Monday, July 24, 2006

WaPo: In Iraq, Military Forgot Lessons of Vietnam WaPo: In Iraq, Military Forgot Lessons of Vietnam

Thomas E. Ricks in a WaPo article yesterday: "In Iraq, Military Forgot Lessons of Vietnam: Early Missteps by U.S. Left Troops Unprepared for Guerrilla Warfare" takes the U.S. military to task for how they approached Iraq. He faults them for not learning the lessons of Vietnam, and therefore using overwhelming force in the face of insurgency.

He makes some good points. The U.S. wasn't prepared to fight a gorrilla war, and we used much too much force for the first couple of years, at the expense of doing what was necessary, which was to earn the respect and loyalty of the Iraqi people.

But the reference to Vietnam gives away the writer's extreme biasees. Most notably, he forgets that the reason that Vietnam was lost was not through a native insurgency. The native Vietnamese insurgency was essentially eliminated in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive. Rather, South Vietnam fell to a conventional army of tanks, artillary, and aircraft, coming down from the North. During the time between the Paris Peace Treaty and the breaking of this treaty by the North with their invasion of the South, after having been massively supplied by their patrons, the U.S.S.R. and the P.R.C. during this time, while the South had been shut off from replenishment of their armaments by a liberal U.S. Congress. While the NVA was rolling into the South, in direct violation of this treaty, President Ford went to Congress and requested the bullets and shells that the South was requesting, and we had promised them. And the Democratic Congress refused, repudicating the formal promises made to the South Vietnamese, and, thus, guaranteeing their subjugation.

Kennedy talks about fighting an insurgency with small units instead of big ones, and uses the Special Forces as an example. And in Vietnam, we used Special Forces to fight the insurgency. But they don't do well fighting large units. Kennedy forgets that the reason that we switched from that form of fighting in Vietnam was precisely because the nature of the enemy changed. The bulk of U.S. casualties in that war were the result of actions against large units. The fight in the Ia Drang Valley in 1965 that Mel Gibson protrayed in his recent movie was not against the Viet Cong, but rather, a regiment of NVA. Indeed, for good reason, this would become the primary way that we would fight on the ground for the remainder of the war. We would put out a medium sized unit as bait. And then, when the NVA would engage with a much larger unit, we would destroy it with our air force and artillery.

So, we have Kennedy second guessing 2003. Apparently, there are some of the reccently translated documents that indicate that Saddam Hussein had been considering a gurilla war in response to our pending invasion of Iraq. From this, we are supposed to believe that it was realistic to anticipate this. Of course, the last time we had engaged the Iraqis, it had been in an extremely conventional war. VII Corp swung up around the Iraqis and hit them from the side and behind. The last time we had engaged in this intensity of warfare had been Korea. Corp against Corp. Multiple divisions fighting multiple divisions.

And, somehow, Kennedy expected us to have predicted that the Iraqi army, that had required so many of our divisions last time, would collapse in so many days. But they wouldn't have in the face of a couple of Special Forces teams working with our own insurgents, like they did in Afganistan. Many of the same people who are decrying our use of too much force to fight this insurgency were bemoaning that Rumsfeld was only using half the forces this time as we used ten years earlier. But, as it worked out, they were more than sufficient for the job.

Kennedy bemoans that the military hasn't changed its approach fast enough. But fast enough would have required it to be instaneous. The military is big and cumbersome. And, yes, it takes awhile to change course. But change course here they did. And probably faster than could realistically be expected.

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