Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Tet Offensive: Warnings for Iraq

We lost the Vietnam War. Of this, there is no doubt. But we could have won. Oh, yes, we could have won.

The war, though far from smooth, had by 1968 become manageable in the eyes of the US military. Several semi-permanent bases had been established by the DMZ between North and South Vietnam. One in particular, Khe Sanh, was established close enough to the Laotian border as to serve as a relatively effective striking point to hit the famed Ho Chi Minh trail. Just when things were looking up, the unthinkable happened:

The Tet Offensive.

Despite being, by all rights, a military failure of the North Vietnamese, and successfully repelled by the Americans and their allies, the sheer magnitude of the offensive shocked almost everyone. Millions of Americans watched on TV as Walter Cronkite turned his back on the war, convincing those Americans to do the same. General Westmoreland, until then the commander of American forces in Vietnam, was replaced by General Abrams. What followed was a change in American strategy.

After Tet was subdued, American leadership decided to shift from trying to win the war with American military forces to trying to win the war by training and supplying the South Vietnamese forces to operate independently and defend themselves.

Stop me if this sounds familiar.

The result we all know too well. By 1973, American intervention in the war was effectively over and, in 1975, South Vietnam would fall to the North. Not exactly the end we were hoping for.

While no doubt arguable, there is little doubt in this author's mind that Vietnam could have been won (or, at least, not lost) had the American home front not waned in its support for the war. But the Tet Offensive would provide most Americans with the ultimate image of the war, and that image was a bad one.

Ironically, as mentioned earlier, the Tet Offensive was a success for the American forces. Out of the hundreds of targets attacked by the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong during the offensive, none were successfully occupied for more than a month. Even the American base at Khe Sanh, despite a continuous assault by the North Vietnamese, remained in American hands until General Abrams ordered it destroyed and evacuated after six months of battle. Another little known fact about the supression of the Tet Offensive was that the Viet Cong was essentially destroyed as an effective fighting force. The shift in American policy to passive intervention is what allowed the VC to rise to power once again.

Whether or not the Vietnam War was a just cause is not the issue here. For this thesis, that issue is completely irrelevant. What is relevant is that the loss of Vietnam was a direct result of the shift from a malignant American military to a benign one. The shift from fighting for and with the South Vietnamese to simply supporting the South Vietnamese.

Again, sound familiar?

Whether or not the Iraq War is a just cause is not the issue here. What is the issue is what's going to happen after we leave. If done too early, we're doomed to repeat the experience in Vietnam. Politics aside, is that really what we want?


Anonymous said...

well said!!!

Posted by you have no idea... on October 9, 2008 - Thursday - 7:19 AM

Anonymous said...

Jeff, are you high? The Vietnam war could have been won? Militarily, yes. Hell, technically if we would have just dropped several nukes on North Vietnam, we would have 'won'. But wars, in the end, aren't about winning militarily. Carthage won military triumph after military triumph against Rome. England won military triumph after military triumph against France in the Hundred Years War. In the end they lost because a military victory isn't enough. As far as Vietnam goes, we're winning that war more now than ever, through economic means.

The idea of bringing change at the barrel of a gun is out dated. The only thing its going to serve to do is bankrupt the US like it did the USSR. Get with the times.

Posted by Introspective Prophesier on October 17, 2008 - Friday - 7:24 PM

Anonymous said...

Once again, your purposefully narrow perspectives 1) completely ignore the point of the blog and 2) completely betray your lack of understanding in what unfolds and how.

The first point is simple. No, I'm not high; you are. Nowhere in that entry did it state that 1) entering Vietnam was a good idea or 2) politics is best served by war. Admittedly, I could argue that second statement.

The second point is simple. Vietnam's political split is near 50:50, even when we were there. Just as the communists had ample support in the south, the "nationalists" (to use a Chinese Civil War term) had plenty of support in the north. That war was ultimately won and lost based solely on foreign aid. We stopped ours. China did not.

And, just to drive the point home again, nowhere in that entry did it talk about political causes of entry or exit. Nowhere. That you infuse those betrays your political scotosis and total inability to comprehend a situation relative to nothing but that situation.

Vietnam could've been won. Absolutely. Can Iraq? Maybe, maybe not. But withdrawing before any stability can be self-sustained will undoubtedly make Iraq what Vietnam ultimately was: a complete waste of US money.

I am with the times. Since the early discussions of invading Iraq, I've argued against an occupation force. What you need to do is get with the program. Start thinking outside your tiny box.

Posted by JeffScape on October 21, 2008 - Tuesday - 9:21 AM

Anonymous said...

Actually, my perspective is broad. My argument is that yours is narrow. You're using the example on whether we could have won in Vietnam militarily to argue your point in Iraq. I'm arguing the greater political ramifications of being in Vietnam apply in Iraq. You want to use one part of the Vietnam example without using the greater example, which is that the victory we were looking to have in in Vietnam was not possible through military means. We could have won a military victory, yes, but a pyrrhic victory nonetheless. To ignore that last part, is to be narrow minded.

As you point out, the Tet Offensive was a huge failure by the the North, militarily. Politically, however, it showed Americans that the North was still going to fight us, even after all the years we had been there. We turned away from the war not because we thought they were going to kick our ass but because we started questioning if it was worth the cost to stay. That's an important point.

Posted by Introspective Prophesier on October 21, 2008 - Tuesday - 5:56 PM

Anonymous said...

No, your perspective remains narrow. You again make a connection that you want to see against an argument that made no such connection. I am not arguing that Vietnam's "win-ability" means we should "stay the course" in Iraq. What I am arguing (and have argued) is that what happened after American involvement in the war is why we should "stay the course" in Iraq. A broad perspective would have acknowledged that; yours did not.

And you again show your biased scope of argument in claiming that a military victory in Vietnam would've been "pyrrhic." Not necessarily so. To ignore the fact that Vietnam's political split was relatively even is to be narrow minded. Any regime, be it South Vietnamese or North Vietnamese would have been a stable force in that region, as long as one or the other had been rendered ineffective on a military scale. I am not arguing the "evils of Communism," "American strategic interests," or any other political ramification of either war. You seem to think I am, probably because you have a narrow perspective.

The point is this: leaving is what will fuck things up. That's it, nothing more. If you don't think that's the truth, then you are definitely high.

Your second paragraph is entirely logical, and I agree with the points you make in it. But sometimes people need to maintain a stomach for something, even if they don't want to. Even you should agree with that.

Posted by JeffScape on October 23, 2008 - Thursday - 12:45 PM

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