longer Term than two Years." Here is where the people get their veto. If the president -- even if he has congressional authorization, even if he has a formal declaration of war -- cannot convince the people that his military actions are justified, they can simply vote out their current representatives and vote in new ones that will defund his war. It is significant that they placed this power in the House, where the people are most closely represented, and where elections are most frequent.
The founders believed that even propertied and educated gentlemen might not understand enough about world affairs to be counted on to immediately make the correct decision. So they gave that power to the executive. But they also believed that if the case held water, it should be possible to persuade the people of it over time.
Would they have the same confidence if they could see our more broadly defined "people"? In his farewell address, President Eisenhower warned that only "an alert and knowledgeable citizenry" would be up to the task of guiding our leaders as they navigated the dangerous shoals of the post-World War II era. Do we have "an alert and knowledgeable citizenry"?
One of democracy's sincerest admirers, Alexis de Tocqueville, confessed that, "As for me, I will have no difficulty in saying: it is in the leadership of the foreign interests of society that democratic governments seem to me decidedly inferior to others.... Foreign policy requires the use of almost none of the qualities that belong to democracy and, on the contrary, demands the development of nearly all those qualities that it lacks."
Tocqueville, of course, has no legal standing in this debate. He wasn't even American. And we have more evidence than anyone could want that our rulers -- presidents, senators, foreign policy elites -- often do not in fact know what is "best," for the people or the nation. Even so, we should be careful. Our leaders and the elites that advise them are often mistaken, but that doesn't mean the people will always be right.
John H. Haas, Ph.D., teaches U.S. foreign relations, American history, and the political geography of North Africa and the Middle East at Bethel College in Indiana, the Harvard of Mishawaka.
By Scott Modell and David Asher
Best Defense guest columnists
With presidential support for military action in doubt, America's power and prestige on the line, and Assad gassing his people, Obama needs to have a plan B on Syria. Outsourcing WMD policy to Vladimir Putin won't do a thing to stop the Syrian government killing machine.
Fortunately, a strategic option exists that could be even more powerful and effective against Assad, his Iranian backers, and their Hezbollah lackeys. Going beyond sanctions, the Obama administration should assemble a coalition of the willing and begin actively targeting the indispensable elements of Syria's financial, economic, and logistical support structure, including support from Iran and Hezbollah.
Despite a wide range of sanctions, Syria and its allies are able to rely on critical infrastructure that is compromised, complicit, and corrupted -- from ports, border crossings, and airlines to banks, freight forwarders, and shipping companies.
Neutralizing these nodes requires a non-kinetic containment and disruption effort to encircle the Syria conflict zone and stem the critical flow of men, money, and supplies to the Assad regime. Such a strategy, in concert with a sustained precision bombing campaign against key sources of regime support, was effective in Kosovo and could be in Syria as well.
Such a comprehensive effort should include the following measures:
These are just a few ways in which the United States and its allies can work together more effectively to non-kinetically attack Assad's Syria and its supporters. As the Obama administration considers next steps on Syria, it should take a close look at resetting its entire approach to the Middle East and ask, what is really going to weaken the strategic foundations, resolve, and external capabilities of Syria and the greater Iran Action Network?
Scott Modell, a former CIA officer, and David Asher, a former State Department official, are authors of Pushback: Countering the Iran Action Network, published recently by the Center for a New American Security.
I think it is. When I was a kid, the right used to taunt the left as fuzzy-thinking one-worlders. Even into the 1970s, John Lennon advised people to think globally and act locally.
But the left is not down with globalization anymore. And that means it may be drifting into isolationism.
If you're into tracking American culture, one of the great, sober, leftish events in the United States is the annual gathering of Maine organic farmers. This isn't California-style Burning Man self-indulgence. Rather, these are hard-working people (you try growing stuff in a state with a six-month-long winter -- and then, when you thaw out, be swarmed for five months by no-see-'ems, black flies, deer flies, and mosquitoes the size of Blackburnian warblers). Modern Puritans, if you will. I mention this because this year, one of the events at their big annual fair is anti-globalization storytelling.
Yesterday, on a cold, rainy Sunday morning, I sat and re-read this part of Ambassador Power's Friday speech advocating U.S. intervention in Syria. I couldn't put my finger on it, but this passage, which is the end of her talk, really irked me:
The American people elect leaders to exercise judgment, and there have been times in our history when presidents have taken hard decisions to use force that were not initially popular, because they believed our interests demanded it. From 1992, when the Bosnian genocide started, till 1995, when President Clinton launched the air strikes that stopped the war, public opinion consistently opposed military action there. Even after we succeeded in ending the war and negotiating a peace settlement, the House of Representatives, reflecting public opinion, voted against deploying American troops to a NATO peacekeeping mission.
... If we cannot summon the courage to act when the evidence is clear, and when the action being contemplated is limited, then our ability to lead in the world is compromised. The alternative is to give a green light to outrages that will threaten our security and haunt our conscience, outrages that will eventually compel us to use force anyway down the line, at far greater risk and cost to our own citizens. If the last century teaches us anything, it is this.
Earlier in the speech, she says Americans are "ambivalent" about the situation. I don't think they are. Yes, they think Syria is a problem, but they don't think it is their problem.
So I went off to cook up a vat of vegetable curry. Finally I realized what was bothering me: Power's stance is profoundly undemocratic. The American system is founded on the belief that the people do indeed know what is best for them. So I conclude that Power's argument is itself yet another reason not to intervene in Syria -- if we have to erode our system to do it, it certainly is not worth it.
Like I said the other day, I expect that even if Congress declines to authorize the use of military force in Syria, President Obama will order a variety of covert actions in support of the rebels.
How can we know if these are occurring? Basically, I think we should look for things happening that the rebels would have liked to do a long time ago but were unable to carry out. For example, assassinations of senior Syrian officials. I could see, for example, stealthy drone attacks on the convoys of the officials who oversaw the use of chemical weapons -- but credit being given to Syrian rebels. I also think we could see things like signals intercepts being passed to the rebels, as well as other helpful intelligence, like real-time satellite imagery. Basically, any anomalous action bears a second look.
Fast transmission of targeting info could significantly boost the effectiveness of the opposition, I think. I've been told that, during the Iran-Iraq War, the U.S. provided Saddam Hussein's air force with good photo imagery of Iranian military targets, such as major supply depots and corps-level headquarters, and that the subsequent Iraqi airstrikes broke an Iranian offensive and so changed the balance of the war.
Yet even as I discuss this, I wonder: If the rebels win, how will they treat Armenians, Jews, Christians, and other minorities?
I hope so. By going to Congress for approval before intervening, he seems to be asking for someone to get him out of this mess.
Until the end of last week it looked to
me like he had painted himself into a corner on Syria. He didn't want to
intervene, but he threw around some red line language about the consequences of
the Syrian government using chemical weapons and in
August the bill on that had come due.
I take no joy in saying that the president looks really bad in his handling on this. Bumbling, stumbling, fumbling. I've heard his handling of Syria referred to as "Operation Rolling Blunder." Getting involved there militarily is something almost no one in the United States wants, aside from a few old-school hawks in Washington. In fact, it is possible that I know the majority of people in the United States who favor intervention. They could fit into a Starbucks even after some full-fat lattes.
If their desired attack ever happens, my guess is that it will last about a week. It would begin with missile strikes against air defense systems (radars and communications nodes), then move to hits on airfields by long-range stand-off missile-like "bombs" launched offshore by B-2s (because cruise missiles really can't crater airfields) and also hits against other command and control systems. Finally, it would assault "regime targets" -- command bunkers, intelligence headquarters, ruling class hideouts.
And then what? Will this limited action remain limited? Will it help the Syrian rebels? Should we be helping them?
It is not clear to me how American intervention would improve the situation. Also, I am struck that I don't know a single person in the U.S. military who thinks that attacking Syria is a good idea. Even with Iraq in 2003, there was a minority of officers who supported that invasion. Here's James Fallows's astute summary of the state of the argument, and his assessment of the latest move.
My guess: While Congress talks, Obama will quietly step up all kinds of covert aid to the rebels, but not publicly intervene.
During the summer, the Best Defense is in re-runs. Here are some favorites that ran in late 2012 and in 2013. This item originally ran on April 19, 2013.
The other night I went to a preview of Manhunt, a HBO documentary that will air on that network on May 1 and thereafter many times on CNN.
The documentary was like a high-class version of a Frontline episode, filmed and edited well, with expensive touches like music. One of the themes was how many of the analysts who targeted bin Laden were women. Another was how isolated it felt to be in the CIA after 9/11. Overall, I found the film a great document, but too inclined to give the CIA a pass, especially on the issue of torture and on some specifics, such as how the Khost bombing that killed seven CIA officers in December 2009 was allowed to happen.
But what I want to talk about today was the discussion following the film, which was even more interesting. (I took notes, having asked Peter Bergen, the documentary's executive producer, beforehand if I could, and was told yes.) It felt historic, a bit like being in the same room with the D-Day planners.
It also felt a bit like an encounter group. Clearly there had been strong disagreements within the CIA about the course they took:
What I found myself wondering as I listened to all this was a question an Army officer who worked on Guantanamo issues asked me years ago: How can you win a war for your values by using tactics that undermine them?
At the end of the discussion, I turned to the woman standing next to me, who I think had just been identified in the film as the chief bin Laden hunter. "So, are you Jessica Chastain?" I asked, referring to the actress who played that role in Zero Dark Thirty. (Yes, I know, on reflection, it was a stupid way to put it. I have been told that the Chastain character was a composite of several of the CIA women, including Jennifer Matthews, who was killed in the Khost bombing.)
"No," the woman replied, "Jessica Chastain wasn't there." Great answer!
During the summer, the Best Defense is in re-runs. Here are some favorites that ran in late 2012 and in 2013. This item originally ran on April 18, 2013.
By Richard Coffman
Best Defense bureau of Vietnamese War affairs
Hanoi's War is an important book drawing on secret Vietnamese Communist Party and government archives and chronicling how Hanoi planned and waged war in Vietnam following the defeat of the French in 1954.
More than that, the book surfaces serious dissension at the highest levels in Hanoi over priorities, strategies, and resources undermining, among other things, preparation for the Tet Offensive of 1968 and leading to arrests and purges. Had Washington and Saigon had a clearer picture of this, the war certainly would have been fought differently, and the outcome might well have been more favorable. It's probably fair to say that we knew as much about Hanoi's leadership then as we do the North Korean leadership today.
As it was, this book describes how badly U.S. bombing in the North and significant ground incursions into communist base areas in Cambodia and Lao hurt Hanoi's war effort. It further shows the utter failure and enormous cost of Hanoi's major offensives in 1968, 1969, and 1972, which forced the North into greater dependence on the Soviets and Chinese and ultimately to engage in negotiations to force U.S. withdrawal.
The author, Lien-Hang T. Nguyen, a native-born Vietnamese, naturalized U.S. citizen, and professor at the University of Kentucky, had access to a wealth of official Vietnamese language archives, personalities, and unpublished manuscripts. Among others, she interviewed Hoag Minh Chinh, once North Vietnam's leading communist theoretician and a purged dissident. She had access to the unpublished memoirs of the first of communist party First Secretary Le Duan's wives, who served in the Mekong Delta for years
Lieng-Hang not only plows much new ground, but does so in a well-organized, lucidly argued, and well-written chronological treatment of the Vietnam War and Hanoi's direction of it. Readers will be grateful for her facility in writing and organizing this substantively dense material, and that she makes clear that the archives she reviewed were sanitized and by no means complete.
To students of communist ideology and tactics, Hanoi's War neatly describes the rise to the pinnacle of power of communist party leader Le Duan and his close associate Le Duc Tho, and the marginalization of Ho Chi Minh and General Vo Nguyen Giap. Indeed, these latter two internationally acclaimed heroes of the Vietnamese communist revolution, widely thought to wield unchecked power in Hanoi, sat out the Tet Offensive, Giap pouting in Hungary and Ho taking the waters in Beijing.
We further learn that despite Le Duan's repeated failures of strategies and tactics in the war in the South and immense personnel losses and the virtual destruction of the northern economy, he held on to power by virtue of brutal and non-stop repression. Even before the infamous Hanoi Hilton imprisoned U.S. airmen, it held scores of Le Duan's political opponents and dissidents, both real and imagined. His purges even claimed senior military officers close to Giap and some who helped plan the Tet Offensive.
In these and scores of less consequential matters, this book should humble Western intelligence and diplomatic observers, journalists, historians, academics, and the international left who got so much of North Vietnam wrong then and whose mistaken interpretations and judgments persist to this day.
Make no mistake, this is not revisionist history. The book's subtitle gives us a clue to her leanings: "An International History of the War for Peace in Vietnam."
The author persists in describing the Vietnam War as "unwinnable" for the United States, which certainly must come as news to such eminent contemporary historians as Lewis Sorley and Mark Moyar, whose recent works, even without primary sources on Hanoi's troubles, make clear that the outcome in Vietnam was far from inevitable. Moreover, she has a palpable antipathy for Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger even while brilliantly and in great detail describing how they simultaneously leveraged both Moscow and Beijing to squeeze Hanoi -- and against his deep instincts, Le Duan -- to get the best possible negotiated deal extricating the United States from Vietnam.
Indeed, Le Duan so preferred massive offensives designed to trigger popular uprisings in the South that he sent his right-hand man, Le Duc Tho, to Paris to keep the lid on the negotiations. This follows Le Duan's pattern in dispatching trusted generals to command the headstrong southern communists who believed their revolution was betrayed by the 1954 Geneva Accords. How ironic -- or perverse -- that Le Duc Tho won a Nobel Peace Prize for his service in Paris.
Finally, she attributes Hanoi's victory not to its persistence and tenacity, not to winning hearts and minds in the South, not to the enormous sacrifices of North Vietnam's armies and people, nor to U.S. politics which hamstrung and undermined the U.S. effort, particularly under Richard Nixon, but to the unwavering and irresistible pressure of post-colonial, third-world, anti-war nations fed by Hanoi's clever propaganda and diplomacy and eager to teach the United States a lesson. This, she avers, is perhaps the greatest legacy of Hanoi's war and serves as a model to those planning future revolutionary campaigns against Western powers.
This flight of fancy only slightly detracts from what is otherwise a major and unique contribution to our understanding of what we faced in Vietnam. Students of military history, the Vietnam War, and revolutionary communism have much to look forward to as these archives are more fully mined in the years ahead.
Richard Coffman served as a Marine Corps officer in Chu Lai and Danang, RVN in 1965-1966. He then served in the CIA for 31 years, analyzing the North Vietnamese leadership there from 1967 through 1972.
During the summer, the Best Defense is in re-runs. Here are some favorites that ran in late 2012 and in 2013. This item originally ran on April 1, 2013.
By Lt. Gen. John H. Cushman, U.S. Army (Ret.)
Best Defense guest columnist
This is what the president should say:
Organs of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea have recently made announcements of that nation's readiness to attack with long range weapons targets of the United States.
It is time for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to cease such behavior and to join the community of nations.
The United States has no intention to attack the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
If under any pretext the Democratic People's Republic of Korea attacks the United States, we will respond with devastating might. Their nation will be a wasteland.
Leaders of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea have built military weaponry that can serve no useful purpose.
I repeat, it is time for them to cease such behavior and to join the community of nations.
End of conference
General Cushman commanded the 101st Airborne Division, the Army Combined Arms Center, and the ROK/US field army defending Korea's Western Sector. He served three tours in Vietnam. He also is author of Command and Control of Theater Forces: The Korea Command and Other Cases (1986).
During the summer, the Best Defense is in re-runs. Here are some favorites that ran in late 2012 and in 2013. This item originally ran on March 26, 2013.
Ricks: We are almost out of time. Speaking of mutually shared decisions, the U.S. government is probably going to face one this year on Iran. How has everything we've been talking about shaped how we are going to be thinking about Iran down the road?
First David, then Michèle.
Crist: Well I think it's all interrelated -- issues in Afghanistan, issues in Iraq, all affect how we look at Iran and how we are positioned to be able to do something about Iran. I think it's all interrelated. Lessons I think have been institutionalized at least within senior leaders on some of the problems we had in Afghanistan and Iraq, especially second- and third-order effects. What are the consequences of different actions we take? What are consequences of conflict in general? Is regime change a viable option? Isn't it a viable option? If not, then how do we...? I mean, all that is in the background of all the discussions. And I think it's been very healthy in many ways.
Ricks: One of the issues that we've been talking about is the quality of civil-military relations and straightforward, candid, honest advice from generals to civilian leaders -- for which we have apparently just seen General Mattis quietly fired. [Ricks note: I should have said "pushed out early."]
Crist: On the record I won't comment on General Mattis's views.
I will say and I can say this with a certain honesty since I've helped draft many of the memos: He has been very candid on what his views of what needs to be done. I haven't seen anything like the Rumsfeldian approach to stifling alternative views, and so as a consequence while...And some people in the U.S. military -- maybe the political leadership isn't as receptive as they would like on authority issues and some other response...the dialogue is there, and frankly a lot of it gets to these ideas of what I have always thought of as one of the intangibles where you have breakdown in discourse between civilian and military leadership is as you say trust. And a lot of it is personality based. Just personalities of the individual players and how they personally get along, as well as concerns of political leadership.
Ricks: And you have seen a trusting, candid exchange?
Crist: I have from my level, absolutely. And I've sat in many -- not as many as Michèle and some of the others here -- but a number of meetings with senior leaders on both sides of it. And I have seen it be quite candid.
Ricks: My impression is that the Obama administration has been almost afraid of Centcom under Mattis and Harward -- the mad-dog symptom with two incredibly aggressive guys. But I see Michèle shaking her head. Michèle, jump in.
Flournoy: I would say of all the issue areas that I was exposed to in the deputies committees process, there was none where we took a more deliberate, strategic, questioning, and very candid approach than Iran. And it really started back -- this goes a few years back now when it was started up when Gates was still secretary of defense -- and I think the thought that was put into exactly what words the president says to describe our objective in Iran: Is it "prevent"? Is it "contain"? That was debated, the consequences downstream of choosing one versus the other, multiple senior leader seminars, war games looking at different options, going down the road of different scenarios, very close partnership with the military in actually setting the theater so that we are now communicating a degree of deterrence to back up the policy of sanctions and negotiations.
So I actually think on Iran, probably more than on any other issue that I've seen, it's been very strategic, very comprehensive. There's no idea that you can't bring to the table. There's no idea that hasn't been debated. And people may have very strong views and disagree. But this is not one where -- this was one where there was a real constant coming back to what are our interests? What are our objectives? How do we make sure we are applying rigor and not just going down the road towards confrontation with no limits or no boundaries or no sense of what we are trying to achieve?
Crist: I would add one more point in having looked at U.S. strategy for a long time on Iran. One thing that I found interesting that has evolved over the last few years that I haven't seen earlier is looking even beyond the nuclear issue. What is our long-term relationship with this country? Are we long-term adversaries? If so, how is that going to play out across the region? And how do we counteract that? And also, are there areas, I think, which despite the engagement piece, seemed to have died off, there has been a lot of thought given -- are there areas where there is mutual cooperation? And what will that lead to long term? Can we have maybe not rapprochement but some kind of détente with Iran?
Ricks: So can we start to get Putin to be aggressive again and drive Iran into our hands?
Crist: Yeah, it's tough because in my personal opinion we are for a host of reasons adversaries in the region. We have two different strategic views of what we want out of it.
But the issue is bigger than just the nuclear issue. The nuclear issue is a symptom, more than a cause, of our problems.
THE END... -- or is it?
During the summer, the Best Defense is in re-runs. Here are some favorites that ran in late 2012 and in 2013. This item originally ran on Feb. 18, 2013.
I was in a discussion the other day of the Obama administration's foreign policy. The more I listened, the more President Obama began to remind me of President Eisenhower.
There is indeed a long list of foreign crises pending right now:
But as I listened to the discussion, I thought of President Eisenhower, who took office and set to getting us out of the Korean War, as Obama did with Iraq. He also worked hard to keep us out of the French war in Vietnam, overriding the Joint Chiefs' desire to use nukes to help the French. He also rejected pleas of many to intervene in the Hungarian Revolution. And he had the Suez Crisis, with the French and British. Then there were issues of Stalin's successors in the Soviet Union, which was rapidly building its nuclear arsenal.
I suspect that Obama's dominant impulse is to keep us out of the problems he sees overseas, just as Ike sought to keep us out of Vietnam and Hungary. Many people disagreed with his decisions. But he was a successful president.
National Archives/SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
During the summer, the Best Defense is in re-runs. Here are some favorites that ran in late 2012 and in 2013. This item originally ran on Feb. 5, 2013.
Recently I was at a foreign policy discussion in which a participant said that everybody agrees that the removal of Saddam Hussein was a good thing, despite everything else that went wrong with the boneheaded invasion of Iraq.
I didn't question that assertion at the time, but found myself mulling it. Recently I had a chance to have a beer with Toby Dodge, one of the best strategic thinkers about Iraq. He said something like this: Well, you used to have an oppressive dictator who at least was a bulwark against Iranian power expanding westward. Now you have an increasingly authoritarian and abusive leader of Iraq who appears to be enabling Iranian arms transfers to Syria.
And remember: We still don't know how this ends yet. Hence rumors in the Middle East along the lines that all along we planned to create a "Sunnistan" out of western Iraq, Syria, and Jordan.
Meanwhile, the Iraq war, which we left just over a year ago, continues. Someone bombed police headquarters in Kirkuk over the weekend, killing 33. And about 60 Awakening fighters getting their paychecks were blown up in Taji. As my friend Anthony Shadid used to say, "The mud is getting wetter."
During the summer, the Best Defense is in re-runs. Here are some favorites that ran in late 2012 and in 2013. This item originally ran on January 2, 2013.
That was the question that kept on coming back to me as I read Joshua Phillips' None of Us Were Like This Before. It is not a perfect book but it is an important one.
Yes, there are ethical and moral reasons for conducting a comprehensive review of instances of torture of Iraqis, Afghans and others by American soldiers over the last 10 years.
But there also are practical reasons:
1. The damage torture does to those who inflict it. (Two of the soldiers in the unit Phillips examines killed themselves after coming home.)
2. The damage torture does to our war efforts-both in the host populations, and in world opinion.
3. The effect on the current force.
The questions I would like to see addressed include:
--Who stopped torture?
--What were the characteristics of units that indulged in torture? And of those that didn't?
--How can we better train soldiers to deal with this?
--Are there continuing effects on the force that need to be addressed?
One final note: Phillips writes that, "I rarely met a detainee who had received an apology, or any acknowledgement at all, for the harsh treatment he had endured during U.S. captivity."
By John T. Kuehn
Best Defense guest columnist
The so-called "Arab Spring" has now turned into a larger Mideast autumn that is reflecting warfare and conflict approaching the bloody religious wars that Europe went through during the 16th and 17th centuries.
We are seeing the beginning of a wider regional war along the Tehran-Baghdad-Damascus axis and beyond -- not an "axis of evil," but rather an axis of instability and conflict. It could go further, linking to similar areas of violence to the east (in Afghanistan-Pakistan) or to the west to the mess in Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa. Instead of democracy breaking out everywhere, it seems that war is breaking out everywhere. Syria is the nexus for the current dangerous inflection point. It is in many ways similar to the Netherlands of the 16th century, that area of rebellion against the Hapsburgs/Catholic Church that rocked the world for over 80 years as the Reformation swirled about.
As we all know, voices are clamoring in Washington to "make it go away." Or rather to make the critics of the Obama administration quiet down. Most recently, Secretary of State John Kerry argued for airstrikes on airfields reputedly being used by the Assad regime for combat missions, including chemical weapons attacks. Kerry's proposal was vetoed during a recent principals meeting at the White House by none other than General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. So much for war-mongering generals. Additionally, in recent months, Hezbollah has entered the conflict with thousands of fighters to help retake the city of Qusayr from the Syrian insurgents. Today, Qusayr is a ghost town with fewer than 500 inhabitants. Recall, too, that Hezbollah are the same bubbas that brought us the Marine Barracks attack in 1983. Reports out today indicate that the Lebanese Army has had several firefights with local Sunnis who support the Syrian rebels. Just great, a re-ignition of the Lebanese civil war might be in the offing.
Moving to the east we find the "sectarian violence" in Iraq at levels not seen since the American surge in 2007. Could yet another civil war be igniting there -- this time absent the armed umpiring of the United States and its allies? It may already have. The link here is precisely Iran's support for the Assad regime and its client quasi-state farther south, Hezbollah. From a purely military standpoint, Tehran's line of communication with its political allies and co-religionists farther west in Syria and Lebanon runs directly through Iraq. This "rat line" is used by the Quds Force and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and has been in place in various forms ever since the U.S. invasion in 2003. See David Crist's recent book The Twilight War if you doubt me on this issue. The sectarian violence in Iraq is directly related to the Syrian violence -- make no mistake. One way for the insurgents' co-religionist Sunni allies in Iraq to influence events in Syria is to destabilize the pro-Iranian government in Baghdad. In this way they can interrupt the flow of Iranian support to both Hezbollah and Assad through Iraq.
Afghanistan? There is no need for further discussion; war continues there and is likely to continue -- although the political ties of Tehran to Kabul may strengthen given President Karzai's recent strong denunciation of U.S. efforts to include the Taliban in peace talks. Too, Iran's oil goes to India, which is also a supporter of the Kabul regime, all of which makes Pakistan the odd man out and more likely to support Sunni co-religionists and political allies represented now by insurgents in both Syria and Iraq.
What about further west? Let's see, Egypt has severed diplomatic ties with Syria, never a good sign. Further south, in the always pleasant Horn of Africa, we find U.N. personnel have been blown up in Mogadishu by al Shabab. Although clear linkages to the conflict to the northeast do not exist, the forces behind this latest attack on the international order are of a religious bent that favors the insurgent-Sunni factions. Too, this sort of violent outburst does nothing to improve the stability of this entire region. Farther west we find the arc of instability running along the Maghreb (Tunisia and Algeria) as well as splitting south through Libya to troubling events in Mali and Nigeria; the latter country is itself in a low state of civil war divided along ethno-religious lines. Finally, to the north of it all is the NATO ally and Sunni co-religionist government of Turkey, warily eying the troublemaking regime of Vlad Putin, which supports Syria. But Turkey is now distracted by widespread, Westernized demonstrations against its own attempts to impose religious conservatism. None of this can be comforting for the major powers, which all have a stake in the Middle East and Africa. Get the picture? Heated outbursts to quiet political audiences are probably -- as Dempsey pointed out to Secretary Kerry -- ill-advised.
This regional conflict is not just about religion, nor is it all about longstanding political relationships and ethnic tensions -- it is all of the above. I am compelled to ask, what should the United States do that it is not already doing? This presupposes I know the range of action the U.S. government is already engaged in, but I would suggest these steps -- whatever they are -- are probably sufficient for now. Those who predicted the Arab Spring turning into a messy regional war were right. It has arrived.
This is the time for calm heads to prevail and avoid a much larger general war, but first we must recognize the real potential for this mess to turn into something along the lines of Europe's own wars of religion, something like the grim and destructive Thirty Years' War that began with a "Prague Spring" in 1618.
John T. Kuehn has taught military history at the Command and General Staff College since 2003 and retired from the Navy as a commander in 2004. He earned his Ph.D. in history from Kansas State University in 2007. He graduated with distinction from Naval Postgraduate School in 1988. He won the Society of Military History Moncado Prize in 2010 and is the author of Agents of Innovation (2008), Eyewitness Pacific Theater (with D.M. Giangreco, 2008), and numerous articles and editorials.
Those are the two questions that occurred to me when I saw the table of contents of the new issue of West Point's Sentinel.
You may not be interested in terrorism, but terrorism is still interested in you.
As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan end/cycle down, I suspect we'll see the US embrace a post-war variant of counterterrorism strategy which is heavier on law enforcement and intelligence, lighter on military, and heavily reliant on international relationships and organizations (like INTERPOL and foreign liaison services) for its reach. And we will also return to a view of terrorism that treats it more like international criminal activity than belligerent activity, and responds in kind. Query whether that approach will be sufficient, particularly given advances in technology (i.e. 3D printing + autonomous vehicles + proliferation of CBRNE) which will enable terrorist groups to act with more lethality than ever."
I must say, I learn more at CNAS than I have a right to.
Here's the ToC in question:
The June issue contains the following articles:
- The Renewed Threat of Terrorism to Turkey
By Stephen Starr
- The Local Face of Jihadism in Northern Mali
By Andrew Lebovich
- Boko Haram's Evolving Tactics and Alliances in Nigeria
By Jacob Zenn
- A Profile of Khan Said: Waliur Rahman's Successor in the Pakistani Taliban
By Daud Khattak
- Tweeting for the Caliphate: Twitter as the New Frontier for Jihadist Propaganda
By Nico Prucha and Ali Fisher
- Rebellion, Development and Security in Pakistan's Tribal Areas
By Hassan Abbas and Shehzad H. Qazi
- Peace with the FARC: Integrating Drug-Fueled Guerrillas into Alternative Development Programs?
By Jorrit Kamminga
- Recent Highlights in Terrorist Activity
U.S. Military Academy
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.