"In Any Meaningful Sense"

>> Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I endorse most of what Gian Gentile says here about the Vietnam War, especially in the context of this quote from George Herring:

…the war could [not] have been ‘won’ in any meaningful sense at a moral or material cost most Americans deemed acceptable.

Gentile is a pretty harsh critic of the COIN turn in the US Army, and is pushing back against some of the more aggressive claims made by COINdistas about how the Vietnam War might have been won with better tactics. This dovetails, of course, with revisionist right wing accounts of the Vietnam War. This, in turn, has the potential to create some odd bedfellows; while COINdistas blame both the Army and the dirty hippies for losing the war (with the bulk of blame, in fairness, falling on the Army), right revisionists prefer to reserve responsibility for perfidy of the flower children. I'm sure that Ralph Peters has an opinion, and I'm sure that I don't want to know what it is.

At the same time, I think it's fair to say that the Vietnam War, like the Iraq War, involved both strategic and tactical errors. Both wars were stupidly conceived and ineptly conducted. The difference between 2007 and 1968, I think, is the disappearance of the Red Army. The need to prepare for war against an actual peer competitor made the "COIN turn" impossible; David Petraeus could not have found purchase in the US Army of the Vietnam era. So, while many of the tactical errors could be resolved in Iraq (even as the strategic error could not be remedied), such was never a possibility in Vietnam.

Incidentally, I just finished Tom Ricks' The Gamble, and he makes a connection that I hadn't previously understood between Petraeus' fitness obsession and his professional success. Ricks argues that Petraeus outstanding performance on the physical indicators helped promotion boards ignore some of the more troubling aspects of his career, such as the overt intellectualism and the focus on COIN.


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