Friday, April 30, 2010

Scene from another angle

The country of Vietnam marked thirty-five years since the end of war by staging a re-enactment of the fall of the Saigon. There, of course, it was viewed as the liberation of Saigon. Tens of thousands of people gathered in front of the former presidential palace residence to watch a play recounting the history of the country from ancient times to when the North's tanks smashed through the gates of the presidential palace, leading to the surrender of the southern government. This was probably not something much noticed by policymakers in the Obama administration, but perhaps it should have been.

The BBC noted in its coverage that the Vietnam War claimed the lives of three million Vietnamese and more than 60,000 US soldiers. This puts paid to all the ludicrous reports from Iraq and Afghanistan about the number of insurgents killed or captured. Read that again, the United States killed three million of theirs to losses of only 60,000 of its own troops, a ratio of more than 50 to 1. The lesson United States policymakers must draw: ultimately it was their country. Like the French before them, America's occupying troops were inevitably going to leave at some point. The Vietnamese knew this, they could simply outlast United States desires. Furthermore, they did not have anywhere else they could go.

This is just as true in Iraq and Afghanistan. Violent dissent can and will outlast American soldiers, because those soldiers will inevitably eventually leave. Afghanis already learned this lesson with the Soviets. The Iraqis learned it from the British. Nor do the Afghanis and Iraqis have anywhere else to go. Afghani refugees are being turned back from Australia. Iraqi refugees, even those who served the Armed Forces, are being denied the right to immigrate to America. If one knows their enemy will eventually leave, and one has no or very limited options to leave oneself, why submit to the external attempt to impose a way of life? By geographical fiat, the battle of wills is one-sided.

The BBC reports that Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet said in a speech at the ceremony, "The country's status in the international arena has been lifted while its people's lives increasingly improved." They note, "Vietnam remains under communist rule and the government keeps tight control over politics and the media. But its economy has improved dramatically since the war, and diplomatic relations have resumed with the United States."

This outcome and this lesson has already been absorbed by the leadership and the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. The key issue is whether or not it has been absorbed by the Obama administration. There is no amount of blood and treasure that is sufficient enough to win when the enemy knows that your norms inherently dictate that you will eventually leave. American can out kill them by 50-1 and it will not be enough. They live there and have nowhere else to go. It is not a question for Obama of being more resolute, the enemy already perceives, if not him, then somebody else, somebody must eventually withdraw the troops. They will out last America, they have outlasted much more despotic conquerors. And America is not pure enough to claim to have changed hearts and minds. There has been too much collateral damage.

As the irascible Molly Irvins once said, "Let's get out of Iraq before we kill more Iraqis than Saddam did." To the Clarion Content, that means asap. And please, oh pragmatist President Obama, cross-apply this lesson and let America make all due haste to withdraw from Afghanistan as well.

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