Saturday, September 23, 2017

Was the Vietnam War Winnable?

A few months back Mark Moyar, the director of the Center for Military and Diplomatic History, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times, arguing that the U.S. and its South Vietnamese allies could have won the war.  He actually makes a strong case.  The best response, however is from Robert Farley.  While agreeing with much of Moyar's analysis, Farley makes a fundamental point:  while the war might indeed have been winnable, the benefits of continuing the fight were not worth the cost:
In 1972, American political leadership made the overdue decision that any benefit of further contribution to Vietnam was outweighed by costs in material, in national dissensus and in international reputation. This leadership came to the conclusion that maintaining the U.S. commitment to Europe, North Asia and the Middle East was vastly more important to the struggle against the Soviet Union than continued fighting in Southeast Asia

Continuing the war would have incurred other costs. Hanoi’s conquest of South Vietnam was violent and brutal, killing thousands and forcing many others to flee as refugees. But continuing the fight against the North surely would also have been brutal, especially if it had involved direct coercive measures against Hanoi. Efforts to disrupt the Ho Chi Minh Trail would have led to heavier fighting in Cambodia and Laos.

Finally, it’s worth putting the broader strategic context on the table. The Sino-Soviet split demonstrated conclusively that the “socialist bloc” was nothing of the kind; communist states could disagree with one another in violent ways. Ho Chi Minh and his successors may have been, as Moyar points out, “doctrinaire Communists,” but Vietnam itself invaded another communist state in 1977, and went to war with one of its erstwhile patrons in 1979. The U.S. “loss” of Southeast Asia had no noticeable effect on the broader strategic balance between Moscow and Washington, a conclusion to which the Europeans had come at some point in the late 1960s.
Read it all here.  What do you think?

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