Sunday, August 03, 2008

McCain and Winning the Vietnam War

One of the scariest things that John McCain goes around saying, is that "we could have won the Vietnam War". At the very minimum he shows that he hasn't reflected on this question very deeply.

Here is an exact quote of what he has said, on more than one occasion:

" In 1998, he spoke on the 30th anniversary of the Tet Offensive. "Like a lot of Vietnam veterans, I believed and still believe that the war was winnable," he said. "I do not believe that it was winnable at an acceptable cost in the short or probably even the long term using the strategy of attrition which we employed there to such tragic results. I do believe that had we taken the war to the North and made full, consistent use of air power in the North, we ultimately would have prevailed."

And at a speech on Iraq at the Council on Foreign Relations on Nov. 5, 2003 he said," "We lost in Vietnam because we lost the will to fight, because we did not understand the nature of the war we were fighting, and because we limited the tools at our disposal."

It is here that John McCain stands history on its head. As Joe Conason notes at Salon in his own article entiltled, What John McCain didn't learn in Vietnam, :

" Very few military historians agree with McCain's bitter analysis, which suggests that a ground invasion and an even more destructive bombing campaign, with an unimaginable cost in human life, would have achieved an American victory." and " More than 58,000 Americans were killed in action between 1965 and 1973. More than a million and a half Vietnamese died during that same period, including hundreds of thousands killed by American bombs like those dropped by McCain during the mission that led to his capture, imprisonment and torture. Prosecution of the war diminished American prestige, as did our eventual defeat -- and the price paid by our armed forces and the returning veterans is still painful to recall. The economic cost of the war, calculated in current dollars, may have been as high as $1.7 trillion. "

At this point I would add that U.S forces also suffered " 303,635 WIA wounded in action,(including 153,303 who required hospitalization and 150,332 who didn't)".
And that by mid 1968 there was no consensus for pursuing the war further.
At that time Gen. Westmoreland wanted an additional 200,000 troops as an increase to the some 500,000 U.S. armed personnel already in Vietnam.

At the time say, we did try to launch an invasion of North Vietnam, that is suppose Westmoreland got his additional 200,000 troops, and a land & sea invasion of North Vietnam begins. (Taking the war to the North as McCain mentions.)

Even if this was done, in 1968 or 1969, it has to be remembered that Maoist China was supplying aid to North Vietnam. Suppose U.S. forces are able to grab part of North Vietnam, and then Communist China oks say a million 'Volunteer' cadres to cross into North Vietnam and help the NVA.
A lot of the NVA could have retreated further westward into the jungles of northern Laos. So then you would have had a guerilla war of attrition in the North also, with the added burden of fighting Chinese army volunteers, which is what happened in late 1950 in the Korean War.

And by 1972 US air power had already dropped on North Vietnam more tonnage of bombs, than they did on Germany and Japan, during all of World War II. One can only imagine US combat deaths and the cost and stress on American society of an invasion of the North.

In On Strategy: A critical Analysis of the Vietnam War, by Col.Harry Summers, I believe he quotes a North Vietnamese General, (after 1976)who says about the American presense in the South," How long were you willing to stay? 10, twenty, 30 more years? We were prepared and willing to fight another thirty years or more if necessary".

And as Conason notes further,"

What vital American interests required so many deaths and so much suffering? There were none, but presumably, again, McCain thinks that we were forced to push back against communist expansion in Asia. That too was an awful misconception, based on cultural ignorance, since the Vietnamese accepted Russian and Chinese assistance only to expel the American occupation. Within the decade that followed the American defeat in Indochina, our diplomats were opening a new relationship with China while the Soviet Union, along with communism as an ideological threat, was on the verge of disintegration. "

The reality is that the war in Vietnam was not winnable, short of a kind of Goebbels type " Total War", invasion of the North, with all the mobilizatiion, consequences and costs this would have entailed. And further, in the 1971 incursion into Laos the South Vietnamese army, even after 9 years of training and assistance by the US, showed itself incapable of even being an ally in any sort of projected invasion of the North.

Now McCain did sacrifice around 6 years of his life in a NV prison "hotel", to the cause. In doing so he missed out on all the debate, and rendering of the social fabric that went on in this country from 1967 to 1973. As Mark Benjamin notes in another Salon article:

"He set about learning the lessons of the conflict in Southeast Asia soon after he got back to the United States. McCain spent a year at the National War College at Fort McNair in southwest Washington pursuing a "personal tutorial" on Vietnam, according to Robert Timberg's "John McCain: An American Odyssey." He read everything from David Halberstam's "The Best and the Brightest" to the Pentagon Papers. "

But whatever he learned from this he still thinks the Vietnam War was winnable. He perhaps needs to set down his ideas in an article, about how you win the Vietnam War.

As Conason notes at the end of his article," it is easy to understand why a man who thinks that we should have escalated the Vietnam War after 10 futile years would talk about occupying Iraq for a century. And it is hard to imagine why voters would elect a president who still believes that 60,000 American dead and more than 300,000 wounded in Vietnam were not quite enough. "

What John McCain didn't learn in Vietnam -