Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Echoes of Viet Nam

There are a few aspects of the current conflict that are evocative of our Viet Nam experience. I thought that we had learned our lesson. For the life of me, I can't understand how it is possible that a boomer, which the president surely is, could fail to avoid the primary mistake of the Viet Nam conflict.

We are pulling our punches. Up to half of targets selected by our commanders are being vetoed by higher headquarters, and lawyers in the field advising commanders. Entire categories of targets are off the table and immune to attack.
Military lawyers sit at the table when command authorities select targets and craft classified rules of engagement. Paust said such rules may specify that ground forces fire only at locations from which they are receiving fire. Some lawyers also go to command centers in the field to offer advice on treatment of prisoners or on conduct of the war.
If there is one thing that I thought that we had learned from our Viet Nam experience, it was the folly of allowing the enemy safe havens, where he could hide from our guns and bombs. I can understand that some may have hoped that the Iraqi Army would lay down and surrender, but now that that false hope is proven false, the gloves must come off. As Lincoln learned, once warfare is commenced, there is no way to win without creating terrible carnage. If Bush and Co. had no intention of wholesale killing, they should never have gone down the path to war. And given that warfare was the path that they did choose, I can't understand why they have made mistake #2, which is the embedded media program. We won every single tactical engagement of appreciable size in the Viet Nam conflict, yet we lost the war due to the presence of the media on the battlefield. John Q. Public and Suzie Q. Idiot may have a romantic view of warfare, but surely Bush and Wolfowitz, Cheney and Rumsfeld, MUST have known what war looks like, and it is incompatible with the average pampered American's view of the world. Yet they allowed video and sat phones on the front lines. I fear a tragedy coming from those images, as the months roll by, and pictures of the meatgrinder find their way into American living rooms. What were our leaders thinking when they OKed this foolish program?

And, since things always come in threes, I must include our fragging incident. In Viet Nam, a fragging was usually a case of a draftee rolling a frag into a lieutenant's tent, because he was convinced that the new officer was going to get him killed. So this case is a little different. But not by much. i don't know why the media seem unwilling to characterize this incident as a good old fashioned fragging, but it is really close.

So it seems that we are refighting the Viet Nam war. That's too bad. If we don't unleash our air power, the body bags coming home week after week will cause the public to lose the will to continue the fight. But when I read that the President himself had to OK Iraqi Television as a target, all I can think about is LBJ approving targets, and the tragedy that that type of micromanagement causes. I heard on Fox News last night that we ahve 1500 lawyers in the field, advising officers on the legallity of actions and interpreting the ROE. This is a tragedy in the making. If the Rules of Engagement need a lawyer to interpret, they are too complicated. If an officer in the field hesitates before confronting a battlefield threat, he is as good as dead.