The Spectre of Vietnam

The Spectre of Vietnam:

For about twenty years, every time the United States has considered an intervention we have heard about the "spectre of Vietnam." Exactly what that spectre represents is different in different minds, but it always boils down to the question of whether American military power can be effective in making changes in the world. Would not Americans be put off by rising casualty rates? By the fear of rising casualty rates? By the fear of brutalities or war crimes committed by exhausted troops? None of this is new; we've all heard it too often before.

America has done quite well in spite of the warnings. Still, it is arguable that the Spectre is responsible for a number of our current problems. It didn't stop us from acting in Grenada, but it might have been the reason that support for the Contras was banned by Congress. It didn't stop us in Bosnia, but it did restrict us to flying high-altitude missions that often struck wrong targets or were far less effective than they might have been backed by ground troops. It quite possibly did stop us from going in to Rwanda during the massacres. We know we had special ops troops ready and all but in the air when they were ordered to stand down.

Now we're in Iraq, having finally finished what was really a twelve-year war encompassing an eleven-year ceasefire-of-sorts. We're handling the guerrillas, and such evidence as there is in the open sources suggests that resistance is getting desperate enough to resort to Muslim-on-Muslim attacks, which will destroy their credibility and recruiting base in the long run. We are, in other words, winning--and the shockwaves of that victory are carrying to Pakistan, where Musharraf had to admit that AQ Khan was in fact guilty and force a confession from him; to Libya, where the Nuclear Black Market has been exposed by Gaddahfi's surrender; to Malaysia, where plants that have been churning out nuclear weapons' parts have been turned over to the CIA. While it is futile to hope that terrorism will cease to exist, it very well might be possible to win the Global War on Terrorism--to break up the international terrorist groups, and restrict terrorism to local or regional causes where it can do less harm.

But now we have a fellow running for President on the single theme: 'I am the Spectre of Vietnam!' He has already raised the ruinous banner of American military incompetence: the GWOT, he says, should not be a military enterprise at all. Yet the military enterprise is the one that has brought us the successes we've had in this war. If intelligence becomes again a powerful tool, it does so largely on the basis of military success--the recovery of mukhabarat documents in Iraq, of Qaeda manuals in Afghanistan, and the surrender of Libya and AQ Khan are all directly attributable to the military successes. They would not--not one of them--have happened otherwise.

Would the world be a better place? If we lay down arms, will it be a better place in five years? I do not see how anyone can argue or believe that.

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