October 6th, 2010 by John T. Reed
On 1/1/09, Obama went to my undergraduate alma mater—West Point—to make a speech announcing his decision about what to do in Afghanistan.
To avoid being booed
Why did he not go to HIS undergraduate alma mater, Columbia, to make this speech?
Because he would have been booed there.
How do I know that? Columbia is my oldest son’s alma mater. Columbia has also gotten itself in the media repeatedly in recent years because of who it invited to speak and how it treated those who said something the Columbia students and faculty did not like. When I was a student at West Point, during the Vietnam War, students famously occupied the office of the Columbia president.
How about his going to his graduate school alma mater to announce his decision on Afghanistan. That would be Harvard Law School. Why did he not go there?
Because he would have been booed there, too.
My wife and I are Harvard MBAs. He would have been booed at Harvard Business School, too.
How about the usual Obama trick of speaking only to tightly-screened, hard-core, yellow-dog, Democrat party stalwarts?
Nope. They would have booed him, too, for not removing all troops from Afghanistan immediately.
Was he not booed at West Point because the Corps of Cadets (student body) all agreed with him? No. He was not booed at West Point because prior to Obama’s speech, the Commandant of Cadets ordered them to applaud enthusiastically and to refrain from any “political” response to the speech (like “You lie, sir!”).
The Commandant of Cadets is the top disciplinarian at West Point. His boss, the Superintendent of West Point, is in charge of everything and the Dean is in charge of academics. If any cadets had booed furtively, the Commandant probably would have punished the entire student body. Nowadays, I understand many careerist cadets would have ratted out the booers to the officers so they would get punished. When I was there, nothing remotely resembling that would have occurred or even come to anyone’s mind. And if it had, the officer to whom they snitched would have chewed his ass reminding him of West Point’s “cooperate and graduate” admonition and of the need to take care of your roommates and classmates. When I was there, if you were on time to a formation and your roommate was not, you would get chewed out more for leaving him behind than he would get chewed out for being late.
Bored, if not asleep
Watching the speech, I was struck by the motionlessness and emotionlessness of the cadets. Normally, presidential speeches are interrupted by applause. Then, after I noticed the total silence of the audience response, they began to applaud from time to time, albeit politely rather than enthusiastically.
I surmise looking at it and having spent four years there as a cadet, that the brass belatedly realized that the cadets were not interrupting the president with applause, that this would be noticed and perceived negatively, so they started applause artificially. When the cadets saw the officers applauding, they applauded out of fear of being videoed not applauding.
Also, I noticed that the brass and enlisted sergeants were scattered all around the audience sitting among the cadets. That, too, would have been unheard of when I was a cadet. All the officers would have been in the same VIP section and the enlisted attendees, if any, would have been way in the back in another separate section. I suspect the interspersing of non-cadets among the cadets was to intimidate the cadets out of booing or making any other negative, furtive response to the speech. Cadets are still basically college kids, you know. They are also active-duty military so I expect many of them hate anti-war, anti-military Obama with a passion.
Helicoptered in minutes before the speech
Apparently, Obama flew in by Marine One a half hour or so before the speech. That is not how you make a speech at West Point.
You arrive around 1400. The cadets put on a parade in your honor at around 3:45. You eat supper with the entire Corps of Cadets at one of the 10-man cadet tables at 1830, you pardon all the cadets who have excess demerits, then make your speech at 2000. The poop deck in the mess hall used to be where you spoke to the entire Corps of Cadets. That’s where MacArthur spoke from. Eisenhower Hall, where Obama spoke, did not exist when MacArthur spoke or when I was a cadet. Plus, MacArthur would not have spoken from a hall named after Eisenhower. Eisenhower was once MacArthur’s aide and said disdainfully, “I studied acting under MacArthur.” Good choice of acting coaches though. Eisenhower and I exchanged salutes one-on-one during his 50th reunion (1965). I thought he was really old—a museum piece. My 50th is in nine years. Old people were older back then.
No effort to relate to the in-person audience
Obama is supposed to be a great speaker. I heard many speeches from big shots when I was a cadet. Many just showed up and gave their standard speech—like Obama. The smart ones got a briefing and heeded it. For pep rallies during the football season, for example, the cadets would invariably greet the speaker with chants of “Take it off! Take it off!” as if they were in a strip club. Those speakers in the know, probably because they were warned, would strip off their sport coat or suit jacket, tie and shirt revealing some sort of humorous undershirt. I recall one seemingly prim and proper speaker who revealed a shredded white T undershirt like those worn by cadets who hated West Point to secretly show their disdain for the place. That was a huge hit.
Another speaker, West Point graduate General Tom Rienzi, started off by asking, “Is the Class of 1965 here?” The seniors cheered. As he progressed through the classes oldest to youngest, each class cheered louder than the previous one. That was to one up the others and because the younger the class, the more members it has because fewer have yet flunked out or quit. My class of 1968 was the biggest and loudest that night. Plebes (freshmen) are also the most enthusiastic. Firsties (seniors) are too cool to cheer so enthusiastically.
I attended the 2008 national rugby semi-final game at Stanford with a classmate. Army lost to Cal. There were a bunch of cadets there to cheer for Army, but they were all seniors. Seniors get the trip because a free trip to San Francisco is a really good deal and in the military, good deals go to the highest ranking. If the rugby team really wanted a cheering section, they should have sent the same number of plebes who won a cheering contest. They would have been about four times as loud as the seniors who were there, and lasted the whole game. The seniors lost interest after the first of the three periods.
The cadets are a lot of fun to speak to if you make the effort to learn about the way speeches are done there and make the effort to play the Corps of Cadets a little bit like you would play a musical instrument. Obama is supposed to be a great orator. Bullshit! By the standards of normal West Point speech givers who make the effort to know the audience, Obama was a total stiff, not “cool” at all.
It shows he was not at West Point to speak to the cadets who will be carrying out his orders in a year or two. Rather, he was there to put on a show for the TV audience. To put it in Hollywood terminology, the Corps of Cadets were mere props or extras in period costumes—like the people hanging around outside the Today Show studios during the live broadcast—only the cadets were ordered to attend.
Some may say establishing rapport with the cadets would have been inappropriate given the topic. Lighten up. The potential of death in combat was ubiquitous to us when we were at West Point during the Vietnam war. You can’t mope around in mourning all day every day. Plus, Douglas MacArthur’s Farewell speech to the cadets was similarly serious, but he nevertheless did a fabulous job of establishing rapport with, and endearing himself to the Corps with a joke at the beginning and a heartfelt tribute at the end of his speech. The speech also admonished cadets to remember to laugh and not take themselves too seriously. You can read it at http://www.nationalcenter.org/MacArthurFarewell.html and hear an excerpt of it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgqSI1BESVE.
I would appreciate hearing any inside info from current cadets or officers about their perspective on Obama’s speech there.
Contrast with Bush speech to cadets
A West Point cadet parent who called Rush Limbaugh said that the contrast between when George W. Bush spoke to the cadets in January, 2008 and when Obama did was stark. (Limbaugh mentioned in response that one of his cousins, Dan Limbaugh, went to West Point. Dan Limbaugh is my classmate.) The cadets greeted Bush with obvious great enthusiasm that had nothing to do with instructions from the Commandant. That’s partly because today’s cadets erroneously think George W. Bush was one of them by virtue of his having been in the Air National Guard during the Vietnam war. If Bush had spoken to our 40th reunion at West Point in September, 2008, he would not have been so enthusiastically received because we actually served in Vietnam and we know that, in that era, the National Guard and Reserves, unlike when Bush himself was commander in chief, were where you went to avoid active duty service in Vietnam.
Also, I think George W. Bush feels a genuine kinship to the active duty military and that includes West Point cadets. Obama, on the other hand, seemed like he would have more rapport with a delegation of Martians.
MSNBC Obama lover Chris Matthews wondered out loud on TV after Obama’s speech why he delivered it in the “enemy camp” instead of from the normal location for such a speech: the Oval Office.
That’s the first time I ever heard The United States Military Academy described as “the enemy camp” in the context of a presidential speech about military strategy in a war.
I surmise the brass and most cadets at West Point felt honored by Obama making that speech there. They were not honored. They were used.
We had a phrase when we were cadets: “using your honor against you.” That meant an officer using our adherence to the cadet honor code to make his job easier by simply asking a cadet if he had violated a regulation. The unwritten rule was that he was supposed to find other evidence of that on his own, not use the cadets’ honorableness out of laziness.
Obama used the Corps of Cadets discipline against them. He dishonestly used their discipline to imply agreement with his new policies.
Obama made this speech at West Point because the Corps of Cadets was the only audience in America that could not react honestly, and negatively, to it.
Why not in the Oval Office with no ‘studio audience?’
Why was this not done from the Oval Office like most momentous presidential speeches? I heard on TV that Obama prefers campaign mode which has him out on the hustings speaking at venues to live audiences all over the electorate. I have written in a number of articles saying he wanted the title of president, but not the job. His permanent campaign is the best evidence of that. The fact that it is becoming harder and harder for him to find audiences that will give him campaign backdrop adulation is the best evidence that the American people should have elected someone who wanted both the title and the job. Increasingly, he will only be able to speak to federal government employees like the West Point cadets.
I have also accused him of wrapping himself in the flag as a cheap trick to make it look like his policies and speeches are better received than they really are. On 12/1/09, wearing a navy blue suit and a red power tie, he also wrapped himself in cadet gray.
In my article about military medals, I noted that we described the National Defense Service Medal as the “I was alive in ’65 medal,” that being the year we cadets and the rest of the U.S. military were awarded it. We also joked of its three colors, “The blue is for the oceans we never crossed, the red is for the blood we never shed, and the yellow is the reason why.”
Cadet gray is the college color Obama never applied for, never wore, and, I predict, will not allow either of his daughters to wear. The red in his tie is the reason why.
Cadet uniforms for the speech
Before the speech, I wondered to my wife if the Military Academy would order the cadets to wear those camouflage combat muu muu’s you see our military wearing all over the place lately, including on some Fridays at West Point to cadet classes and at some West Point football games. When I was a cadet and Army officer, we would have gotten court martialed if we wore that uniform in public other than commuting between on-base work and off-post quarters—literally! I think it’s one of the ugliest uniforms I have ever seen and cadets wearing to to class or football games or to the president’s speech strikes me as too much Halloweening or “Do we look like action figures or whating” of the Army and the Military Academy. It is the Army’s equivalent of old clothes a civilian would use to do yard work or some such.
Army Chief of Staff George Casey went on the Sunday morning TV talk shows in that work-clothes uniform to say loss of diversity would be worse than the Fort Hood murder of 13 U.S. personnel. I guess he was trying to get protection from criticism by using the combat uniform to induce the draft-dodger guilt and rear-area guilt of the interviewers and TV audiences.
I told my wife the proper uniform for the event would be Dress Gray. Just before we left for a charity event the night of the speech, I saw the run-up to the speech on TV and noticed the offices were wearing Dress Blues, which is what the Army thinks is a formal uniform. They have another called Dress Mess which actually is pretty formal and resembles a civilian tux. That made me wonder to my wife if they were going to have the Cadets wear Full Dress Gray, which makes them look something like Napoleon’s army which was doing its thing about the time the Military Academy was founded.
When I got back home and looked at the DVR, I saw the cadets were wearing Dress Gray after all.
But I have a complaint about the way they wore it. Dress Gray Over White (late spring, summer, and early fall) was my favorite cadet uniform. Apparently, it’s no one else’s favorite because I could not find a photo of it on the Web. It’s just dress gray with white trousers. For Obama’s speech, the cadets wore Dress Gray Over Gray (late fall, winter, early spring), that is, with gray trousers that have a black stripe down the outside of each leg. The problem is they are junking it up with stuff.
Dress gray is one of the cleanest uniform designs in the world. I suspect it is the model for many of the uniforms you see in science fiction movies about the future. It has a jacket with a zipper up the front that is hidden in a wide vertical black trim stripe and a high collar that matches the trim stripe. The back also have two vertical black trim stripe that go part way up, apparently to accentuate the narrow waists and broad shoulders of the young cadets. When I was there, we looked like this photo. Note the absence of junk. Now, they look like this photo.
What is all that stuff they are wearing? Ribbons signifying medals, badges indicating graduation from military schools that last a few weeks. I do not recognize about half of it. Shouldn’t war heroes be allowed to wear their medals? They are not war heroes. The female is only wearing the National Defense Service Medal. The guy apparently was in the Army before West Point because he has a Good Conduct ribbon which I believe is for not being thrown in jail during your first six months as a private in the Army.
I have no problem with the gold stars on their collars. They mean they are in the top 5% of their class academically.
Hollywood copies this uniform because of its sleek, simple, elegant design and attractiveness. But they do not copy the junk—other than the single communicator badge on the chest in Star Trek. When I was a cadet, the only junk was the guys who came to West Point from enlisted service in the Army felt compelled to wear their Good Conduct ribbons. I never knew why. Everyone called it the Dentyne wrapper. While we were there, we were awarded the NDSM, but only the prior enlisted guys wore it—adding it next to their Dentyne wrapper.
Now, the cadets’ chests have turned into the uniform equivalent of cluttered attics that are long overdue for a cleaning. We also had an olive drab uniform that looked almost exactly like an officers class A uniform when I was a cadet. How about just wearing all that junk on that uniform if they still have it?
Someone is going to be inspired to say to me, “Junk!? Why harrumph! Some of what you call ‘junk” are medals for bravery in combat! How dare you!”
When I coached football, I told the players that to me the word “uniform” was both a noun and an adjective. Accordingly I prohibited all the junk that high school and youth players accessorize their football uniforms with: loops, different colored socks, colored wrist bands, adhesive tape racing stripes on the outside of their uniforms, spats, etc. Like the West Point dress and full dress gray coats, football allowed its players to accumulate cluttered-attic-type junk. I got rid of it on my teams. I heard the rule books have since followed my example.
West Point needs to wise up. Wearing the West Point cadet uniform is a rare privilege. It says you are a member of the Corps of Cadets. That should be enough for the four years you are there. Individualizing your uniform violates the team concept. It is an attempt to set yourself apart from, and above, your fellow cadets. That was uncadetlike in the 1960s and before. Advertising graduation from summer-camp-like schools every day of your adult life is simply childish. It looks silly, like wearing your Eagle Scout merit badge sash to college.
The regular Army does it because they attract the most immature segment of America’s young men. West Point did not do that and I hope has not started attracting that market segment.
Put your medals on your cadet desk if that’s allowed. Put them on your resume. Brag verbally to the people you are trying to impress. Wear them on the Army class A uniform if you have such. Wear them after graduation. But stop mucking up one of the world’s great uniforms with all those badges and near meaningless ribbons.
If you got the purple heart and silver star in Iraq, good for you. Now show a little modesty and stow them in your desk drawer or else the cadets who came straight to West Point from high school will start wearing medals for being able to get admitted to West Point and handle being a cadet at age 17, something you prior service guys who got a year in a West Point preparatory school did not, and may not have been able to, accomplish.
When my class was there, we didn’t need no stinking badges.
Obama’s Afghanistan war strategy
Obama’s strategy is total bullshit. He apparently spent 88 days analyzing the politics, not the military considerations. Then, belying his reputation for political genius, he came up with a decision cleverly calculated to piss off absolutely everyone who cares—a stick poked in the eye for everyone.
Here’s the military angle. War’s are very big and expensive—in both blood and treasure. My mom used to say that a lot of people had “champagne taste but a beer pocketbook.” The American people have “war taste but a skirmish pocketbook.” I gave the details on how many troops we really need in Afghanistan—450,000 to 2,074,000 in another article that uses various ratios of country-size-to-troops-needed from several different sources—all official U.S. military.
450,000 to 2,074,000 with thousands of them dying each year is what it costs to run a war in a country with 250,000 square miles of territory like Afghanistan. Actually, given the verticality of the terrain there, they probably have a lot more square miles than 250,000 which is what the area would be if the terrain were completely flat.
I’m sorry if you are a war supporter and do not like the numbers 450,000 to 2,074,000. They are not my numbers. They are the numbers various U.S. military authorities used commenting explicitly or implicitly on military best practices before the American people became skeptical and war weary about Afghanistan.
Art of the possible
I am aware that politics is the art of the possible and that 450,000 to 2,074,000 are not possible. But that means the decision on what to do in Afghanistan is to get out. War is also the art of the possible. It is not possible to win there with a troop strength that will momentarily peak at 98,000 before Obama starts drawing the strength down to appease his anti-military supporters in time for the 2012 election. Furthermore, this is not just an academic exercise. We currently have 68,000 troops there, which is far too few. Because there are too few of them, too many of them are dying due to immoral strategy not just enemy action.
We have asked our young men and women to volunteer for the military, Hundreds of thousands have done so. And our way of thanking them is to send 68,000 of them to a country of 250,000 square miles and a population of 28,396,000. We have given our military in Afghanistan a loaves-and-fishes mission, that is to say, we have sent them on a suicide mission that only a deity could succeed at.
Are all suicide missions wrong? No. Some are warranted when the greater good will be efficiently served by them. But the only reason we have troops in Afghanistan and are sending more is to help George W. Bush and Obama not look “weak against terror.” This is a moral outrage and the officers who are not standing up against it are culpable. To quote a Marine officer in the 2004 Fallujah attack, they have blood on their hands.
The military has not balked because they are overly obedient, moral cowards, and have a “can-do” attitude. But a can-do attitude is a damned lie that gets people killed for nothing when, in fact, you can’t do.
‘Sorry ’bout that!’
War is all in or all out. Obama refuses to do either for political reasons. “Sorry ’bout that GI!” if I may quote a taunt the North Vietnamese used against us.
Obama’s “split the difference so I don’t piss anyone off too much” is a death certificate for thousands in uniform including some of the cadets to whom he spoke and with whom he mingled at West Point.
Do the American people want to pull totally out of Afghanistan? Many of them do—Moveon.org (named during the Lewinsky scandal) for example. But many, maybe most, Americans do not want to pull completely out. They do not want to “cut and run.” They do not want the Taliban to take over Afghanistan. They do not want al Qaeda to again operate freely using Afghanistan as a base for attacks on the U.S.
Yeah, I am well aware of that. Another of my mom’s sayings was, “People in hell want ice water, too, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to get it.” The American people who want to “win” in Afghanistan need to send 450,000 to 2,074,000 U.S. troops over there along with the $450,000,000,000 to $2,074,000,000,000 ($1 million per troop per year—your efficient U.S. government at work—wait’ll they get control of all health care). If Vietnam is any indication, 45,000 to 200,000 of those will die there.
Victory in war is expensive
So, hawks, you want victory in Afghanistan? Fine. Pony up the $450 billion to $2 trillion and 45,000 to 200,000 lives price. If you want a Wal-Mart priced victory, pull the troops out. Wal-Mart does not sell victories.
The fact is, as Obama has admitted, we are tapped out and broke. We spent all our money, and all our credit, buying votes for Democrats with social security, “stimulus,” “earmarks,” Medicare, and Medicaid. The Chinese may be willing to loan us the $30 billion needed to pay for Obama’s Afghan surge, but they will not be lending us $450 billion to $2 trillion to pay for a victory. And even if they would, the U.S. public, stupid as it obviously is to have let the country go bankrupt to begin with, knows it cannot afford to pay back an additional $450 billion to $2 trillion.
The main issue here is that those who have died in Afghanistan and those who are about to, are dying for nothing. All the talk about liberty and freedom and protecting the U.S. from people in Afghanistan is political hot air. Nobody has died for freedom in the Middle East. They have all died for the re-election and/or political legacy of the various never-served-on-active-duty, Draft Dodger in Chief White House incumbents. Starting in 1992 and ever since, every presidential election, five and counting, has featured a combat veteran against a draft dodger. And each and every time, the draft dodger won. We have become a nation of draft dodgers.
Announcing the pull-out date
Obama says were will be out of there the year before he runs for re-election—er, I mean in 2011. Perhaps your son will be the last to die for more years of “Change you can believe in.” No one anywhere in the world liked that date announcement except for MoveOn.org and their allies, the Taliban.
If the Taliban have any brains, they will play possum and run out the clock until 2011, then take over the country.
The Taliban may want to beat their chests about driving the Americans out in 2011. In that case, they will strenuously attack and kill us from now until 2011 so they can take credit for winning. In that case, Obama will use the mounting casualty count as political cover for pulling out in 2011 and obliquely blame the U.S. military and, more directly, Hamid Karzai, for losing the war.
General Douglas MacArthur also made a speech at West Point. He graduated from West Point in 1903. He was the top general in the Pacific in World War II and in Korea until he got fired. His speech said to the cadets, “Your job is to win our wars.” He also said,
There is no substitute for victory.
Obama disagrees. He thinks showing the flag for a couple of years, getting a couple hundred more of our guys killed, “training” the Afghans, then pulling out and blaming the U.S. military and the Afghans for the loss is a substitute for victory. Actually, Obama does believe there is no substitute for victory, by him and the Congressional Democrats in the 2010 and 2012 elections. He is putting our troops in harm’s way to secure that victory, not a military victory in Afghanistan.
Does withdrawal deadline force Afghanistan to get their act together
Obama and others argue that announcing a deadline for withdrawal forces the Afghans to get their at together militarily.
Maybe. Maybe not. It is an issue most often faced by parents. I have raised three sons. The youngest is now 22. I also coached about 900 amateur athletes which is a parent-like job where you also have the issue of how much to push is too much. And I have been an entrepreneur and manager in the military, in private business and in my own businesses.
Even animals have this problem raising their young, like the bids who force their baby birds out of the nest.
Basically, pushing a subordinate or ally or child or player requires a Goldilocks level of oomph. Not too much, not too little, just right. If you push too hard with a child, he or she may rebel. A super strict married couple we know had a son commit suicide. But so did another couple whom I regarded as the most lenient parents I ever saw. I once threw their son out of a football practice when the father was away on business. The son and I became friends as a result. I suspect he wanted more discipline.
In business and in the military, I saw leaders who pushed too hard get dishonesty by subordinates as their result. It was the only way the subordinates could make the numbers demanded by the boss. In those same venues, I also saw being too lenient resulted in lousy performance and dishonesty that stemmed form lack of negative consequences for it.
That which does not kill me makes me stronger.
So the basic principle that Afghanistan will never stand on its own unless we force them to is correct. But it is also correct that if we do it before they are ready, they will die. What is the right time? No one knows. It varies from nation to nation because of history, culture, and so on. You have to play it by ear. Obama did not play it by ear when he set this deadline in his speech, so it is disingenuous of him to say that the deadline is based on a need to wean the Afghans off U.S. assistance. Obviously, the deadline was purely for domestic political consumption and because it was a poorly considered deadline, may itself foolishly doom the entire decade-long sacrifices made to win in Afghanistan.
It is possible, by coincidence, that Obama’s deadline might be the right one. But that would be sheer luck like a stopped clock being right twice a day.
Obama’s bogus description of the Vietnam war
||John T. Reed comment
|First, there are those who suggest that Afghanistan is another Vietnam. They argue that it cannot be stabilized, and we’re better off cutting our losses and rapidly withdrawing.
||Obama should name them. We journalists do, other than those guys who phrase questions like this at press conferences. This is a weasel politician’s trick, the straw man intellectually-dishonest debate tactic, especially when Obama uses it. The argument in favor of getting out of Vietnam is far more nuanced—to use a favorite word of Obama and his allies—than just similarity to Vietnam.
|I believe this argument depends on a false reading of history. Unlike Vietnam, we are joined by a broad coalition of 43 nations that recognizes the legitimacy of our action.
||Bullshit! There was a coalition in Vietnam, too. The Wikipedia write-up on the Vietnam war lists nine other countries who were our allies. Three of the guys in one of my platoons were stationed at Nui Dat with the Australian Army. I saw ROK trucks all the time. The sad, cynical fact is that in both Vietnam and Afghanistan, our foreign allies often did not seek combat contact with the enemy. Rather, they were just there to show the flag and not piss off the U.S. in terms of long-term relations.
|Unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a broad-based popular insurgency.
||Bullshit! Many South Vietnamese had fled from North Vietnam when the Communists took over that part of the country. After we lost the Vietnam war, boat people fled Vietnam at great risk of violence, death, and/or robbery. 165,000 died in the Communists’ re-education camps after we left. Those who survived such camps had been tortured. About 1.1 million boat people survived to emigrate to other countries, mostly to the U.S. In Cambodia, the Communists perpetrated the so-called Killing Fields in which hundreds of thousands were murdered outright and one or two million died from Communist triggered diseases and starvation. At the time, the total population of Cambodia was only 7 million. The Vietnamese people, with whom we interacted daily, were glad we were there and scared to death of our leaving. What happened when the Communists took over surprised no one one in Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos (the two “dominoes” that fell when South Vietnam fell). To be sure, many South Vietnamese supported the Viet Cong initially, but they were wiped out during the 1/31/68 Tet Offensive. After Tet, we were only fighting North Vietnamese Army soldiers, not a broad-based popular insurgency. Also, the Viet Cong were never that popular. They were like the Taliban—mildly friendly to their supporters and murderous to anyone who did not toe their party line 100%. I was in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970. There ware always Communist spies among those who worked on our bases every day, but I suspect most were motivated by the fact that President Nixon had done like Obama—indicated we were leaving. The North Vietnamese—who were active duty Army invaders not insurgents—were probably going to win so many South Vietnamese, for self-protection, allied with the North before it was too late.
|And most importantly, unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan, and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border.
Bullshit! The Communists, which were a worldwide movement, said they were going to “bury us,” literally. They had taken over North Korea and tried to take over South Korea by invasion at the same time the Communists were attacking the French colonialists in Vietnam. We began sending green berets to Vietnam to train the South Vietnamese Army in the 1950s and early 1960s after the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu.
The Vietnam war per se began with a purported attack by North Vietnamese on U.S. Navy ships in international waters in the Gulf of Tonkin. The above-mentioned 1968 Tet Offensive by the Viet Cong was extremely vicious. Over 10,500 U.S. and allied soldiers were killed along with 14,000 South Vietnamese civilians—orders of magnitude more than on 9/11.
I already wrote a Web article on comparing Afghanistan to Vietnam. Obama leaves out the many advantages the U.S. had in Vietnam:
• A relatively strong well-established society, government and military. The South Vietnamese military had 100,000 more troops than we did. They had jets and pilots, a navy, and most important, they were veterans who had been fighting the war for years. We U.S. soldiers in Vietnam were sort of temps on a one-year tour.
• a coast and ports as well as fairly solid infrastructure in the form of roads and big cities in Vietnam versus none of the above in stone age, landlocked, Afghanistan
• tropical jungle sea level terrain versus high altitude, arctic-in-winter mountainous terrain
• the NVA wore uniforms and fought as large conventional military units versus the “nobody here but us civilian” snipers, hit-and run squads, and IED attackers in Afghanistan
• we had 30.5 times as many U.S. military personnel per square mile in Vietnam than we have in Afghanistan
• North Vietnam was allied with and heavily supplied and supported by the Soviet Union and China. I once saw captured Chinese Communist flame throwers stacked up like cord wood as far as the eye could see on an airstrip near the Cambodian border after we surprised the NVA by suddenly invading Cambodia—their Waziristan-like sanctuary until then.
The answer to Obama’s statement that Afghanistan is not another Vietnam is, “You’re right. Vietnam was much easier.”
‘See how young my administration is’
Obama may have done his homework on Vietnam and just lied. He does that. On the other hand, his inaccurate statements about Vietnam may be caused by the fact that he deliberately chose a lot of too-young-to-be-the-best-qualified candidates for high positions in his administration, like Director of the Office of Management and Buget Peter Orszag.
He chose those people the way they chose people to be in the background of campaign events for the young, change, hope visual effect. The problem with using overly young visual background guys like Peter Orszag to advise the president, is they don’t know what they are talking about. In the case of Vietnam, they were kids or not yet born when it happened. They knew many “facts that are not true” about it as a result.
Even older Obama advisors like Army Chief of Staff General George Casey and CentCom Commander General David Petraeus were too young to have served in Vietnam. If he wanted the facts about Vietnam for his West Point speech, he needed to consult the sort of people who appeared in McCain’s first campaign speech background and for which he was criticized on the grounds those background supporters were too old. People that old have some uses, like avoiding repeating history because you are too young to know much of it.
I expect the relatively few U.S. military personnel with combat experience in both Vietnam and Afghanistan would prefer Vietnam. Obama clearly said that Afghanistan was a much easier fight than Vietnam was. Bullshit!