December 16, 2003


A Brief History of the Resistance> (JAY WINIK, 12/16/03, NY Times)

As L. Paul Bremer III, America's administrator for Iraq, said last week, there is likely to be an increase in attacks in coming months. So amid the euphoria over the news of Mr. Hussein's capture looms a larger question: what does history tell us about the prospects for success against a guerrilla insurgency committed to fighting until the bitter end? Here, the evidence is sobering.

At its essence, guerrilla warfare is how the weak make war against the strong. Insurrectionist, subversive and chaotic, its application is classic and surprisingly simple: concentrate strength against vulnerability. As most Americans know from the Vietnam experience, guerrilla warfare can work with frightening success.

Well, other than the fact that the Viet Cong had ceased to exist as an effective fighting force by 1972 and operations in South Vietnam had to be taken over by the North Vietnamese, an entirely conventional enemy who we mistakenly failed to consistently treat like one....

The Campaign of Hate and Fear: Some of my fellow Democrats are unpatriotic. (ORSON SCOTT CARD, December 16, 2003, Wall Street Journal)

Vietnam was a quagmire only because we fought it that way. If we had closed North Vietnam's ports and carried the war to the enemy, victory could have been relatively quick. However, the risk of Chinese involvement was too great. Memories of Korea were fresh in everyone's minds, and so Vietnam was fought in such a way as to avoid "another Korea." That's why Vietnam became, well, Vietnam.

But Iraq is not Vietnam. Nor is the Iraq campaign even the whole war. Of course there's still fighting going on. Our war is against terrorist-sponsoring states, and just because we toppled the governments of two of them doesn't mean that the others aren't still sponsoring terrorism. Also, there is a substantial region in Iraq where Saddam's forces are still finding support for a diehard guerrilla campaign.

In other words, the Iraq campaign isn't over--and President Bush has explicitly said so all along. So the continuation of combat and casualties isn't a "failure" or a "quagmire," it's a "war." And during a war, patriotic Americans don't blame the deaths on our government. We blame them on the enemy that persists in trying to kill our soldiers. [...]

I can think of many, many reasons why the Republicans should not control both houses of Congress and the White House. But right now, if the alternative is the Democratic Party as led in Congress and as exemplified by the current candidates for the Democratic nomination, then I can't be the only Democrat who will, with great reluctance, vote not just for George W. Bush, but also for every other candidate of the only party that seems committed to fighting abroad to destroy the enemies that seek to kill us and our friends at home.

And if we elect a government that subverts or weakens or ends our war against terrorism, we can count on this: We will soon face enemies that will make 9/11 look like stubbing our toe, and they will attack us with the confidence and determination that come from knowing that we don't have the will to sustain a war all the way to the end.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 16, 2003 10:45 AM

It will be interesting to see if Card is right, that substantial numbers of people who do not much like GOP domestic policy will overlook that to vote in favor of a robust war policy.

History does not suggest they will, and the more success Bush has over the next year, presumably the less likely the split voters will let the war control their final act in the voting booth.

Of course, if Orrin is right, there's a majority of people who like both the domestic and foreign policies of Bush; and the question does not arise.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 16, 2003 2:42 PM

Not a majority of people, a majority of voters, in enough states to win. The majority will always prefer Statism but thankfully are too stupid and laxy to even vote themselves other peoples' money.

Posted by: Ernst Mayr at December 16, 2003 2:50 PM

The Viet Cong was destroyed as a fighting force during their Tet offensive of 1968.

Posted by: Miguel Becher at December 16, 2003 2:53 PM

The Viet Cong was destroyed as a fighting force during their Tet offensive of 1968.

Posted by: Miguel Becher at December 16, 2003 2:54 PM

Too many people seem to think that guerrillas = invincible. History actually shows they are more likely to be the defeated than victors IF the right measures are taken. We need to have more debate on what those measures are and how can we apply them to Iraq and Afghanistan rather than the ad nauseum Vietnam allegories on the editorial pages.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at December 16, 2003 3:57 PM


It's not only a matter of measures but of situations. Almost without exception, sucessful guerillas have had secure supply lines to patron states, something the Ba'athists in Iraq are for the most part lacking.

Posted by: Mike Earl at December 16, 2003 4:51 PM

The consensus among main streem academics and the mainstream media is that the Viet-Nam War was "wrong" and it was OK that the US pulled out. We will know that the culture wars are over when this consensus is reversed.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at December 17, 2003 8:58 PM