January 16, 2007


Insurgencies Rarely Win - And Iraq Won't Be Any Different (Maybe) (Donald Stoker, January 2007, Foreign Policy)

Myths about invincible guerrillas and insurgents are a direct result of America's collective misunderstanding of its defeat in South Vietnam. This loss is generally credited to the brilliance and military virtues of the pajama-clad Vietcong. The Vietnamese may have been tough and persistent, but they were not brilliant. Rather, they were lucky--they faced an opponent with leaders unwilling to learn from their failures: the United States. When the Vietcong went toe-to-toe with U.S. forces in the 1968 Tet Offensive, they were decimated. When South Vietnam finally fell in 1975, it did so not to the Vietcong, but to regular units of the invading North Vietnamese Army. The Vietcong insurgency contributed greatly to the erosion of the American public's will to fight, but so did the way that President Lyndon Johnson and the American military waged the war. It was North Vietnam's will and American failure, not skillful use of an insurgency, that were the keys to Hanoi's victory.

Similar misunderstandings persist over the Soviet Union's defeat in Afghanistan, the other supposed example of guerrilla invincibility. But it was not the mujahidin's strength that forced the Soviets to leave; it was the Soviet Union's own economic and political weakness at home. In fact, the regime the Soviets established in Afghanistan was so formidable that it managed to survive for three years after the Red Army left.

Of course, history is not without genuine insurgent successes. Fidel Castro's victory in Cuba is probably the best known, and there was the IRA's partial triumph in 1922, as well as Algeria's defeat of the French between 1954 and 1962. But the list of failed insurgencies is longer: Malayan Communists, Greek Communists, Filipino Huks, Nicaraguan Contras, Communists in El Salvador, Che Guevara in Bolivia, the Boers in South Africa (twice), Savimbi in Angola, and Sindero Luminoso in Peru, to name just a few. If the current U.S. administration maintains its will, establishes security in Baghdad, and succeeds in building a functioning government and army, there is no reason that the Iraqi insurgency cannot be similarly destroyed, or at least reduced to the level of terrorist thugs.

Properly understood, the United States was the insurgency in Vietnam.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 16, 2007 9:13 PM

We were especially skilled at melting back into the countryside: Cam Ranh Bay, which we turned into one of the largest military installations in the world.

Posted by: Rick Perlstein at January 16, 2007 10:33 PM

Yes, when an insurgency establishes bases in the open it is very easy to hit, see Al Qaeda/Taleban in Pakistani tribal areas or the Confederacy, which followed Lee to its doom rather than Longstreet.

Posted by: oj at January 16, 2007 11:27 PM

While I am not gong to argue with the premise of this post, there is a detail on which you are WRONG WRONG WRONG - about the Boere (not "Boers" - that's what the English called them so they could pronounce it "Boors" to denigrate them.) First and foremost, the Boere were the legitimate government of the day, NOT the insurgents (see some basic history on the Transvaal (Boer) Republic and the (Boer) Republic of the Orange Free state.

Second - their first war was fought (and won) against an INVASION led by an adventurer by the name of Starr Jameson (see more basic history on The Jameson Raid.)

Third - They were then invaded by a vastly superior force, the super power of the day, Great Britain. This time they lost, but only after a prolonged struggle and after the British resorted to a number of war crimes (see basic history on The Second Boer War and Concentration Camps run by the British in South Africa)

I could provide you with links, but your ignorance on this issue prompts me to suggest that you do penance by doing some Googleing.

Posted by: John at January 17, 2007 2:59 AM

Traditionally the sovereign is the power that can round you up and put you in concentration camps, so the argument that the Boers were the insurgents is creditable, but I'd agree that by our newer liberal democratic understanding the Brits were indeed the insurgents.

Posted by: oj at January 17, 2007 7:26 AM

The article mildly distorts the history of the greater Dolchstoss. By this I refer to the renunciation of the Treaty of Paris by the Watergate Congress, in distinction from the lesser Dorchstoss, which was the earlier betrayal of the praying Vietnamese by Kennedy.

The myth advanced by the article was that North Vietnam won as an insurgency, when the reality is that South Vietnam had never been set up fight off the North without our help. When the Comsymp/poltroon coalition cut off that help, Communist victory was inevitable.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 17, 2007 7:50 AM

Vietnam was a real place, North and South weren't.

Posted by: oj at January 17, 2007 9:01 AM

Frivilous. When the Boxers shot their way to power in the north, the praying Vietnamese fled south. It had been in our interest to maintain them for both cultural and geopolitical reasons.

The lesser Dolchstoss, the betrayal and assassination of Jean Baptiste Diem, took place when our culture traitors woke up to what Vietnam was all about, at the time of the barbecued bonzes.

The result was loss of American credibvility as well loss of advanced bases.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 17, 2007 9:30 AM
Vietnam was a real place, North and South weren't.
Not according to Triumph Forsaken, a book highly recommended around here. It states that unification of Vietnam before the our efforts there was both recent and an historical anamoly. Did the book get that basic fact wrong? Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 17, 2007 10:54 AM

Yes. The Vietnamese, of both North and South, considered themselves Vietnamese. It was a simple civil war.

Here's a, necessarily, simplistic way for you to think about it; in the absence of extra-democratic authority being used to enforce union or disunion what would be the natural state?

Obvious examples of places that have zero chance of remaining unified would be; the EU, Britain, Italy, Iraq, the Lebanon, Russia, China, Canada, Iran, India, Israel, etc.

Obvious examples of places that will remain unified or will unify are: Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, etc.

Posted by: oj at January 17, 2007 11:17 AM

Hutu vs. Tutsi. Shia vs. Sunni. Serb vs. Croat. Greek vs. Turk. Creen vs. Orange. Tonkinese vs. Anamese.

Vietnam was an artifical colonial construct by the French, not unlike some of the other artificial constructs in the above list.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at January 17, 2007 11:49 AM

When Vietnam is fully democratic will it divide or remain one state?

Posted by: oj at January 17, 2007 11:53 AM

Raoul: Agreed, but it was in our interest, as well as that of the Vietnamese, to advance their conversion.

Oj: If Vietnam were truly democratic, it wouod be open to conversion.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 17, 2007 1:01 PM

Conversion to how many states?

Posted by: oj at January 17, 2007 1:40 PM

Two, three, many Vietnams. As many as the Vienamese people may choose.

The historical record, in the Western Hemisphere, Europe, Africa and Asia, has been that peoples free to choose choose Christianity.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 17, 2007 4:42 PM

Which means one state.

Posted by: oj at January 17, 2007 5:59 PM