Mark Mardell is, predictably, reverting to type – what a surprise. He is now focussing his laser like mind on Afghanistan and – yes, you guessed it – Viet Nam keeps popping up.

“That’s what Obama will be worried about,” says Gary, adding that if a bad economy destroys presidencies, an unpopular war does the job even more effectively. “Vietnam” is simply shorthand for “quagmire”.

Gary is ABC’s chief pollster, Gary Langer (ABC of course – how did I know that Mardell would not be chatting to anyone from Fox News…)

He naturally delves deeper into the 1960s

This interesting article argues the world would be different if LBJ had listened to writers, not generals, and that Obama should be listening to free thinkers.

By writers he means Norman Mailer and the implication that military men are so blinkered in their thinking that they can only come up with the idea of more troops whereas if LBJ had only listened to Mailer rather than his generals then the US would have got out of Viet Nam in 1965 and everyone would have been much better off.

Mardell’s line is beginning to conform to the general BBC playbook on Afghanistan – it’s a quagmire, like Viet Nam, it can’t be won so let’s get out now and leave the place to the Taliban. As long as the Talib concentrate on executing dissidents and flogging women and closing schools for girls the Beeb will just look the other way – unless they start blowing up Buddhas – then that will be a real tragedy.

This theme was hammered home in a Newsnight piece several days ago when a book called “Lessons in Disaster” by Gordon M Goldstein was described as the current must read in the White House. It is said to describe the LBJ administration in 1965 being marched into an escalating war by a military viewing the conflict too narrowly to see the perils ahead. In other words it conforms to the accepted mythology that the whole venture was doomed from the start and the generals were wrong and Jane Fonda was right – and that, of course, fits fair and square into the BBC student union mindset.

But what Mardell and the BBC don’t mention (I wonder why?) is that, according to the WSJ, another book on Viet Nam is circulating widely in Washington – “A Better War” by Lewis Sorley. Originally published in 1999 it points out that the replacement of Gen. Westmoreland by Gen, Adams in 1968 was a big key turning point in the war.

Gen. Abrams abandoned the “search and destroy” tactics of his predecessor for a policy of protecting villages, and began to push for Vietnamese institutions to take over tasks once run by Americans — just the policies Gen. McChrystal has advocated in Afghanistan.

Sorley’s book on Abrams influenced the thinking of Gen Petraeus, the architect of the Iraq surge. It also argues that the final conquest of South Viet Nam by the communist North was definitely not a foregone conclusion.

By the time of the enemy’s 1972 Easter Offensive virtually all U.S. ground troops had been withdrawn. Supported by American airpower and naval gunfire, South Vietnam’s armed forces gallantly turned back an invasion from the North amounting to the equivalent of some 20 divisions, or about 200,000 troops.
Critics were quick to attribute the successful defense to American airpower. Abrams would have none of it. “The Vietnamese had to stand and fight,” he said. If they hadn’t done that, “ten times the [air] power we’ve got wouldn’t have stopped them.”

However in 1974 the new Democrat controlled Congress refused President Ford’s plea for extra support for South Viet Nam, instead voting for deep cuts in military aid. The North Vietnamese, always concerned about a resumption of US bombing, took this as a green light and launched a massive invasion in 1975. Even in the face of this onslaught some ARVN units stood firm but with the USA’s cut and run the end was inevitable. Sorley’s premise is that with longer term US support South Vietnam might well have been able to resist the Communists and developed into a viable state.

Unfortunately, just as the US military had worked out how to counter the communist insurgency, the politicians in Washington ignored the evidence and gave up the fight.
It’s clear that the BBC had made up its mind about Afghanistan, just as it did about Iraq and the Falklands. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that they are as wrong about the first as they were about the other two.

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  1. Martin says:

    The problem is in Afghanistan just like Vietnam you have a population that doesn’t care. Unlike Iraq, where there is a desire by the population generally to try to sort their own problems out this is not the case in Afghansitan.

    Outside of Kabl Afghanistna will never be stable, they have a feudal warlord system that prevents any chance of a stable society. The best you can hope for is to have the strongest killers on your side.

    As for women and kids, I don’t give a toss, the Muslim world doesn’t care so why should we? Not our problem. The problem is here in the UK.

    The next Muslim attack will be planned from Bradford not Tora Bora. I’d rather see 9000 British soldiers on the street of Bradford than Afghanistan.

    The problem with this take hold and build plan is you need ever more soldiers to do that. To hold Afghanistan you’d need 2-3 hundred thousands soldiers there for a long time.


  2. Bob says:

    The idea that he should be going anywhere near fox news is ridiculous – you just want your own bias peddled rather than to scrutinise any bias


  3. Martin says:

    Hitchens writes some sense about the rat hole that is Afghanistan, in particular the truth that most of the Muslim terrorist problem we have is home grown.


  4. Travis Bickle says:

    By “writers” I think he means, “my friends at the BBC”.


  5. burbette123 says:

    One wonders if anyone at the bbc has ever bothered to study the details of the two British disasters in Afganistan in the 19th century.


    • Bob says:

      Remember, the line is ‘the BBC are anti-Afghanistan and that is a bad thing’ – stay on-message


      • David Preiser (USA) says:

        So you admit the BBC is biased, but you just don’t like the fact that we don’t like the side they’ve taken?


        • Bob says:

          eh? Surely if they reported that they would be even more guilty of being anti-war, and I didn’t ‘admit’ anything, I said the ‘line is’

          F for you


  6. DJ says:

    I would say something snippy, but I’m struck dumb by our very own £3.5 billion pa Borg cube praising ‘free thinkers’.


    • Opinionated More Than Educated says:

      I’m struck dumb by our very own £3.5 billion pa Borg cube praising ‘free thinkers’

      Me too. They gave David Vance a chunk of their spectrum to speak his mind the other night. 

      Free thinking? My arts.


  7. Ed (ex RSA) says:

    Afghanistan and Vietnam are totally different kettles of fish. Communism was never deeply rooted in Vietnam, being a foreign ideology and a relatively recent import. Even under the yoke of communism the Vietnamese can be seen to be industrious – a free South Vietnam could have been another South Korea.

    On the other hand primitive Islam is deeply rooted in Afghanistan and that country will never amount to a hill of beans.


  8. Teddy Bear says:

    As soon as I read this report of Col. Richard Kemp’s address to the UN 2 days ago, I knew there would be no mention of it at the BBC. The fact that this man has been the former commander of the British forces in Afghanistan. Served with NATO and the United Nations; commanded troops in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Macedonia; Participated in the Gulf War. He spent considerable time in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, and worked on international terrorism for the UK Government’s Joint Intelligence Committee, gives him a hefty credential by any standard, particularly for the UK.
    Only a few weeks ago he was interviewed on the BBC’s Hardtalk programme about whether troops in Afganistan could ever defeat the Taliban. The BBC are anxious to undermine the efforts of the allies fighting there in their never ending bid to serve their militant Islamist masters.
    So the BBC are aware of this man when they feel he serves their purpose. However, when he addresses the UN, following their recent Human Rights report condemning Israel, to say that “…based on my knowledge and experience, I can say this: During Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Defence Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.” the BBC are nowhere to be found.
    If they had ANY pretense at being fair, balanced and unbiased they would be proud to present the views and experience of this British Colonel in the face of this multinational conspiracy to bring down Israel.
    As it is, they are insidiously part of this conspiracy.
    Here’s the full statement made by this Colonel.


  9. Teddy Bear says:

    UK Commander Challenges Goldstone Report
    UN Watch Oral Statement
    Delivered by Colonel Richard Kemp, 16 October 2009
    UN Human Rights Council: 12th Special Session
    Thank you, Mr. President.
    I am the former commander of the British forces in Afghanistan. I served with NATO and the United Nations; commanded troops in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Macedonia; and participated in the Gulf War. I spent considerable time in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, and worked on international terrorism for the UK Government’s Joint Intelligence Committee.
    Mr. President, based on my knowledge and experience, I can say this: During Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Defence Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.
    Israel did so while facing an enemy that deliberately positioned its military capability behind the human shield of the civilian population.
    Hamas, like Hizballah, are expert at driving the media agenda. Both will always have people ready to give interviews condemning Israeli forces for war crimes. They are adept at staging and distorting incidents.


  10. Teddy Bear says:

    The IDF faces a challenge that we British do not have to face to the same extent. It is the automatic, Pavlovian presumption by many in the international media, and international human rights groups, that the IDF are in the wrong, that they are abusing human rights.
    The truth is that the IDF took extraordinary measures to give Gaza civilians notice of targeted areas, dropping over 2 million leaflets, and making over 100,000 phone calls. Many missions that could have taken out Hamas military capability were aborted to prevent civilian casualties. During the conflict, the IDF allowed huge amounts of humanitarian aid into Gaza. To deliver aid virtually into your enemy’s hands is, to the military tactician, normally quite unthinkable. But the IDF took on those risks.
    Despite all of this, of course innocent civilians were killed. War is chaos and full of mistakes. There have been mistakes by the British, American and other forces in Afghanistan and in Iraq, many of which can be put down to human error. But mistakes are not war crimes.
    More than anything, the civilian casualties were a consequence of Hamas’ way of fighting. Hamas deliberately tried to sacrifice their own civilians.
    Mr. President, Israel had no choice apart from defending its people, to stop Hamas from attacking them with rockets.
    And I say this again: the IDF did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.
    Thank you, Mr. President.