Friday, September 24, 2004

A bright and shining lie - again

From the book The Lost Battalion about the Battle of Hue in Vietnam, by Charles Krohn (Praeger, 1993):

I know I say things about living and dead that some will find offensive, although it is not my intention to offend. Both my explanation and my defense is that I had to tell the story as honestly as I could. It's now obvious that we lost the war and some 57,000 died in vain. Some accounting is called for. The least we owe the dead is an obligation to be honest.

I don't agree with our invasion of Iraq. My view on this is well known. I felt that way before we invaded, and I feel that way now. Still, we must WIN because losing will cause us greater harm. Not because of "prestige" (fuck ego, would you ask your son or daughter to die for prestige?) but because an unstable, hostile, chaotic Iraq would be worse for us than Saddam was - and it will cost us more in the long run. It is too important a region for us to simply retreat. Indochina was different. Vietnam and Laos and Thailand and Cambodia simply aren't as important to us and our security as is the Middle East. So we MUST WIN.

But we aren't even playing to win. The President refuses to level with the nation about what is needed to win, and in fact refuses to allocate funding and troops needed to win in case the public realizes the truth about the overwhelming burden he has put upon us in the middle of the war against terror. He constantly reassures us that we are just fine. Remember when the justification was WMD? Or then when we would be greeted with flowers? Remember when the "Mission" was "Accomplished?" And later the attacks on American soldiers were just some "dead-enders" who refused to see the light and would be dealt with quickly? Remember how capturing Saddam was sure to put a dent in the insurgency? Remember how controversial it was when the Army called it a "guerrilla war" and the administration said no, it wasn't?

We could have won Vietnam. The Tet Offensive was actually a huge military defeat for the communists, but it cost public support back home. A lot of people blamed (and still blame) the media for this. But it isn't true.

The fault lay with politicians who preferred simply to "not lose" over doing what it took to win. Why? Because winning in Vietnam would have cost a lot more than we were told, and any politician who, for instance, supported calling up twice as many draftees, spending twice as much money, and who pushed aggresive combat that might cause 10,000 casualties in the first month would likely be defeated in the next election. We could have invaded North Vietnam, but we didn't. Our elected leaders preferred 1000 deaths a month for 5 years over 10,000 deaths in a single month, even if we were likely to lose.

Should politics matter when our security is at stake? It wouldn't matter to me. It wouldn't matter to the soldiers. It shouldn't matter to politicians whose first loyalty should be our nation's security, not their own careers. What matters is winning or losing. If we aren't willing to do what is required to win then we shouldn't be doing it at all regardless of the next election.

But their careers did matter to the politicians, and as a result we ended up losing more lives in the long run, for nothing. The public turned against the war, but only after years of buying into the "light at the end of the tunnel" and "we are winning" and "things are better everyday" talk. Talk that wasn't true. Some blame the media for that, but that is way too easy.

The same media that supported the war in the beginning turned against it in the end. Rather than a shaper of opinions it seemed more like a mirror of public opinion. We could have won in Vietnam, but the lack of a strategy to win cost us that victory - not the media.

So what does all this have to do with Iraq?

We have no strategy to win, and the truth is being kept from us. The President says the media isn't reporting the truth about the good happening in Iraq, but in fact the media apparently isn't reporting how bad it really is in Iraq, how the insurgency has grown, how we blew our golden window of opportunity in the first few months after the fall of Saddam and are now confronting an ever-more organized, more determined enemy.

And those in the military trying to do their jobs, trying to win, are being prevented from doing so - just as they were in Vietnam. Because no news is good news, and if there is lots of bad news blame the media, not the administration. Bush prefers to keep the bad news to a minimum, even if it costs us more lives in the long run. Even if it risks defeat.

This isn't Vietnam. We can't afford to abandon Iraq. It seems the simple solution but it isn't. We can't go back in time and NOT invade, and so now we must do what it takes to win a stabilized, non-chaotic Iraq. And we are not doing that. We aren't doing what we should in order to win.

We have no strategy for victory in this war, yet incredibly the challenger is criticized for not having a complete and detailed strategy, not the incumbent. If I am in charge shouldn't I be the one to have the detailed plan, instead of criticizing others who point that out? We have no strategy to win other than to "stay the course."

One year ago we had fewer dead than we do now and the situation looked hopeful. Now we are suffering more casualties and the situation looks grim. Staying the course has harmed, not helped. Should we "stay the course" or should we adapt, as our enemies have done? It is obvious we must adapt. We are not.

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the decision to invade (and I thought it world-class stupid) we MUST WIN. This is NOT Vietnam. We lost there but our national security didn't suffer all that much. It cost us less to lose than it would have cost us to win. That isn't the case here. We must win. We are not.

Kerry is portrayed as flip-flopping on Iraq because he voted to give the president the authority yet later criticizes the war. In fact Kerry has been incredibly consistent. Read the speech he gave before he cast the vote giving the President the authority and see for yourself: Kerry is called a flip-flopper on invading. He is not.

And, like myself, Kerry does not want to cut and run from Iraq. This is also portrayed as flip-flopping. It is not.

We need to have a strategy to win. This administration does not.

Those who would speak truth, including some very conservative people you would think the natural supporters of a Republican president, are getting into trouble for speaking the truth:

By the way, that second article is the story of a career army infantry officer and later deputy chief of public affairs for the Army who took a job with the Program Management Office in Baghdad as spokesperson and media advisor. He's a Vietnam combat veteran. During the Battle of Hue in January 1968, half his battalion was killed. He's also a partisan Republican. He advised the Bush 2000 presidential campaign on military management and regularly donates money to the GOP. He resigned from his synagogue in 1994 because he thought the leadership was too liberal. And while he refuses to be labeled a neoconservative, he believes the despotic Middle East can be turned democratic by force. And he wrote the book that I quoted to begin this post. His name is Charles Krohn.

Krohn was recently forced out from his Pentagon job for criticizing the Bush administration's management of the occupation. Even though everything he said was true. He was told he couldn't be "trusted."

The administration feels that those who criticize the president harm our cause. I respectfully disagree. Those that won't tell us the truth harm our cause. Those that refuse to adapt harm our cause. Those who "stay the course" even when the road curves are the ones that will drive us right off the cliff.

On Nov. 2nd the nation will decide if it prefers pleasant lies over truth. I believe we owe an obligation to the dead, and to our soldiers under fire today, to honor the truth.


91ghost said...

...a lot of people need to get their asses kicked. Again, there's just not enough soldiers at the top of this's a war being strategized and tactically planned like a fraternity inititiation or something...the public affairs paranoia of the Pentagon is the military's achilles' heel...a lot of anger swelled up while reading that article...we will not win this thing without a combination of ugliness and honesty, and that is something that the frat boys just can't seem to understand or grasp.

vrangel said...

This is the right tone to have a discussion, correct mistakes and move forward.
Unfortunately in a middle of a campaign sobering voices get drowned by partisan noise .

Good stuff.

vrangel said...

"A bright and shining lie - again"

But this headline is an example of such partisan noise by the way.
Not a good stuff.

this we'll defend said...

Vrangel, "Bright and Shining Lie" was a reference to the book by Neil Sheehan. The book tells the story of Lt. Col. John Paul Vann, the Army infantry officer whose story illuminates America's failures and disillusionment in Southeast Asia. Vann was a field adviser to the army when American involvement was just beginning. He quickly became appalled at the corruption of the South Vietnamese regime, their incompetence in fighting the Communists, and their brutal alienation of their own people. Finding his superiors too blinded by political lies to understand that the war was being thrown away, he secretly briefed reporters on what was really happening. It is a definitive expose on why America lost the war. It won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 1989.

Interestingly, Vann came to believe the war could be won militarily after the near destruction of the Vietcong during the 1968 Tet offensive. By then, however, too many lies had been told, too much political capital had been wasted, and we lost the war we were finally beginning to win. Like the boy who cried wolf, our government had predicted imminent victory one time too often, and by the time Vann was killed in a helicopter crash in 1972 we were on our way out and everybody knew it. Including the enemy. Of course we still lost thousands more Americans in battle merely to save face.

Iraq is different - losing will hurt us badly. But like our involvement in Vietnam our government doesn't feel it can tell the truth to the American people, doesn't seem to care about how well we are doing, and anyone questioning the incompetence of the administration is deemed to be giving aid and comfort to the enemy. And, like politicians and the public during Vietnam, the current leadership and those who support it seem to believe what they want to believe and ignore the harsh truth of reality. Truth has thus become subversive.

If we don't wake up, and soon, we could lose this one. And it is more important than Vietnam. The fact that pisses me off the most is that we had a golden opportunity in the first few months after the fall of Saddam and pissed it away - and the Army KNEW it and was nevertheless powerless to prevent it. They were forbidden from planning for success because of ideologues who believed their own propaganda of flowers in the streets and "mission accomplished." Now it will be much tougher to win.

And if we don't toss out the idiots that are consistently making bad decisions (albeit in a "decisive" manner) we WILL lose.

Bush, the guy responsible for the most glaring strategic errors since Vietnam, is campaigning with national security as his STRONGEST area. It is in fact his weakest. It is a bright and shining lie - glorious and comforting to hear, but having no reality in fact.

vrangel said...

Sorry I misconstrued the whole thing. And thank you for an outstanding explanation.

Now I happen to think we did quite a few things right in Iraq and most importantly were flexible enough to correct mistakes.

I don't expect perfect government, perfect war or perfect anything. It's tough going but unlike Vietnam things in Iraq are going our way.

See... I became even more entrenched in my illusions :)

RBP said...

So what does winning in Iraq look like? A stable democracy? Like Afgahnistan? I think the best we can hope for now, is we PREVENT civil. Just like we PREVENTED Iraq from attacking us in the first place.
I do agree, simply cutting and running will not do us any good. I think the best thing we can do for the long term stability in Iraq is repair our relationships with our traditional European Allies, and build some sort of real coalition to subdue the insurgency. A substantial commitment by NATO would relieve the overstretched US military and take the heat off politically.
It's one thing for one (or two) countries to invade and impose their will on another country. Where we are now. It's another thing entirely for the community of nations to come together and help rebuild a society. Which is where we need to be. This will take vision and courage, two things our current leader lacks. Bush will not admit he made a mistake. And the sad part is, he may not have to. The price is being paid by others, and the price is way to high.

vrangel said...


civil war in Iraq has been underway since fall of 2003, it's about a year old.
It has several factions, we picked one that suits best our goals and are making sure it will win.

Administration won't say it for campaign reasons and mainstream media is as clueless as ever.
You can read about it on some better blogs, like belmontclub and instapundit.

RBP said...

In the fall of 2003, Iraq had American troops in Turkey to the North, American troops in Saudie Arabia to the the West, American troops in Kuwait to the South. Saddam Hussien was effectively surrounded. He had the community of nations aligned against him, including the members of the security council. He had inspectors on the ground, and he had a stifling embargo imposed on him led by the US. The best chance for a stable Iraq following regime change was then.
So if there was a civil war raging in Iraq in the fall, why weren't the fighters against Hussein enjoined by the US and British in the spring, when they went over the berms in the South? I'll tell you why, because the only autonomous group in Iraq before the invasion, were the Kurds in the North. And they live exactly as they did before in there own little enclave, only they don't have to be proppped up by the "no fly" zone in the North anymore.
So the only "war" in Iraq that I know of didn't start in the fall and it certainly wasn't civil. It started with a "decapitation strike" in March and has went down hill from there.
So civil war raging in Iraq BEFORE the invasion, in another Neo-Con lie, just like weapons of mass destruction, just like al-qaida and Hussien being connected, and just like American and British troops being welcomed as liberators. Lies, lies, lies.

vrangel said...

We invaded in spring 2003, what are you talking about ?

RBP said...

Sorry V, I was confused about the timeline, (even though your comment is perfectly clear, I'm just an idiot.)
So who are the combatants in this civil war that happened AFTER the invasion? Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't a civil war, by definition, a war between two native factions? So are you saying the Sunni's and the Shia's are going at it? It seems to me, they are going at it alright, but they are going at us! It seems the US invasion has done more to foster co-operation among these two factions rather than forcing them to fight each other.
So let me see if I have the timeline right.
March 19th, 2003,- decapitation strike. (A miss)
May 1st, 2003,- "Major combat operations over..." (Mission not accomplished)
Fall 2003, - civil war breaks out? (I don't know, sounds like insurgency to me.)

vrangel said...


- part of sunni arab population unable to come to terms with a loss of power. They represent 20% of population and ruled over Iraq for centuries. They hope the order will collapse, coalition pulls out and in the end their exceptional brutality will allow them to prevail as it was in the past.

- part of shia underclass extremists who realized they won't have much of a chance in a democratic elections.
In a same way they hope the order will collapse, coalition pulls out and in the end majority shia will decide that shia thugs are better than sunni thugs.

Their common interest is to create chaos and run us out of there. Each faction hopes to fight it out and prevail afterwards.

Faction that we support is a silent majority mainstream shia and minority of sunnis, who would like to live in a free democratic civilized country. They now have ING and police fighting for them, and you can see how viciously other factions target recruiting and police stations.

(I left out kurds, who maintain armed to the teeth neutrality. Basically they are on our side, but keep their militia intact just in case .)

Notice that in places that we took lately, like Karbala and Najaf, we immideately passed control to ING and police. We don't want to control Iraq , we want the faction that shares our goals to control the country.

RBP said...

V- I also noticed that one of the ING comanders was arrested by the US recently for colaborating with the insurgents.

So what is your vision of "winning" in Iraq? It seems to me that if there is ever a real democracy in Iraq, that the majority shia would elect a government more friendly to Iran. This almost seems like a case of being careful what we wish for...

The majority of Iraqis, (in any faction) do not want the United States there, or they want them to leave as soon as possible. The irony is, that the best case scenario as far as the United States is concerned, is a strong secular dictator, similar to what was there BEFORE the invasion. 1980's era Iraq. A strong-man to keep the religious fanatics in check, (ala Saudi Royal Family) and yet not harbor expansionist designs on its neighbors.

The bottom line is that the likely outcomes in Iraq are depressing. A stable democracy benifits Iran more than the US. And another installed dictator takes away the US and Britains moral high ground. And this is what all our guys are dying for?

vrangel said...


underreported by mainstream media municipal elections were held in many towns in calm shia areas. Religious fundamentalists fared poorly, majority of those elected were independent mainstream candidates.
Recently elected National Assembly reflects similar picture.

Iraqi and iranian shia religious establishments are traditional rivals. Iranians tried to put their puppet Al-Sadr in power in Najaf, iraqi ayatollas were insrumental in helping us to kick him out. Provided us with all political cover we needed.
Also don't forget that iraqis are arabs while iranians are persians. There's plenty of bad blood between them.

True, iraqis want us to leave and so do we. Yet both sides want to have a democratically elected government capable of maintaining law and order in the country. We aren't there yet.

Strongman model worked well in the past. 9/11 proved that it became counterproductive for us. Arab societies and economies are unraveling and strongmen channel discontent our way.

this we'll defend said...

VR, I don't see how 9/11 "proved" anything at all having anything to do with Iraq. That kind of spurious reasoning is how we ended up spending billions, risking and losing our soldiers' lives, and causing great harm to our national security.

fbg46 said...

I spent Saturday morning with a Marine Company Commander who returned from a seven-month tour in Iraq (Al Qaim, on the Iraq/Syria border) last Tuesday. A couple of anecdotes: 1) When he first went to Iraq, his battalion road-convoyed from Kuwait to Al Qaim; this time they choppered to MCAS Al Asad and then took C-130s to Kuwait. Reason: road convoys have become too dangerous; 2) When his unit went, it was all about pacification/hearts and minds/etc. That all went by the boards after the first couple of months; they basically withdrew into the equivalent of a heavily - fortified fire base and went on the equivalent of search & destroy missions for the remainder of their tour, and; 3) He said that a factory - made uparmored Humvee saved his life twice. When he arrived, his unit had eight of the uparmored Humvees out of 40 Humvees; when he left they had 12. He said the kits they got (plus whatever scrap metal they could find) were better than nothing, but not much.

As usual, ground truth trumps everything. This war, as presently being waged is not winnable. This is Vietnam, circa '68 -- there was no nice neat 12 - point plan to win in Vietnam then and there isn't one to win in Iraq now.

Vietnam was unwinnable for the very reason it differs so profoundly from Iraq -- because, geopolitically, it was indeed a sideshow to the main mission of the 1960's era - Army: stopping the Red Army at the Fulda Gap. That's why the center of gravity of the Army then was Armor, Armored Cav and Mech Infantry.

Counter-insurgency is a light infantry game; the US could not have paid for the Army to have reconfigured itself into the million - man light infantry force which would have been needed to garrison both North and South Vietnam while at the same time credibly defending Europe. Just wasn't gonna happen. And the rest of the world knew it -- that's why we were basically the only ones fighting that war.

Which brings us to the present fiasco. As with Vietnam, nobody is going to come in and augment our troop strength in anywhere near the numbers -- stated accurately by Gen. Shinseki -- to do anything other than continue to Die The Death Of A Thousand Cuts. Simply stated, 150,000 troops aren't going to do it.

As long as the troop strength is around that figure, thinking about winning in Iraq is a hope, which ain't a plan. And as noted in the anecdotes above, we still haven't bothered to adequately equip the troops that are there.

The irony is that Iraq must be won -- it is in middle of everything. But so far no one on either side has formulated any way to do that. The reason for that is simple: The clown show that presently runs things deluded itself (and lied to us) about what a snap this was all going to be. Just like Vietnam in '68, they now don't have a clue how to win or to get out. And just like Vietnam in '68, we will probably wind up with the worst of all worlds. Except this time it's really going to matter.

vrangel said...

Iraq not Vietnam in any way. It's only some people suffering from vietnam syndrome. Get over it.
And by the way there's a ton of positive feedback from soldiers available if you bother to look.

I've read an article a year ago about that little company that designed armored humvee and all the trouble it went through trying to sell it to the Army.

Army viewed humvee as a light recon vehicle .Company barely convinced them to buy at least some for MP. Production, never big to begin with, was being phased out before the war began. Where was that oracle Shinseki I wonder.

Sometime in 2003 program was resurrected but there was no production capacity to ramp it up quickly.( It's not just armor, whole vehicle was redesigned to carry extra weight.) Also all armored humvees in existance outside of Iraq and Afghanistan were tracked down and brought there.

fbg46 said...

Well, vrangel, you're right about one thing -- Iraq certainly isn't Vietnam. It's worse.

Re: uparmored Humvees -- I guess I'm missing your point. While the procurement history of uparmored Humvees may be fascinating to those of us here in the States who aren't really in need of one, my guess is that the soldiers and Marines in Iraq would prefer having one versus getting a three - paragraph explanation of why they don't.

Re: All the good news from the ground in Iraq. I'm sure there is some to be found, just as there was all throughout Vietnam, right up until that last CH - 53 lifted off the roof of the US Embassy in April '75.

this we'll defend said...

The armored humvees would not be needed if we weren't involved in a guerrilla war. Shinseki didn't buy them because nobody expected us to be this stupid again. But Bush was and now even our humvees need to be armored. See, our Army wasn't designed for long-term pacification efforts or counter-insurgencies on a national scale because seemingly everybody had the good sense to know that such efforts shouldn't involve our ground troops - such efforts are costly and should be avoided whenever possible. "Seemingly" everybody but the Bush Adminstration that is. And, in their defense, they didn't expect the insurgency because they ignored the military and believed their own rosy forecasts of flower-strewn streets and an easy transition to democracy.

so, sure, that means they should be re-elected. After all, Kerry might do worse, right? Cuz he doesn't love America? Cuz he is a commie? Cuz he wasn't really a war hero anyway? Cuz anything else the Republicans can think of to take the focus of off the last four years of incredible stupidity, mismanagment, and outright kleptocracy?

As far as trying to imply Shinseki had anything to do with not ramping up production of armored humvees once the need arose, he had already been forced into retirement for daring to tell the senate that invading iraq would require hundreds of thousands of troops for up to five years and at a cost of hundreds of billions. So sure, he didn't know shit, did he?

Shinseki's view was that we should buy Strykers for mid-intensity conflicts like Iraq currently is, but the plan for more Stryker brigades was killed by Rummy & Co. shortly before we invaded. Now, of course, the Strykers are incredibly successful there - so why aren't we buying lots more of them?

Fact is, regardless of whether you support Bush or not the war was a mistake, was poorly executed despite the best efforts of the military to change it to something sensible, and everything since then has been more incompetence and mismanagement by the Bush administration. An administration that wears its patriotism on its sleeve and endlessly claims to love the military and support the troops while ignoring the military officers who know better and have known better all along. Who ignore the soldiers who tell them their ideas are wrong and forge ahead at the cost of soldier's arms, legs, eyes, lives, and are doing enormous damage to our national security - which, strangely enough, is the area they have convinced Americans they are best equipped to handle.

vrangel said...

Armored humvee production WAS ramped up as need arose.
(And I am aware of Shinseki retirement). Problem was that they were only producing something like 10 vehicles a month and were scheduled to shut down in 2 years or so.
It takes time and effort to expand production considerably from such a low level.

Existing armored humvees were airlifted to Iraq from places like Bosnia, Kosovo (by the way what the hell are we doing there ? ) and S.Korea .

Stryker vehicle is brilliant. For guerilla war that is.
I understand program has been expanded to have 6 Stryker brigades.

vrangel said...

Hehe, Iraqi blogger girl from Mosul says:

"The kind of cars the Americans ride varies between Mosul and Baghdad. In Baghdad, there's tanks (Which don't exist in Mosul). in Mosul, there're BIG heavy cars -With fences- so weird, and they don't exist in Baghdad."

Emeriol said...

I found your blog from your comments on CBFTW. Your posts, including this one, are always thought provoking.
Unfortunately, I fear that the majority of Americans desire only to hear good news and upbeat slogans from their president. Statements similar to: "stay the course" "elections in january" and "The war in Iraq is proceding just fine". Will most likely win the election in November....

vrangel said...
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vrangel said...
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Jericho Brown said...

HAVE to win and actually CAN win are two totally different subject matter. It's appalling that someone who acknowledges the loss of Vietnam can turn around and think that a) we could have won that war and b) that Iraq is any different. Do you think the powers-that-be in America at the time were just screwing around while we were in Nam? Ten years of wasting lives for the hell of it? I don't. I think we were trying to win and because of mentalities such as your own we didn't get out of there sooner, austensibly saving thousands of lives. To get on a long-winded soap-box acting like you have the solution to winning gorilla war is not only reckless, it's myopic and dangerous. We don't need to head down the path of Viet Nam II.

vrangel said...

"a) we could have won that war and b) that Iraq is any different."

- on another thread I said on a subject of Vietnam war:
The war dragged on for too long, cost too much in blood and treasure, our allies were corrupt and support at home was eroding. It was time to cut our losses.

- we are nowhere near that in Iraq.

Jericho Brown said...


So at what point is it decided that we have spent too much money and wasted too many lives in Iraq? Sounds like a completely subjective and therefore irrelevant argument to me. A war of this type cannot be won. How many more American soldiers' lives are going to be wasted before we decide it's too many?

vrangel said...

Rad my previous comments please. I repeat:

At this point it's a civil war between iraqis. We support one faction in it. As soon as it is capable to control the country all by itself our job is done.
I see no reason why iraqi government faction (the one we support) cannot win.

vrangel said...

You can read here how its done in Mosul:,2933,133873,00.html

Eng in Texas said...

Some sterling thoughts presented here. Indeed, the challenger shouldn't be expected to be the man with the plan. He's not the one who has the planning input. The incumbent, on the other hand, has the whole drawing board. He has the reins and should have some excuse as to why he's not driving better. The challenger, like me, does not have to be a virtuoso pianist to point out that the piano is not being played very well.

BTW, If you'd format this in a more basic manner we could print some of this to leave around where education could have the opportunity to improve the quality of someone's life. This is Texas here. I live in a republican ghetto, which education has the potential to improve.

this we'll defend said...

Thanks eng in Texas.

I don't know how to format it. Do you have any suggestions for where I find this out, or how I should format it?