"The decision to lift the arms trade ban, which followed intense debate within the Obama administration, suggested such concerns outweighed arguments that Vietnam had not done enough to improve its human rights record and Washington would lose leverage for reforms.
Obama told a joint news conference with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang that disputes in the South China Sea should be resolved peacefully and not by whoever "throws their weight around". But he insisted the arms embargo move was not linked to China.
"The decision to lift the ban was not based on China or any other considerations. It was based on our desire to complete what has been a lengthy process of moving towards normalization with Vietnam," he said. Obama later added his visit to a former foe showed "hearts can change and peace is possible".
The sale of arms, Obama said, would depend on Vietnam's human rights commitments, and would be made on a case-by-case basis." Reuters
I know the Vietnamese people quite well having lived among them at the village level without benefit of five-star hotels and fancy restaurants. I respect their cleverness, style, work ethic, etc. They will make a valuable ally in the growing contest with China that we and the Chinese seem embarked on. A dozen Vietnamese divisions armed with American made weapons and manned by the descendants of those whom I and many on SST once fought to the death would be a potent force and something the Chinese would have to reckon with as possible enemies. Is that a good thing? Maybe ... Maybe ... But, would China as a friendly country not be a more worthwhile friendly force in the world? China is hugely larger and stronger than Vietnam and always will be.
There is little reason to prefer one over the other as a "friend." Both are run by single party Communist autocracies. In neither is there an independent judiciary or press. The record of respect for anything that could be called human rights is abysmal in both countries. The Han Chinese long ago conquered Tibet and are there engaged in massive cultural imperialism. Their treatment of the Muslim Uighurs in west China is equally bad. In Vietnam the Communist government has persecuted every ethnic, non-Vietnamese minority that can be found in the country, and there are many of those. The Vietnamese language word used for describing all these minorities is "moi." This means "animal," roughly.
The Vietnamese Communists have long been a romantic attachment of the American and European Left. Obama must be pleased to have the opportunity to befriend the government in VN. He looks pleased in the photograph, the Vietnamese president, not so much. pl
"To fulfill its self-imposed obligations as sole superpower, the United States would need a citizenry that subscribes to the cwarrior-patriot’s code: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. How sweet and fitting it is to die for one’s country. Most Americans are far more likely to subscribe to the code vividly displayed each weekend in Style sections of newspapers. There, the appeal of dying for one’s country takes a backseat to the latest tips on relationships, restaurants, recipes, street wear, household furnishings, and places to be seen.
Between what our duties as a self-proclaimed indispensable nation ostensibly require and what our freewheeling culture encourages, there exists a contradiction. In the White House, the Pentagon, and the Congress, the stewards of U.S. national security policy assume they can manage that contradiction. Yet day-by-day, evidence suggesting otherwise piles up." Dallas news.
Colonel (Ret.) Doctor Bacevich believes that the numbers recruitable for the US armed forces on a voluntary basis are not large enough to sustain a foreign policy as aggressive as ours.
He and I fought in Vietnam. We had over 500,000 troops there in 1968 just before Nixon's phased withdrawal began. There were also several hundred thousand anticommunist native troops. South Vietnam and the adjoining countries were very large. The numbers available to us were, IMO, marginal in the task of trying to defend the country against the Viet Cong/NVA.
If that is so, then how ridiculous was the attempt to occupy and pacify Iraq and/or Afghanistan with what amounted to a relative handful of men. It was obvious from the beginning that the numbers available were too small. The voodoo semi-religion of COIN was used to inflict the delusion of sufficiency of forces on the armed forces of the US. This doctrinal fantasy was spread by people like McMaster, Nagl, Kilcullen and a cluster of other "children" who professed to have learned in libraries that VN was lost to the communists because the US blundered around in the jungles and rice paddies throughout the war trying to re-fight the Battle of the Bulge or the Okinawa campaign. In fact the US sought assiduously to apply the COIN folly to VN throughout the war, and did it with resources that were vastly greater than any available in the GWOT. I was there and worked with the CORDS/COIN apparat. So, I guess I probably know what I am talking about.
Colonel Bacevich does not seem very specific about the solution to the question that he poses.
It seems clear to me that the draft will not return. Bacevich says that as well. He and I agree that American culture is now so sybaritic and self-obsessed that it is unlikely that the force necessary to pursue our self-assigned mission of world "purification" can be created and maintained.
As a rationalist I feel it necessary to say that the "reach" of US foreign policy has, since 9/11, exceeded its "grasp." We should give up our R2P dreams and define US security interest as being the defense of the homeland. If we do that then the numbers available and our policy would begin to match. pl
Earlier COL Lang referenced Bernard Fall's COIN equation. Fall was very prolific - writing both books and articles, as well as lecturing right up until the time of his death while on patrol with the marines in Vietnam on the Street Without Joy. In his "Theory of Insurgency and Counterinsurgency", originally presented as a lecture and then transcribed and published in Naval War College Review, Fall posited his equation for Revolutionary Warfare and presents in the narrative the basis for the equation that Col Lang referenced and which he would present in equation form elsewhere. For everyone's convenience, I'm attaching the pdf of the article below the post. Its not long, but its well worth taking the time to read it. One of the most prescient portions is just before Fall's conclusion:
Civic action is not the construction of privies or the distribution of antimalaria sprays. One can't fight an ideology; one can't fight a militant doctrine with better privies. Yet this is done constantly. One side says, "land reform," and the other side says, "better culverts." One side says, "We are going to kill all those nasty village chiefs and landlords." The other side says, "Yes, but look, we want to give you prize pigs to improve your strain." These arguments just do not match. Simple but adequate appeals will have to be found sooner or later.
It was Col Lang who advised me to read Dr. Fall's works as part of my preparation for the work I do for the military. In reality he told everyone in that classroom back in December 2007 to do so and it was excellent advice. Sadly I have found too few have read Fall and to many overly rely on more modern/recent scholars and practitioners of COIN. In many ways I find that Fall is like Sun Tzu. If you read him carefully and take his lessons to heart, you will never try to conduct counterinsurgency.** Just as the careful reader of Sun Tzu learns that the only real Taoist way of war is to never fight one.
I recently had reason, about two weeks ago, to go back and reread Fall's article and among the things that stuck out at me was the block quote I pulled out above. In that one quote Fall encapsulates the key point that too many seem to miss when they try to develop a strategy to defeat revolutionary movements - the tactical solutions that seem to work and are easily counted cannot and will not get you to victory.* Another key point that jumped out at me two weeks ago is Fall's remarks about the spreading oil slick, now called the spreading ink spot, concept. I've read and reread this piece at least ten times in the past eight years, but its always jarring to see Fall explain that this could only work in the Sahara as the center of the slick was to be the oases. If you could clear and hold the water supply, and then connect your points of control from oasis to oasis, eventually everyone would have to come to you or die of thirst. There were no oases in Vietnam. There are no oases in Anbar Province...
* I think it was three or four months ago that Tyler was deriding the idea of the need to create jobs in Iraq and Syria to remove an economic driver of support for DAESH. From a strategic perspective Tyler was spot on - tactical level economic development is not going to solve/resolve this conflict. And while we would probably see some success if the economies in Syria and Iraq improved, the lack of jobs and opportunity is a symptom, not the actual problem. And as Fall indicates that problem can't be fixed by building roads or sewer systems or toilets, etc.
** This, as he has made clear many times here at SST, and Col Lang's very informed view of COIN as well.
The passing of this Vietnamese communist revolutionary should be noted. Giap was a scion of a family of the landholding class in Tonkin. He grew up in comfortable circumstances and was educated in public institutions created by the French colonial administration of Indochina. He was a student at Hanoi University from 1933 to 1938. He became a provincial schoolteacher on graduation. There is a great irony in this since many of the French paratroop officers he waged war against had been provincial school teachers and reservists before World War Two.
Giap displayed a taste for revolutionary politics from an early age. He took an active role in organizing Vietnamese guerrillas against Japanese occupying forces during WW2.
The French decision to re-occupy Indochina at war's end put Giap and other Vietnamese revolutionaries on the path to creation of a socialist state with the help of the communist countries of Europe and Asia and with the sympathy of leftists across the world. Communist China began to provide large amounts of materiel aid as well as training at all levels after 1948.
Giap was not a field commander on the model of many who could be named. He was a military theorist and organizer of victory. He was more like Fox Connor or George Marshall than he was like Patton, Guderian or Rommel.
His writings are significant in the context of the literary patrimony of the military art. "People's War, People's Army," is, in my opinion, the best theoretical work on insurgency that emerged in the post WW2 era. It is much better than the writings of Guevara or Mao.
A North Vietnamese Colonel supposedly told Harry Summers that although the US won all the battles in the VN war, the communists won the war. In that context it can be fairly said that Giap won both the French War and the US War. He won both wars because his forces and strategy exhausted political support for these wars among the populace of his adversaries. pl
I wrote this next thing as part of an autobiographical work. It seems apt now. The time was 1969. pl
"In May I turned over command of the team and went to the coast to spend a week at battalion headquarters writing reports and being debriefed. While at Battalion, I went to dinner one night at a brand new Chinese restaurant located as a concession on the big U.S. Army post at Long Binh. There were four MI people at my table and nearby several junior officers from the 101st Airborne Division were eating at another table. Among them was a young captain wearing the faded, worn uniform in which he had come in from the field. He had the haggard, sunburned look that came with living in the outdoors. He had the look that in the French Army is called “Le Christ descendu de la croix.” During the meal, the restaurant door opened and in came MG Melvin Zais, the 101st’s CG and his aide. A week or so before, the 101st had repeatedly assaulted a hill in the central highlands, the hill which came to be known as “Hamburger Hill.” They assaulted it nine or ten times from the bottom up instead of landing on the top and fighting their way down. This did not make a lot of sense given the number of helicopters in the division. Rumor had it that Zais had ordered the attack to be made in this way to demonstrate to the American command and to the NVA that the 101st was still as fine a fighting organization as it had been when he had served in it in World War II. It had been a difficult fight. A lot of men died. They took the hill. The young-old captain put down his chopsticks and placed his sun cracked hands on the edge of the table to watch General Zais. Zais ignored him, although the aide whispered something to the general about him. Tension grew in the restaurant. The captain’s friends talked to him. One of them put his hand on the man’s forearm. The young man struggled to his feet despite the restraining hands that tried to drag him back into his seat. “Blackjack!” he roared across the restaurant, shaking his fist as he did so. (Blackjack was Zais’ radio call sign.) “Blackjack!” he went on. “Damn you! You killed my company! Damn you! Are you happy now? Are you happy? You killed my company..” Zais never looked at him. He stood up and walked out the door trailing his aide. The captain sat down, put his elbows on the table, and covered his eyes with his hands." pl
Every once in a while I hear some fool say how much better "the force" is now. You are welcome America. You are welcome. pl