As a product of the 60”s the Vietnam War was very much a part of my life. Though I was not called into service I felt its affects; losing three of my closest friends in the bloody conflict. I mourned with their parents and siblings after learning the news that their loved ones would not be returning home. The sorrow of those days came flooding back to me when I learned that the president had sent 300 US military “advisors” into Iraq to assess the country’s rapid disintegration into an all out civil war.
In 1955 Communism was spreading throughout Asia. The US government was gravely concerned that if one nation in the region fell under Communist control the rest would follow. The belief was that a Communist presence in the region would present a serious threat to national security. The Southeast Asia Treaty Organization was formed in 1955 to prevent such expansion. The US supported South Vietnamese government was being threatened by attacks by pro-Communist insurgents from the North Vietnam. Eisenhower had authorized the insertion of 700 military and economic advisors to aid the weakened South Vietnamese government.
When Kennedy took office in 1960 all of our efforts to stabilize the region were failing. The South Vietnam government was on the verge of collapse. Corruption, greed, religious differences, public protests and the surge of successful Vietcong attacks were having a disastrous affect. Kennedy increased economic aid to the region and the number of advisors now topped 16,000; all to no avail. Kennedy wrestled with sending in combat troops to aid the South Vietnamese government. At the time of his death he still believed that it was up to the Vietnamese people to decide their own destiny: “In the final analysis it is their war. They are the ones that have to win it or lose it. We can help them, we can give them equipment, we can send our men out there as advisors, but they have to win it, the people of Vietnam against the Communists.”
You all know the rest. Days after making this statement Kennedy was felled by an assassin’s bullet. Lyndon Johnson assumed the presidency and authorized the use of military force in the region. By 1968 over 500,000 US military personnel were fighting in Vietnam. In January of 1975 the North Vietnamese initiated a massive offensive against the South. Saigon fell in short order. A police action that began with the insertion of 700 US military “advisors” ended with the deaths of 58,000 Americans.
Go back and read the last three paragraphs but this time instead of Communist/Communism/Vietnam insert Terrorism/Terrorist/Iraq. The similarities are striking.
This is the Iraqis war. It is up to them to win it or lose it. The American people have invested 4,500 hundred lives and trillions of dollars into the Iraq government and military complex only to watch the Iraqis shed their uniforms and run at the first sight of conflict. If the Iraqis don’t feel that Mosul, or Tikrit or Baghdad are worth fighting for why should we?
The world calls on the president to resolve the conflict. There are no good options here. The president can enter into talks with the ISIS rebels who vow destruction on American interests, or the Maliki government that is cozy with Iran.
Critics like Dick Cheney call him a fool for allowing the the violence to flair and for even considering discussions with Iran. They conveniently ignore the fact that the invasion they so passionately supported created the power vacuum that ISIS and Iran are only too happy to fill. They tell us that relitigating history will only distract us from moving forward.
The truth is that there are lessons to be learned from history.
I’ve learned that anything that starts with the insertion of military advisors often ends badly.