The Analogy Battle

The question on lips everywhere seems to be, “Vietnam?”
“I don’t think so” would be my response though the realpolitik underlying American withdrawal from that particular quagmire an innate liberal democratic society squeamishness about engaging in wars that produce televisual casualties is certainly beginning to have effect in relation to Iraq. It’s less about engagement analogies and more about disengagement – or “exit strategy” maybe.

“It’s a fiasco” said Mark Latham last week, “there’s no exit strategy.”
What is all this stuff about exit strategies? When Churchill delivered his “Fight them on the Beaches” speech, was anyone asking him about his exit strategy? Are the mujihadeen in Fallujah holding regular exit strategy meetings? I suspect that they’re more focussed on seizing the moment and they have no qualms whatsoever about body counts in doing so. They’re every bit as cognisant about Vietnam imagery as Senator Ted Kennedy is. “Exit strategy,” in brutally political terms, really equates to how many bodies the electorate will bear before insisting on an exit on any terms. The mujihadeen intend to get the Coalition to that point as soon as possible.

There are many theories about Vietnam of course. I heard David Marr in ABC 702’s “Journo’s Forum” last night, observing that the West had misread Vietnam as a communist domino type of thing when it was actually all about Vietnamese nationalism – which is interesting, because neither Karl Mark nor Vladimir Lenin was noticeably Vietnamese. Even less Vietnamese were their ideas about economics and social organisation which Ho Chi Minh and his fellow bourgeois intellectuals had brought back from Paris. In fact the Vietnamese government has somewhat belatedly acknowledged the inadequacy of Lenin’s interpretation of Karl’s theories by opting for a Chinese-style mixed economy as long as the Communist Party retains it’s privileged position – and the whip hand of course. And after thirty years of abysmal failure in virtually every endeavour apart from invading their neighbours in order presumably – to instil the virtues of “nationalism” in them, it was high old time that they did so.

When the Americans did withdraw, Congress memorably refused any further funding to South Vietnam in direct contrast to the Soviet Union’s approach towards it’s client state in the North. The rest is history though it bears mentioning that around one million South Vietnamese, uncertain about the North’s big, warm, welcoming nationalistic hug, took flight – just in case. I haven’t met one that regrets the decision. and I suspect that very few of them would agree with David Marr.

And so to a piece from another commentator – Guardian journalist David Aaronovitch. In my opinion, it’s the most eloquent case I’ve yet read for remaining in Iraq the ever-growing forces of Vietnam analogy, notwithstanding.

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Norman
Norman
2021 years ago

Anyone who is incapable of seeing the absurdity inherent in comparing Viet Nam with Gulf War II, is either intellectuuallychallenged and/or emotionally blinkered, or engaging in blatant hypocricy. In most instances, I’d plum for the former.
Latham wasn’t someone who involved himself in the Viet Nam War debate. His mentor, gough Whitlam made no effort to help build public awareness at the time either, and many of Gough’s closest supporters in his struggle to become Labor’s federal Leader were actually supporters of that War.
Latham is probably modelling himself here more on Keating than Whitlam. Whitlam remained quiet on the Viet Nam conflict for what many would see as necessary strategic reasons. Keating, on the other hand, was an enthusiastic distorter of History in his efforts to distract attention from his personal unpopularity.
On the other hand, if Latham genuinely has such a poor grasp of the background to the Viet Nam and Iraq situations, someone among his friends should talk to him ASAP.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2021 years ago

“Latham wasn’t someone who involved himself in the Viet Nam War debate.’

Well no, but to be fair, he was in primary school for much of it Norman and Green Valley Primary probably wasn’t the ideal place for a geopolitical global strategy casebuild.

David Tiley
2021 years ago

Thanks for the Aaronson link. I think Latham is picking up a political meme from the Americans, actually from the isolationists at least as long ago as Yugoslavia. These are people who would say that the U.S. at the end of WW2 didnt have “an exit strategy” because they are still there nearly sixty years later.

It is a valid argument at the moment. Surely good wargaming covers all the bases, and the Bush mob only worked out one future – pelted with roses, sell the joint, give it to a democracy sustained by free markets and go home.. Unfortunately a lot of other people, including the peace movement, could see another future, which has come to pass. And in this situation, where fundamentalists circle, waiting for the soldiers to go, putting on pressure and building their own strategic base, the Bush mob doesn’t have a strategy.

What do they do? Hang in and endure the slow erosion of their exposed forces and their collaborator allies as bombs and snipers cut them down one by one in the crowded, anonymous streets?

Or surrender the joint to a political process in which people like the “Mahdi army” stop at nothing until they impose yet another savage fundamentalist regime? And the US is demonstrated to be feeble once again? They are even using the world “Mahdi”.

Faced with this, there doesn’t seem to be a strategy at all.

I think the Vietnam connection is strong. Once again an army which can be motived only by easy victory from petrol powered vehicles or a true crusade like WW2 is faced with the unbearable stress of daily patrols in a hostile population. Where friends are mutilated for nothing, and children are caught in the cross fire.

Once again the US is trying to defend a government which doesn’t exist, which is certainly not legitimate. Clearer in Vietnam, but coming together here too.

Once again, retreating will humiliate an entire nation and embolden enemies, but the pressure is too high to stay. And once again there is no true victory. Its not so much a lack of an exit strategy, but the lack of possible success. Leaving Thieu and his kleptocratic desperadoes in power? Putting together some sort of artificial Iraqi government to be swept away in elections which will empower those who hate elections?

I want the Americans to win. I wanted them to chase Saddam to Baghdad in ’91. I just can’t see how they can. I must be emotionally blinkered..

It is perhaps worth noting that the world would have been a different place in both Cuba and Vietnam if the US had offered real and decent aid to both countries. Had drawn them into the Western orbit rather than forcing them to deal with the Commisariat. (and I am not denying that these nationalists were pretty imbued with Communist logic anyway.)

One consistent problem for the Americans is an inability to understand how to deploy carrots to get co-operation rather than force. I think, personally, they can’t get their heads around the nature of the suffering they create and how much more important this is than the swine at the top.

Factory
Factory
2021 years ago

I see the central problem of the Iraq occupation is the unwillingness of America to see that the Iraqis know how to run their country better than the Americans can. Until that is fixed than I see very little chance that things will improve.

Norman
Norman
2021 years ago

Spot on about his age, Geoff, but I was slightly younger during the Second World War, and any subtleties I missed at the time, I had no difficulties following up later.
Thhe important issue is, of course, whether the factual backgrounds to the Viet Nam and Iraq conflicts have enough in common to make a meaningful comparison. Apart from the pathologically blind anti-americanism in both, the answer is no.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2021 years ago

“It is perhaps worth noting that the world would have been a different place in both Cuba and Vietnam if the US had offered real and decent aid to both countries. Had drawn them into the Western orbit rather than forcing them to deal with the Commisariat. (and I am not denying that these nationalists were pretty imbued with Communist logic anyway.)”

I think your last point is the key point David.
Much of which we now perceive as a post-war American imperium lacks the full picture coherence that the Cold Warframe provides. It’s amazing to me how swiftly the global bi-polarity that prevailed from 1945-89 has receded from our collective memory.

Vietnam did rely on “nationalism” to expel the French in the 1950’s. but it was a nationalistic movement that a relatively small number of communist ideologue’s exploited for their own purposes aided and abetted by the Soviet Union and China. It should be remembered that similar movements were engaged throughout South-East Asia in the 50’s – Malaya, Thailand etc. The conflation of nationalistic struggles against the vestiges of colonialism with Marxism-Lenism “liberation” theology was a classic Cold War ploy, continuously countered – with mixed results – by the US and it’s allies. To a significant extent, the Cold War was conducted as a series of bidding wars between the two power blocs, only one of which was responsive to liberal democratic scrutiny of process therein. I think we also forget that – overwhelmingly – those who ended up in the client states created therefrom, did so without being consulted as to the nature of the society that they were ‘building’ and thereafter, no ability to influence it’s direction.

The eastern European bloc finally collapsed under the unendurable weight of it’s own economic and social failure burden, and virtually all other communist state survivors have had to either make major “market economy” concessions – China, Vietnam – to remain viable or else retreat into last stand gulags – North Korea. Cuba is a bit different. Castro’s personal charisma and his unique brand of Caribbean communism (singularly amongst normally puritanical Communist rulers, he thinks sex is good value) has sustained the revolution but I don’t think that many Cubans are in doubt about the inevitability of change when he dies.

He also keeps an iron fist in the Buena Vista Social Club glove: the recent imprisonment and shooting of regime critics is but one example.

I think that the mujihadeen have understood the key lesson of armed engagement with liberal democracy. Hit them in the body count, where it really hurts.

wen
wen
2021 years ago

The Aaronovitch article is good – honest as he always is – and brave, too, I think (the big baby!). Also very impressed by his managing to get ‘defenestrated’ into the article – I’ve been looking for an opening like that for years….(erg, sorry)

Andrew
Andrew
2021 years ago

Every war is not WW2 replayed. Every enemy is not Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan allied.

I for one am very glad the allies defeated the Axis in 1945 because they truly were a great threat to freedom and to the people of the world. That is because they were industrial nations of broadly comparable productive capacity to the Allies. Therefore their intent to destroy the West had to be taken (very) seriously and total war was necessary.

But apart from the Soviets (who were defeated without a direct war) none of the enemies since have had anything like that relative power.

So to try and compare Iraq with WW2 is not valid. Islamists may claim they want to destroy the free world, but they simply do not have the capacity to effect this, EVEN IF they get possession of a nuclear weapon.

The way to defeat them is the same as with defeating any criminal organisation. Prolonged and ruthless policing, legal and intelligence work.

They are like any other humans. Put them under enough pressure and for long enough, and they will break.

zoot
zoot
2021 years ago

Norman, I think Mike Carlton makes the point well in his column on smh.com.au.
A high-tech army and air force, trained to crush all before them in open desert warfare, are now locked in close combat in urban streets. The enemy is of disparate, irregular forces fighting on their own territory, with the guerilla’s ability to melt back into the population at will. Sound familiar?

Norman
Norman
2021 years ago

Zoot, it sounds familiar, but only gains significance in the minds of those who have little depth in their understanding of the Indo-chinese conflicts.
Geoff, I’d suggest our “collective memory”, in whatever sense you wished to use it, never included a particularly strong analysis of the Cold War. Most people simply “believed” one version or another of the competing fairy tales.
Over the years, my views changed on any number of issues. I remember, for example, in primary school, thinking Chamberlain’s appeasement seemed more reasonable than evryone was claiming. Later on, I changed my view on that; but I certainly didn’t base it on the sort of superficial patriotic fervour that had been and still was the primary basis of those who had “known” all along that he was wrong.
Analogies [especially negative analogies] can be useful tools in helping to encourage people to analyse situations. It’s not the fault of analogies, per se, that so many use them as superficial crutches for beliefs sorely in need of support.
Such as hilarious comparisons [by those who have a very limited understanding of Indo China’s history] of the Viet Nam and Iraq conflicts.

sophie
sophie
2021 years ago

It disconcerts me that someone as ignorant as Latham on foreign policy–has he ever gone anywhere else in the world but here?–could actually be in a position to at least influence this country’s foreign policy and even guide it, if he and his party come to power. I can only hope that if this is the case, at least there’ll be other people there who can restrain his naivety and ignorance. you’d think, instead of making stupid references to Vietnam–as if no other war had ever existed–and talking about exit strategies–did the Allies talk about that after the fall of Hitler?–he’d take the trouble to truly inform himself about the history and culture of the Middle East. we are part of the world, not some little isolated pocket that can stay out of the trouble of an increasingly linked world. Latham seems sometimes to speak as if he hasn’t noticed anything that’s been happening; as if he thinks Australians are too parochial and xenophobic to care about those funny little foreigners in Iraq. Blimey, if that’s the great light of the Labour Party, all I can say is that it is regressing.

el nardo
2021 years ago

um masson, I think you’ll find GWB had never been out of his (equal and equivalent) country before he took the reigns (sic) … and his understanding of Iraqi domestic politics is second to none!

Latho has been a bit weak selling his coitus interruptus. The big question is: if we’re not to leave before the job is done, what -is- the job?

(And sophie, our current presence is not much beyond token… so by your argument we should send, what, 50,000 troops and trainers?)

nardo II
2021 years ago

ps Dave Tiley looks at the analogy in some depth

I read recently (sorry no link) an American soldier in Afghanistan complaining that their operations – like in Vietnam – are ‘above’ the conflict… will try to find this again, because it was a good point, which I’m mangling

and apart from Vietnam, the Napoleonic and British adventures in Egypt throw up interesting correlations with Iraq…

meanwhile armchair historians are well-served by the web; as Barista said, if Vietnam was the first war on TV, this is the first on the net… there are a lot of Iraqis and non-Iraqis blogging from that country

John Humphreys
2021 years ago

Those who object to the analogy between Iraq in Vietnam must be either intellectually challenged and-or emotionally blinkered.

If you think you’ve seen these words before, you’re WRONG – because there is no analogy between my words and the words of Norman in the first comment to this post. The differences between his sentence and mine are many. For instance, he added a third reason, and he combined ‘intellectually challenged’ into one word. Also, his post is in a different position on this blog to mine. Also, Norman is older than I and we come from different places. He used a ‘/’ to separate ‘and’ and ‘or’, while I used a ‘-‘. To try and compare the two sentences is just plain silly! Because we all know that if there is even one difference, then it is wrong to draw any comparrison.

Norman
Norman
2021 years ago

Dave Tiley’s “in depth” comments on analogies mentioned above by nardo II, actually highlight how poorly analogies are really understood. His very first point, the fact that the governments of both Saddam in Iraq and Diem in Viet Nam, were unpopular with their respective populations, while true, is of no use in developing a rational analogy. The U.S. entered the Viet Nam conflict to try to SUPPORT an unpopular ruler. They entered Iraq to try to REMOVE an unpopular leader.
The extent of the widespread misapprehensions re analogies is highlighted by David’s own confuion — a confusion shared by many.
John Humphreys is also way off the track when he uses his “youth” above as an excuse for not understanding. A strong command of English; well developed analytical skills; and extensive historical research have all been managed by people half a century younger than myself which, I imagine, might even be younger than him?

John Humphreys
2021 years ago

John Humphreys was so far off the track when he used his “youth” as an excuse… so far off the track that he couldn’t even see the track. Indeed, from his position so very far away from the track, it didn’t occur to him that he was using his “youth” (I don’t know why the inverted commas are necessary, maybe “youth” isn’t a real word?) as an excuse.

Hell, from my position on the track, I don’t even think I’m young… :( But I do think that analogies can be useful, even when they aren’t perfect analogies.

Norman
Norman
2021 years ago

Clearly my irony has once again proved to be rusty?

trackback
2021 years ago

the new Vietnam

To what extent is Iraq “the new Vietnam”

trackback
2021 years ago

the new Vietnam

To what extent is Iraq “the new Vietnam”