By Michael Filozof
June 25, 2010
The Vietnam War was the defining event for the modern Democratic
Party. Nearly four decades after the war ended, we ought to ask if
the Democrats learned anything from Vietnam that is applicable to Afghanistan.
In Vietnam, the U.S. fought an insurgency in a remote, forbidding
jungle that neutralized our tactical advantage. In Afghanistan, we
are fighting an insurgency in remote, forbidding mountains that
neutralize our tactical advantage.
In Vietnam, the insurgents had no armor and no air power. They
attacked American patrols with jury-rigged explosives called "booby
traps." In Afghanistan, the insurgents have no armor and no air
power. They attack American patrols with jury-rigged explosives called "IEDs."
In Vietnam, a socialist country tried to defeat the insurgents before
the U.S. became involved. It failed. It was called "France." In
Afghanistan, a socialist country also tried to defeat the insurgents
before the U.S. became involved. It also failed. It was called the
In Vietnam, American involvement began by sending advisers, Special
Forces, and CIA operatives. Nine years later, we had hundreds of
thousands of troops in combat brigades stationed there. In
Afghanistan, American involvement began by sending in advisers,
Special Forces, and CIA operatives. Nine years later, we have combat
brigades and over a hundred thousand troops stationed there.
In Vietnam, the insurgents routinely obtained assistance and
sanctuary in a foreign nation where U.S. forces were forbidden to go.
It was called "Cambodia." In Afghanistan, insurgents routinely obtain
assistance and sanctuary in a foreign nation where U.S. troops are
forbidden to go. It is called "Pakistan."
In Vietnam, the U.S. sought to protect the population from insurgents
through a program called "Strategic Hamlets." It didn't work. In
Afghanistan, the U.S. is seeking to protect the population from the
insurgents with a program called "Clear, Build, and Hold." It isn't
In Vietnam, the U.S. supported a corrupt ruler who rigged elections
in an attempt to give his regime a veneer of legitimacy. His name was
"Diem." In Afghanistan, the U.S. is supporting a corrupt ruler who
rigged elections to give himself a veneer of legitimacy. His name is "Karzai."
In Vietnam, the U.S. declared that its goal was to train and equip an
indigenous force to hold off the insurgents by themselves. They were
called the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam). The ARVN turned
out to be incompetent and corrupt. In Afghanistan, our strategy is to
train and equip indigenous forces called the ANA (Afghan National
Army). The ANA is also incompetent and corrupt.
We fought in Vietnam for over a decade, but Congress never declared
war on Vietnam. We have fought in Afghanistan for nine years with no
end in sight, and Congress has not declared war on Afghanistan, either.
The Vietnam War was escalated by a Democratic president named
"Johnson." Johnson could not afford to look soft on communism in the
1964 campaign because his Republican opponent was a hawkish fighter
pilot from Arizona named "Goldwater." The Afghanistan war was
escalated by a Democratic president named "Obama." Obama could not
afford to look soft on terrorism in the 2008 campaign, because his
Republican opponent was a hawkish fighter pilot from Arizona named "McCain."
Although Johnson was responsible for escalating the Vietnam War, his
real interest was in domestic politics, where he presided over a
massive expansion of the welfare state and created expensive federal
health care programs called "Medicare" and "Medicaid." While Obama is
responsible for escalating the Afghan war, his real interest is in
domestic politics, where he has massively expanded the welfare state
and created an expensive federal health care program called "Obamacare."
Rather than leave the battlefield tactics in Vietnam up to his field
commanders, Johnson was known for micromanaging the war and
manipulating bombing strategies and other rules of engagement that
prevented the U.S. forces from going all-out. In Afghanistan, Obama
has micromanaged the war with restrictive rules of engagement that
prevent the U.S. forces from going all-out.
In Vietnam, the United States lost. In Afghanistan...we're not winning.
Have the Democrats learned anything from Vietnam? Actually, they have
learned many important lessons.
First, they have learned that anti-war riots and protests should be
conducted only against Republican presidents, not Democratic
presidents. (Isn't it amazing how Code Pink and Cindy Sheehan
disappeared after George W. Bush left office?)
Second, they have learned to not send Jane Fonda to enemy territory
to pose for enemy propaganda photos. Unlike the warm reception she
received in Hanoi, the Taliban would probably behead her live on the
internet for failing to wear a burqa.
Third, they have learned that if a Democratic presidential candidate
plans to conduct a foreign policy of national self-abasement and
groveling before our enemies, it is probably better to not announce
it during the campaign. George McGovern promised that he'd "crawl on
his hands and knees to Hanoi and beg for peace" in 1972 and lost 49
states. Obama did not apologize to the Muslim world and bow before
foreign monarchs until after he was elected.
Finally, the most important lesson the Democrats have learned is that
they should not draft long-haired, stoned hippies and America-hating
radicals on college campuses and send them to war. They'll only riot
and try to bomb the Pentagon (like Bill Ayers did). And it makes no
sense to offend the voters who are virtually guaranteed to support
the Democratic Party anyway.
It's far better to prosecute a war with patriotic, America-loving
volunteers from red states who probably voted Republican in the first
place, and to play them for suckers by sending them on a mission
about which you've said you're "uncomfortable" using the term "victory."
The Democrats have indeed learned a lot from Vietnam, haven't they?