Fred Henneke, Attorney & Counselor-At-Law
I have just finished reading General H.R. McMaster’s book about the Vietnam War entitled “Dereliction of Duty”. In that acclaimed book, the General excoriates in the harshest terms the civilian and military leaders of our Nation for failing in their duty to the American public, as well as those fighting that war. He illustrates how there was no coherent well-defined end game; without that, there was no chance for developing and implementing strategy for accomplishing a well-defined, feasible victory. President Johnson principal concern was that the War not derail his Great Society legislation. His charge to the military was to “kill more Viet Cong”, but do it quietly. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and Secretary of State Dean Rusk were willing to accept defeat so long as the United States put forth enough effort to not damage our prestige abroad. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (who were essentially cut out of the decision process) thought the goal was to increase the military pressure until North Vietnam ceased its support for and operations in South Vietnam. Only lip service was given to developing a stable, functioning government in South Vietnam. Ad hocery became the norm.
I just finished reading President Trump’s speech on Afghanistan; I like to read the speeches rather than just listen to them.In it, I find several goals:
1, An honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the sacrifices made;
2, Prevent the creation of a vacuum for terrorists in that region;
3. Break the will of ISIS and all terrorists, dry up their recruitment, keep them from crossing our borders, and defeat them;
4. Support the Afghan government and the Afghan military so they can take ownership of their future, govern their society and achieve a lasting peace;
5. Integrate all the instruments of American power – economic, diplomatic and military – toward a successful outcome;
6. Insist that Pakistan play a positive role in this effort.; and
7. Allow the generals to conduct the war on the ground and in the air.
How does this differ from the picture of Vietnam painted by General McMasters? Unlike in Vietnam,It, apparently, is a comprehensive program, short on details but long on goals, conceived in concert with the military rather than around them. Unfortunately, like in Vietnam, there is no clearly defined, desired final result that drives the strategy. If the Afghan government continues to lose ground against the Taliban, will we increase our on – the – ground presence? What evidence demonstrates the defeat of the terrorists? What constitutes an ‘honorable and enduring outcome?
Our longest continual conflict goes on. I applaud President Trump for changing his campaign position of total withdrawal once presented with the facts and opinions from “his generals.” That realization, however, is only the beginning. The hard part has been, and will be, convincing the American public that the sacrifices made and yet to be made are worthy and in our best interest. President Johnson couldn’t; can President Trump?