April 4, 1999
When will the United States wake up and smell its own stupidity? Did the Vietnam War teach it nothing? Even 24 years after the final helicopter carried the last Americans and pro-American Vietnamese from the rooftop of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon on April 29, 1975, the Clinton administration is acting as if the Vietnam War never happened.
The same blunders, the same arrogance, the same self-deceptions that led to that ignominious defeat are everywhere as the U.S. and its faithful NATO sidekicks try to bomb Serbia into negotiating a peace treaty.
In Operation “Rolling Thunder” (1965–73), the U.S. tried to force North Vietnam to negotiate peace terms by raining more bomb tonnage on it than was dropped by all parties in WWII. “Rolling Thunder” failed.
In Operation “Desert Storm” (1991), the U.S.-dominated NATO force dropped more tonnage on Iraq than was dropped on Vietnam to force President Saddam Hussein out of power. Hussein is still in power.
Now in Serbia, the U.S. somehow expects its twice-failed tactic to force Serb President Slobodan Milosevic to come to the peace table. The sheer magnitude of this folly staggers the mind. If failure has one redeeming purpose, it is to teach us what not to do, but lessons are wasted on those too dim or too self-righteous to listen. To evaluate the folly of the NATO bombing campaign against Serbia, let’s see how it compares with Vietnam.
First, the U.S. never formally declared war on Vietnam, which means that its attack was a violation of international law, and had no legitimacy. The closest Congress came to declaring war was passing the Tonkin Gulf Resolution in August 1964, but its pretext, even at the time, was known to be a sham.
In the case of Serbia—and the recent bombing of Iraq for that matter—no declaration of war was ever made. The U.S. decision to attack was arbitrary, and a violation of international law. Ironically, this is precisely the sort of imperious action the United Nations was supposed to prevent, but because Russia would never have approved an attack, the U.S. went behind the Security Council’s back—again.
Second, the U.S. in Vietnam had no clear objectives and no realistic expectation of success. On March 26, 1964, Defence Secretary Robert McNamara outlined the three objectives of U.S. military policy in Vietnam.
• To prevent the fall of South Vietnam to Communism;
• To prevent Southeast Asia from falling into Communist hands; and
• To thwart Communist aims at aggression.
(Note: these are all political, not military, objectives.)
Almost exactly a year later on March 24, 1965, McNamara received a memorandum assessing U.S. policy from Assistant Defence Secretary John. T. McNaughton:
70 per cent: To avoid a humiliating U.S. defeat (to our reputation as a guarantor);
20 per cent: to keep SVN (South Vietnam) and the adjacent territory from Chinese hands;
10 per cent: To permit the people of SVN to enjoy a better, freer way of life.
ALSO—to emerge from crisis without unacceptable taint from methods used…
The situation in general is bad and deteriorating.”
As the memo from McNaughton shows, America’s position in the world, not the South Vietnamese, was the overriding consideration. Consequently, within four months of his memo, President Lyndon Johnson accepted Gen. William Westmoreland’s request for 44 combat battalions (100,000 troops) and left the U.S. commitment to Vietnam open-ended. By June 1966, U.S. troops in Vietnam numbered 542,000.
The U.S. lost the Vietnam War because it had no definable objectives and became a captive of its own policy. In Serbia, the U.S. is setting itself up for a similar quagmire—an open-ended commitment to attack; military policy employed to prosecute a non-military agenda; and an unwillingness at the outset to commit the resources to do the job properly.
Among NATO’s aims are the “minimization” of the Serb army and the “limitation” of its ability to attack the Kosovar Albanians. Half-measures like this, as any good student of Machiavelli knows, betray a lack of leadership, cede the initiative to the enemy and invite failure.
Wednesday on CBC-TV, U.S. National Security Council spokesman Anthony Blinken repeated, with a straight face, the official line that the air attack against Serbia is adequate in itself, but will take time. He also wants Milosevic to “say yes to peace.” On Thursday, the Globe and Mail reported that the White House concedes that the air attack won’t be enough.
In Canada, Defence Minister Art Eggleton, believe it or not, ruled out sending in Canadian troops so long as there’s conflict! But he’s ready to commit a “peacekeeping” force once things cool down. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien has now said Canada would send troops if the air campaign proved unsuccessful, which it will.
Without a legitimate foundation, definitive strategy or popular support, this “war” will take on a life of its own and become its own justification.
Welcome to Vietnam.