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April 30, 1975. In my 4th year of teaching in the inner city. Saigon Falls. Four of my friends from high school died in the rice paddies there. Why?

The near-collapse of the U.S.-trained Iraqi Army, the falling of one town after another in the North and the possibility of an ISIS takeover of Baghdad is a deja vu moment.

In both Vietnam and Iraq

- The United States fought a long and costly counterinsurgency campaigns. The loss of lives, and the lives broken by two wars are enormous. This includes the military on all sides, and huge civilian populations. Hundreds of billions of dollars were expended in the war effort with a commitment to the care of veterans making the real price tag trillions.  

- The Army of the Republic of South Vietnam (ARVN) was defeated by a well-coordinated conventional invasion from the North after the United States had cut off support, but here the similarities begin to fall apart. The decision of the government of Nuri al-Maliki not to accept the common conditions in a Status of Forces Agreement cut him off from direct U.S. support.

- North Vietnam continued to be support by the USSR and seized U.S. equipment as its army swept across the DMZ. For the Sunni forces now threatening Baghdad it is the wealth of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia AND the capture of U.S. arms that provides.

- In the aftermath of the Paris Peace agreements that Nixon and Kissinger said provided the U.S. with honor, the political situation in South Vietnam fell apart as coalitions quickly collapsed and corrupt, ineffective and ideologically isolated leader proved incapable of standing against the North. Sounds familiar.

- In the last days of the Fall of South Vietnam, the U.S. used its embassy as an escape route for thousands who we "owed something to" and left behind 10's of thousands whose alliance with the U.S. would cost them dearly in the years to come. Well, at least this time we have an embassy that could be the exit point for 10's of thousands....yeah, it is that big.

troops are abandoning their posts but there are signs that the Shiites are regrouping, large amounts of donated U.S. equipment are being destroyed or captured but there is more where that came from, and the invading “army” is a lightly armed although deeply motivated religious extremists who may face a similarly motivated force, the Shiite Militia Units.

There is a lot at stake for the Shiites and they know it. A small minority in the Islamic World only the Iranians are "natural allies"- and that is disturbing in its own way. Still just based on what we have seen in the last two weeks, if ISIS succeeds, there will be many executions, imprisonments and so forth – that will take place largely out of the public eye, and while Americans tune into their favorite reality shows, bodies will be filling ditches in Iraq and Shia faith in Iraq will be crushed (as Christian and Jewish groups already have been).

There are lessons from the Fall of Saigon that have been applied since then at times and ignored at times. There will be lessons from the crisis in Iraq

1) While it can be well argued that the War in Iraq was a trumped up neo-con conspiracy to create a Islamic Client State in Mideast sitting on an ocean of oil, the fact is that this hardly matters in the face of current events. Just as it hardly mattered that Vietnam was based on the flawed domino theory and the concept of the client state.

If Iraq falls it will be seen worldwide as a U.S. defeat, despite the absence of American forces and despite the diplomatic logjams that caused the United States to withdraw fully by 2011.

The impact of that defeat on Afghanistan and U.S. influence in other conflict zones will be significant.  As we learned after Vietnam, losing a war is no small matter; the Cambodian genocide, and state of nearly constant South East Asia civil war and interstate hostility followed the fall of Saigon, and an emboldened Soviet Union, sensing American weakness, sent Warsaw Pact troops into the Western Hemisphere and ultimately invaded Afghanistan.

Second, there’s not much the United States can do at this point. If the Iraqis themselves won’t defend their country, then no one else can. The same is true anywhere the United States has tried to stand up local armies. Political will has to start with the locals.

Despite the common narrative there have been some successes in building foreign armies with politically effective governments: in Colombia, in El Salvador and in the counterbalancing forces in the former Yugoslavia, in Germany after WWII and the South Korean armed forces. No others come to mind.

Finally, in both Vietnam and Iraq the advise-and-assist mission was given only lip service at critical times. Generally American defense policies do not give priority to retraining and standing up local security forces. One major reason for this is that time and again WE do not speak THEIR language. This does not just refer to linguistics, but to cultural understanding and context. Without truly embedded U.S. personnel and a real alliance with local peoples any aftermath is likely to be tragic.

The political side that accompanies the rebuilding of a nation’s armed forces is even more complex. The U.S. and it allies "installed" governments in Germany, Japan, and S. Korea that took root. No other example comes to mind. In much of the world it is ethnic, religious and tribal roots that drive governance and we do not understand this.

Originally posted to murphthesurf3 on Sun Jun 22, 2014 at 10:38 AM PDT.

Also republished by History for Kossacks.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (5+ / 0-)

    "It is better to light one candle than curse the darkness." (Adlai Stevenson in praise of Eleanor Roosevelt) (Glowing Candle Avatar Adopted in 1986)

    by murphthesurf3 on Sun Jun 22, 2014 at 10:38:43 AM PDT

  •  Iraq also has an ally with a strong military to (0+ / 0-)

    fight ISIS without us--Iran. I heard they're sending 2000 troops to help Maliki

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

    by zenbassoon on Sun Jun 22, 2014 at 10:50:27 AM PDT

    •  Do we really want Iran to extend its influence in (0+ / 0-)

      that way? Of course do we want to be part of a war that looks to be purely sectarian? Of course, do we ant to be part of any war at all given how "well" the last two have gone.

      "It is better to light one candle than curse the darkness." (Adlai Stevenson in praise of Eleanor Roosevelt) (Glowing Candle Avatar Adopted in 1986)

      by murphthesurf3 on Sun Jun 22, 2014 at 03:55:53 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The big difference between Iraq and Vietnam (3+ / 0-)

    is that in Vietnam there was a well organized government prepared to take control once the US gave up on its impossible agenda. Whatever the short comings of the resulting unified nation, it has achieved political stability and some measure of economic prosperity. When the US withdrew its forces from Iraq they left a mess with no one capable of cleaning it up.


    •  Another Difference... (0+ / 0-)

      The primary military concern was destabilization of the Region, not being a base for worldwide terrorism and/or religious domination.  North Vietnam (and its allies, China and USSR) were anti-religion.

      •  Well.... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Many would argue that Communist Ideology was, in its zealotry, of a religious nature, but unlike the great divisions in Islam not something that had 1000 years of staying power.

        Still, in its hopes and goals, world wide communism was the goal.  

        "It is better to light one candle than curse the darkness." (Adlai Stevenson in praise of Eleanor Roosevelt) (Glowing Candle Avatar Adopted in 1986)

        by murphthesurf3 on Sun Jun 22, 2014 at 04:06:39 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I presume you mean the government of Hanoi? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      It was certainly well organized and centralized. It was backed by the USSR and it looked like the Cold War was taking a turn for the worse but then having "won", the communist state pushed the USSR away, and began it 30 year journey toward the kind of modified capitalism that China embraces.

      But the years following the fall of S. Vietnam were marked by massive repression, reeducation camps and disruption throughout SE Asia as Vietnam became the center of "communist" revolutionary movement. Stability came slowly.

      The economy suffered terribly as collectivist farming and factory production failed- leading to triple digit inflation among other things. The invasion of Cambodia in 1978 destabilized the region leading to a set of Chinese incursions into Vietnam.

      So- a mes.

      "It is better to light one candle than curse the darkness." (Adlai Stevenson in praise of Eleanor Roosevelt) (Glowing Candle Avatar Adopted in 1986)

      by murphthesurf3 on Sun Jun 22, 2014 at 04:04:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •   Never try to reform a corrupt country, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    especially if you're paying for it. And ESPECIALLY if they're half a world away and you don't speak the language!
    I thought that would have been one of the most obvious lessons of the Vietnam War but nooooooooo, after that we had to try on 2 of the most corrupt countries in the world.
    Bush and Cheney were the architects of America's worst disasters, they infallibly fucked the USA with every bad choice they made

    Happy just to be alive

    by exlrrp on Sun Jun 22, 2014 at 07:01:21 PM PDT

    •  Add in.... (0+ / 0-)

      when you do not speak the language, do not understand the place of religion within the society, take almost all of your time there at war with one insurgent group after another and have not learned the lessons of history about occupation forces rarely succeeding.

      Had the plan for Afghanistan been followed as laid out, after 18 months we would have taken our 5000 troops, our few score casualties, our billion dollar expenditure, our successful work with the Northern Alliance in driving the Taliban out of the cities, towns and villages...and then handed over the keys to the Alliance with promises of arms support and tech assistance and left......

      But no.....Iraq beckoned and a reset of mission goals for the Afghani effort.....why not an Asian client state with lots of hard mineral deposits?

      "It is better to light one candle than curse the darkness." (Adlai Stevenson in praise of Eleanor Roosevelt) (Glowing Candle Avatar Adopted in 1986)

      by murphthesurf3 on Sun Jun 22, 2014 at 08:48:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  The Iraqi's and Afghani's learned a thing or two, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      A CNN report noted that the United States-led interim government, the Coalition Provisional Authority lasting until 2004 in Iraq had lost $8.8 billion in the Development Fund for Iraq. In June 2011, it was reported by CBS News that six billion in neatly packaged blocks of $100 bills was air-lifted into Iraq by the George W. Bush administration, which flew it into Baghdad aboard C‑130 military cargo planes. In total, the Times says $12 billion in cash was flown into Iraq in 21 separate flights by May 2004, all of which has disappeared. An inspector general's report mentioned that "'Severe inefficiencies and poor management' by the Coalition Provisional Authority would leave no guarantee that the money was properly used", said Stuart W. Bowen, Jr., director of the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. "The CPA did not establish or implement sufficient managerial, financial and contractual controls to ensure that funds were used in a transparent manner."[366] Bowen told the Times the missing money may represent "the largest theft of funds in national history."[367]
      Btw, that was the Iraqi's money, siphoned off in a nice circular loop, from UN/ Iraqi banks accounts in the US and Britain, to Iraq, where it was than, for the most part, sent to Corporate and Military bank accounts in the US, with not even a paper trail.
  •  most of these were failures too (0+ / 0-)
    Despite the common narrative there have been some successes in building foreign armies with politically effective governments: in Colombia, in El Salvador and in the counterbalancing forces in the former Yugoslavia, in Germany after WWII and the South Korean armed forces. No others come to mind.
    Colombia and El Salvador were murder states where the military death squads slaughtered their own people. South Korea was ruled by a series of military dictators who also killed any dissenters. When these countries removed their military rulers and made successful democratic states years later, it was despite the US, not because of it.

    In the end, reality always wins.

    by Lenny Flank on Mon Jun 23, 2014 at 03:45:01 AM PDT

  •  Both countries were invaded (0+ / 0-)

    This is one of many similarities the writer doesn't want to see. The empire prosecutes war in many ways, as General Smedley Butler writes about in his book, "War Is A Racket". That's the book to go to when you want to know what the US Military is actually used for.

    If there is a god he owes the world an apology.

    by since1492 on Tue Jul 01, 2014 at 09:01:24 PM PDT

    •  I think it is probably accurate to say (0+ / 0-)

      that the US Military is actually used for many purposes, and that proto-imperialistic capitalism is definitely one of those.

      Thanks for your insight, it comes from a perspective we don't hear enough of.

      Welcome to Daily Kos. If you have any questions about how to participate here, you can learn more at the Community Guidelines, the Knowledge Base, and the Site Resource Diaries. Diaries labeled "Open Thread" are also great places to ask. We look forward to your contributions.
      ~~ from the DK Partners & Mentors Team.

      Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

      by a gilas girl on Wed Jul 02, 2014 at 05:19:20 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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