The “Big Muddy” Still

President Trump now claims ownership of America’s longest war in Afghanistan. This may result in his pride in ownership or not. Although I did not and do not support many of his positions, I sincerely want him to have a successful Presidency. If his administration succeeds then America will also be better.

It was 1969 when I arrived in Vietnam. There were approximately 550,000 soldiers in country at that time. A country about the size of the State of Florida. Generals such as Westmoreland and Abrams commanded our soldiers at that time. Of course Lyndon Johnson was our President. President Johnson had a great understanding of domestic issues but was out of his knowledge area on international issues. He relied on the military, the generals, and some senior staff such as Robert McNamara for advice on how to proceed with the Vietnam Conflict. History has judged those decision makers.

Being an American advisor assigned to a South Vietnamese army unit was generally not viewed as a good assignment. Certainly some of the people we helped to train, equip and advise were a good investment. Others were less than exemplary as evidenced by the lack of ability or concern when the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers advanced down highway Quang Loi 1 into Saigon facing minimal resistance. People without an ideological commitment to a country or cause have no desire or compulsion to fight. Perhaps the Afghan military in support of a corrupt government and lacking a national identity will do better. Regardless of the condition of the Afghan army and all the training and equipment, I have not read of great combat readiness on its part. The announced drawdown of our US forces in the past was intended to let the Afghan government know, they need to accept their responsibility in assuming the combat role. This should not be seen as announcing to the Taliban that the US is leaving but rather declaring that the Afghan army can stand up and meet the challenge without Americans fighting their battles.

If I am going into battle I want a general leading that action. These people are educated and trained in the means and ways of combat. I don’t want generals alone deciding when to go to war. War is diplomacy by another means. A battle rearranges the chess pieces so that diplomats can negotiate a diplomatic solution. Historically our military does not engage in a war that totally obliterates a nation. Diplomats must be the essential and primary overseers of our negotiations. Generals occupying government positions should be limited, after all ours is a civilian government with the President as Commander-in-Chief.

The anguish and pain of the Vietnam Conflict was shared by almost all Americans due substantially to the military draft. Nearly all eighteen year olds had to participate. Many of us were drafted and served so many people knew someone who was killed, injured or who didn’t return the same. Today’s military is composed of the few by comparison. Their anguish and hurt is just as great but not felt throughout the community. Regardless the pain of one family or a few must be recognized by the many.

International relations is similar to personal relations but it happens on the world stage. The current administration claims a better approach to the Afghan situation by pressuring Pakistan and India. The prior administration reduced economic aid to Pakistan by 60% without much success in pressuring Pakistan into not allowing safe havens for the Taliban. However Pakistan has a Hindu country, India, on its East. A country with nuclear power and a hostile relationship with Pakistan. Logically it is seen as being in it’s best interest to not aggravate a Muslim state on its Western border. The military advocated going into Cambodia, a safe haven, during the Vietnam Conflict. In hindsight we know how successful that effort was. During the time leading up to the Vietnam Conflict our State Department had minimal knowledge of Southeast Asian affairs. If we had such knowledge we would have understood the animosity between Vietnam and China. During the current discussion by President Trump and his national security team was there adequate or any input from the diplomats? He did not mention it but hopefully there was sufficient information requested and obtained before this decision for a “new direction” was determined.

History may not exactly repeat itself but often our mistakes do. A corporate executive from Ford was our Secretary of Defence resulting in unacceptable consequences. We now have a corporate executive from Exxon as the Secretary of State. Is he through his acquiescence allowing us to pursue a similar path? During the Vietnam Conflict Ho Chi Minh advised the United States that he could afford to lose longer than we could afford to win. Perhaps the Taliban have the same attitude. My hope is that our President and National Security Team understand the meaning of Ho Chi Minh’s claim. The popular song “The Big Muddy” although not written about Vietnam became an anti-Vietnam war protest song. A line in the song says “waist deep in the big muddy and the captain says we have to move on.” We are knee-deep in Afghanistan and the President said we need to move on. May success have a definition and our involvement have a limitation.

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