Sunday, January 02, 2005

Ho Chi Minh's Flying Circus

Interesting article by Clifford May of the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies.

Thought this was a strange assertion:

Indeed, defeat in Iraq would be much costlier than was America's retreat in Vietnam. Ho Chi Min never sent agents to hijack planes and slam them into American office buildings. He probably thought that, were he even to attempt such a thing, he'd lose the sympathy of the international community.

It's certainly true that winning the propaganda war is extremely important for any insurgent group (and indeed any counterinsurgent group - America lost the propaganda war in Vietnam by any measure). The North Vietnamese were extremely skillful at courting the media and the populations of non-American nations. However, there's a rather more compelling reason why Uncle Ho might not want to strike mainland America. One of the key reasons the USA lost in Vietnam was that they were fighting a limited war for limited ends by limited means against an enemy who was fighting a total war for total ends by total means. Ultimately, the Americans suffered an ends/means rupture, exacerbated by the fact that public trust in the USA proper was frittered away by misleading and sometimes plain deceptive reporting and promises of success from the military and political leadership over an extended period (thought I was going to say Walter Cronkite, didntcha?), which ultimately proved to be ephemeral. Had the Vietnamese attacked the American mainland they would have altered the nature of the war from a colonial style conflict which played to their strengths (either because the Americans wouldn't up the ante or because the Americans refused to conduct a competant counterinsurgency campaign, depending on your worldview) to a war in which the American people had a direct stake and in which the erosion of public support so essential for a successful insurgency would have been significatly harder to achieve, if not impossible. By bringing the American homeland into the equation, Ho would have raised the stakes by an order of magnitude and effectively dug the US government out of a strategic dead end of its own creation. The Vietnamese had everything to lose by attacks on the US mainland and nothing to gain.

We take Pete's car. Drive over to Mum's. Take care of Philip. Grab Mum. Go over to Liz's place. Have a cup of tea. And wait for all this to blow over...

Regarding al-Qaeda's attack on 9/11, there are two ways to read it. The first is that it was a provocation to see if the USA would overreact and stir up worse trouble than already existed and cause further ruptures between the West and the Islamic world and that on this basis it has been successful. Whether one agrees with that reading of the results or not, it seems likely that this was not the strategic intention, given Usama bin Laden's reading of history in which Beirut and Somalia undoubtedly played a key role and the USA was envisioned as a paper tiger. Having come to maturity through the Second World War in Asia and independence movement insurgency, Uncle Ho's instinct for strategic history and the American character was probably rather more acute than bin Laden's. Of course, the fight in Afghanistan against the Soviets is also a key historical factor that informs bin Laden's (and many other Islamic mujahedeen types) strategic thinking, so James Robbins' assertion that the enemy is interested only in a quick victory and will be reduced to mental and moral jelly by the failure of a short, sharp shock strategy gives few grounds for comfort.


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