January 16, 2018

IT'S NEVER TOO EARLY TO VIETNAMIZE, BUT CAN BE TOO LATE:

Edward Lansdale and America's Vietnam Demons : A new book explores a legendary advisor who may have had the secret to success in Vietnam -- and in winning today's forever war. (CARTER MALKASIAN, JANUARY 16, 2018, Foreign Policy)
 
Max Boot's newest book chronicles the life and impact of Edward Lansdale, the famous American advisor and CIA officer sometimes hailed as the "Lawrence of Asia." A near-legend alternately seen as a kingmaker or an oddball, Lansdale helped trailblaze one American approach to fighting communist insurgents during the early days of the Cold War -- an approach that was soon scorned by policymakers at the top. Deeply researched and evenhanded, The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam is a superb scholarly achievement.

Boot, a historian and columnist for Foreign Policy, comes at Lansdale having already written two major books on small wars and counterinsurgency, a solid foundation that he takes to a new level here with rigorous research and dogged investigation into little-known corners of Lansdale's life. He taps the most up-to-date scholarly sources, such as Lien-Hang Nguyen's Hanoi's War and Fredrik Logevall's Embers of War, and his own primary research is most impressive. He conducted more than 20 interviews with people who knew Lansdale and visited more than 30 archives, including in the Philippines and Vietnam. He makes use of the most recently declassified material. And Boot is the first author to gain access to the letters Lansdale wrote to his wife and his Filipina lover (and future second wife), which reveal copious details about his thinking and motivation.

The thrust of Boot's argument is that the United States missed an opportunity for a less traumatic outcome in Vietnam, and again in today's long wars, by neglecting Lansdale's example. Eschewing Lansdale's deep local knowledge, trust with leaders, and skepticism of the value of large numbers of troops on the ground is, for Boot, the "road not taken."

The argument is relevant both for America's revisiting of Vietnam and for how it handles strategy today. Boot's takeaway is that skilled advisors with a bias toward democratic reforms could have yielded better results not only in Vietnam but also in America's more recent wars.

It's the lesson W should have learned before occupying Iraq and rejecting elected Islamists in Palestine, the Lebanon and Iran.

Posted by at January 16, 2018 8:56 AM

  

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