The Tangled Web: America, France and Indochina 1947-50

History Today

The Tangled Web: America, France and Indochina 1947-50

“To many, the Vietnam War defines their view of the nature of US international policy.”

 

“Kennan agreed: the United States was supporting the French in an undertaking that ‘neither they, nor we, nor both of us together can win’.”

A good short read. As a Vietnam Vet I was aware of some of this in later years. Follow this link first, then “The OSS and Ho Chi Minh” in my preceding post.

What a different world it might have been if we had applied the principles of the Marshall Plan to Indochina as well as Europe! The plan in Europe worked miracles. The plan in Indochina was a disaster from beginning to end.

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The OSS and Ho Chi Minh

Book by Dixee R. Bartholomew-Feis. University Press of Kansas

The OSS and Ho Chi Minh

“Some will be shocked to find out that the United States and Ho Chi Minh, our nemesis for much of the Vietnam War, were once allies. Indeed, during the last year of World War II, American spies in Indochina found themselves working closely with Ho Chi Minh …”

Good book review. An enlightening short read. We trained Uncle Ho, and the fighters that became the Viet Cong, in guerrilla warfare. The international face of American diplomacy hasn’t usually been our Secretary of State, it’s been the Pentagon. Check it out.

 

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Predator: The Slippery Slope

We are still fighting wars with tactics better suited to World War II than Afghanistan. We use tanks even though we are not in the desert fighting Rommel. We use gunships even though this may take out a whole village to take down one insurgent, and we call that “collateral damage.” We send our boys overseas for three, four, even five tours, asking them to go into those villages and figure out which handful of Afghans are combatant Taliban. In Afghanistan, our enemy are in the villages because they live there.

In Bill Cosby’s 1963 “Toss of the Coin” take on the Minutemen vs. the Redcoats, the British lose the coin toss. They’re told “you guys have to wear red coats and march in a straight line” while “we get to hide behind trees and shoot at you.” We lost the coin toss in the Mideast.

In Bill Moyers’ recent in-depth interview “Moving Beyond War”, he has a series of interesting conversations with Andrew Bacevich, “a West Point graduate and Vietnam veteran-turned-scholar who’s become one of the most perceptive observers of America’s changing role in the world.”

The following excerpt tracks that portion of their discussion in which they covered our increasing and controversial use of the Predator unmanned drone. Many Americans are asking if this tactic is moral. Does it divorce accountability from the military-political process? Perhaps, but does it save American lives? Here is the excerpt from the transcript:

ANDREW BACEVICH: I don’t think anybody today thinks that counterinsurgency is going to pacify Afghanistan.

BILL MOYERS: Why didn’t it work?

ANDREW BACEVICH: Again, one would refer to Afghan history here, that this is simply not a place that accommodates foreign invaders who think they know how to run the place better than the local population. But what I would want to emphasize, I think, is that by last year, I think Obama himself had given up on the notion that counterinsurgency provided a basis for U.S. strategy and had, indeed, begun to implement Plan C. And Plan C is targeted assassination.

Plan C is relying on drones, unmanned aerial vehicles with missiles, and also commandos, special operation forces, in order to conduct military operations, in essence on a global basis, identifying those who could pose a threat to us. And without regard to congressional authority, without regard to considerations of national sovereignty, to go kill the people we think need to be killed. Plan C is already being implemented.

BILL MOYERS: Most people seem to accept it as an alternative to failure in Afghanistan, and as a way of keeping American soldiers out of harm’s way.

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, and also they accept it because of course, it doesn’t cost us anything. We are not, the people are not engaged in any serious way. The people are not asked to sacrifice. The people are asked only to applaud when we are told after the fact that an attack has succeeded.

I don’t have any easy answers to the Predator problem. I favor keeping our boys out of harm’s way. That’s why I’m also for an accelerated withdrawal from a hopeless quagmire. I do not see Afghanistan as a unified country in need of defense or capable of benefiting from it, even if they asked us to stay, which doubtless they now will not.

But we all recognize that targeted robot assassinations are a slippery slope. Yet we never resolved our differences on CIA assassinations several decades ago. At what point do assassinations become immoral?

My take on Predator’s slippery slope is that “assassination” launches should be accountable to, and only authorized by, our country’s highest elected civilian leaders, never by military field commanders – however reputable and trustworthy. This kind of target must be a high-ranking military or paramilitary individual or unit, actively engaged in military hostilities against the United States or its armed forces, or poised to do so when it is too late to stop them by conventional means. The high-profile target must be non-containable by means of timely kill-or-capture. And the target may not be a civilian head of state unless the President determines an extraordinary and imminent threat to national or global security, such as a Hitler.

I draw a sharp line between targeted assassinations and calling in a drone strike in a combat situation. If no noncombatants are killed, and American lives are saved, I’m for tactical strikes. But I still resist the idea of uncontrolled field-level deployment. I believe Congress and the Defense Department should get involved in creating light-speed control and monitoring mechanisms, and high-level field commanders should have the responsibility for approving tactical strikes and reviewing results.

Remember, the United States will not long be the only nation deploying smart unmanned aircraft systems. It would be in our own self-interest for the United States to take the lead in defining clear-cut boundaries.

Bin Laden obviously would have been an eligible Predator target (though we took him out with our miraculous Navy Seal team). But Assad most probably would not be. For that, we need the United Nations. It is perhaps too soon to tell if Russia and China have committed to cooperative global efforts to reduce global atrocities, but their new-found willingness to go along with the UN’s Mr. Annan in pressuring Syria is encouraging. And, China has greatly facilitated efforts to pressure North Korea on its nuclear weapons program.

Concerted world cooperation and containment is the anti-terrorist weapon of the future.

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U.S. Military Role Against Khadafi

The White House take is that the US ‘can act in Libya without Congress‘ because our current role is only supportive of NATO and does not fall under the War Powers Resolution. US involvement against Khadafi has so far consisted of participating in NATO air sorties on government buildings, tanks and ground troops.

But some members of Congress now say the President exceeded his authority because he did not obtain Congressional permission.

Congress last issued a formal declaration of war in World War II. Congress never even declared an authorization for the 1950 Korean War.

Actions since then have been covered under various resolutions and acts, but without formal declaration of war. Congress authorized extended military combat in Vietnam, perhaps not anticipating US involvement from 1961 to 1975. It was at this point Congress passed the War Powers Resolution, generally limiting the President to committing US forces over 60 days without Congressional approval or declared national emergency.

History will surely note that Congress did authorize the Bush-instigated war in Afghanistan in 2001, and the almost concurrent war in Iraq in 2003.

The US action in Libya was arguably our smallest foreign intervention since we helped elbow Aristide out of Haiti in 2004. But let no one say Congressional objections to the Libyan involvement are motivated by partisan politics.

If Congress in its infinite wisdom must carp about our minimal air support of the Libyan rebels’ Arab Spring, then perhaps the complainers should introduce a bill repudiating our cooperation with NATO effort to unseat Khadafi Duck. Authorize the action, produce a formal repudiation, or get off the pot.

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Bin Laden

I’ve refrained from comment on the May 1 killing of Osama Bin Laden because it’s already one of the most talked-about topics in the world. In his RSS blog feed, New Yorker columnist Hendrik Hertzberg even titled a recent post “Not About Osama! Not About Obama!” His post was about spiral galaxy M51 and the speed of light.

Also, it seems self-evident that Bin Laden has been the world’s most hunted man for almost ten years. Literally “wanted dead or alive”, it was absolutely inevitable that Bin Laden would be killed or captured. Virtually the only question was when the United States would find him.

Bin Laden has had a decade to ponder how he would respond if presented with a choice of death or surrender. He might have died in a rain of bombs upon a Tora Bora type shelter, inflicted by invisible Stealth bombers in the night. He might have died by Predator missile strike, at the risk of “collateral” civilian deaths. But he died in the now-famous surgical strike by U.S. Special Forces, making him a martyr in the eyes of his jihadists. The outcome should surprise few.

BBC reports on a New York Times statement from sons of Osama Bin Laden, saying “the family wanted to know why the al-Qaeda leader had not been captured alive.”

The statement goes on to say “the US decision to bury Bin Laden’s corpse at sea had deprived the family of performing religious rites.”

This sudden family concern for sensitivity rings hollow, when Bin Laden deprived the families of nearly 3,000 innocent civilians of the opportunity to bury their dead, after Bin Laden’s attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

The family also said “We maintain that arbitrary killing is not a solution to political problems and crime’s adjudication as justice must be seen to be done.”

I do personally believe that unilateral strikes on foreign soil, in all but the most dire national emergencies, are an extremely slippery slope. I will leave it to others to debate whether this was a dire national emergency, but I think the evidence shows it was.

While I would like to see our United States reassess this offshore strike strategy, which wins us no friends abroad, I most particularly believe that the Bin Laden family is the very last family on earth with the right to raise questions of equitable solutions to political problems and international war criminals.

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“I Remember Landing Under Sniper Fire”

The Iraq-War veterans are “insulted”. In March, CBS “exposed” Hillary Clinton for her “mis-statement” about her Bosnia 1996 trip: “I remember landing under sniper fire … Instead, we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles.”

As further proof that Presidential campaigns inevitably devolve down into minutae, mis-statements and trivia, Clinton was lambasted for what turned out to be obviously quite different that what she said she remembered from that time. Whether we think she lied, or “mis-spoke”, would seem to align closely with the political party we belong to.

The issue has been cussed and dis-cussed. It is still raging strong. A Presidential candidate should choose words carefully, expecially around the media, political enemies, and veterans. I’ve found that veterans tend to act like they “own” the ultimate truthes concerning war, military conflict or any combat issue, and they form a pretty effective grassroots political action group (PAC), as Sen. Kerry learned the hard way.
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White House Defends Waterboarding

(02-06) 13:37 PST WASHINGTON (AP) –

The White House on Wednesday defended the use of the interrogation technique known as waterboarding, saying it is legal — not torture as critics argue — and has saved American lives. President Bush could authorize waterboarding for future terrorism suspects if certain criteria are met, a spokesman said.

We think the White House is probably sincere in its position. And why not? Bush has nothing personally to fear from it. He’s obviously comfortable with the feeling of drowning, he doesn’t know anything, and the globe will be getting used to more water sports anyway.

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Do You Still Beat Your Wife?

Zippy May 26 2007

Howdy Pardner, still think we’re doing the right thing?

Congratulations on purchasing The War. Your credit card has been charged for $2 trillion dollars (US) as you authorized. Sorry, no returns or refunds on perishables.

Definition: “Insanity” – repetition of the same actions over and over again, while expecting something new to come of it.

Let’s stop for a minute. If you ever made a mistake in your life, would you throw out all the tools you had to find and fix the problem?

As a nation we’re looking at Iraq in terms of whether it makes us look good or it makes us look bad.
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Boxer’s Comments to Rice

I caught it on a TV debate forum last night while channel surfing. Picture shrill defensive Democrats attempting to out-shout hostile, outraged, blustering razorback Republicans. The discussion was out of control. If I owned the studio I would turn off the cameras and send everyone home in disgrace.

It seems Barbara Boxer told Condoleeza Rice that Rice couldn’t understand the impact Bush’s Iraq war “troop surge” would have on American families, because Rice is single and childless.
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