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No More No-Win Wars

It’s time to end America’s dismal record of fighting conflicts it lacks the will to win.

By James C. Roberts

Editor’s Note: In honor of yesterday’s National Vietnam War Veterans Day, we present this article by a veteran of that conflict.

A mantra heard often in conservative circles these days is “No more endless wars.” News flash: All the wars alluded to ended – usually in American defeat or the withdrawal of American forces before the mission was completed.

GettyImages-514870438 Vietnam

(Photo credit: Getty Images)

This baleful trend began with the Vietnam War. As a Vietnam veteran myself, I am still deeply troubled by the carnage occasioned by that long and bloody conflict.

Ronald Reagan called the Vietnam War a “noble cause,” and so it was. The objective of the American commitment was to preserve an independent South Vietnam, which was under assault by the North Vietnamese, whose forces had unlimited support from the Soviet Union and Communist China. Put in context, the Vietnam conflict was a “hot” war in a larger worldwide “cold” war against communist aggression led by the Soviet Union.

Facing a presidential election in 1964, and desirous of keeping the American commitment to the war on the front pages, President Lyndon Johnson opted for a policy of gradual escalation, a disastrous decision (abetted by the craven acquiescence of US senior officers) that left 58,000 US troops dead, more than 200,000 wounded, and far greater losses for our South Vietnamese allies. The betrayal of South Vietnam led to a dozen countries falling to communism, the degradation of American military might and foreign policy resolution, and a widespread loss of respect for the armed forces that persisted until the election of Reagan 15 years later.

The Vietnam tragedy could have been avoided if LBJ had applied decisive military force early in the war, as Richard Nixon did in 1972 to bring North Vietnam to the peace table. Mining all of North Vietnam’s harbors and an unrestricted bombing of key North Vietnamese railroad lines, bridges, and important infrastructure facilities would likely have sufficed.

To quote Reagan again, after the American defeat in Vietnam:

“Let us tell those who fought in that war [Vietnam] that never again will we ask young men to fight, and possibly die, in a war our government is afraid to let them win.”

Unfortunately, most of Reagan’s successors, including his vice president, George H.W. Bush, didn’t adhere to that sound advice.

An Unfinished Job

When Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990 and threatened Saudi Arabia, President Bush put together an impressive coalition and a formidable military force of 500,000 who invaded Iraq and largely destroyed Saddam’s troops. Bush, unfortunately, declined to finish the job by pushing on to Baghdad and taking out Saddam Hussein, thus squandering the opportunity to occupy Iraq and reconstitute its armed forces and government. Instead, he allowed Saddam to remain in power and become an increasingly grave threat to the security of the region. This failure resulted in his son invading Iraq to remove the dictator – an action that seriously damaged his presidency.

When Afghanistan-based terrorist Osama bin Laden orchestrated an attack on the US. on September 11, 2001, it brought Americans together to a degree not seen since World War II. The patriotism and desire for revenge for the atrocities inflicted were white-hot. Millions of young Americans expressed a willingness to enlist in the military.

The new president, George W. Bush, could have called for a national mobilization and effectively occupied the country and destroyed the Taliban. Instead, Bush urged the public to go shopping and then pursued an incremental, piecemeal commitment of troops to Afghanistan without any goals or strategy.

Then, on March 20, 2003, Bush launched an invasion of Iraq with the objective of taking down the government of Saddam Hussein. While the goal was clear, there was no strategy regarding what to do next. Retired Army General David Petraeus recalls asking his superiors, “How does this game end?” and not getting a response.

The best explanation of America’s intended mission in Iraq came from Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Essentially, Wolfowitz predicted that, having toppled Hussein, the Iraqi people would greet US troops as liberators and then America would use revenues from oil sales to rebuild the country.

We all know how that turned out. The 150,000 troops committed were far too few to effectively secure Iraq, which led to the country dissolving into ethnic warfare. Meanwhile, American Viceroy Paul Bremer made a series of unilateral and disastrous decisions, perhaps the worst being the disbanding of the Iraqi army, leaving 500,000 young military-age males unemployed – but in possession of their weapons. Another catastrophic decision was to fire all Iraqi civil servants who had any ties, at any level, to Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party. This action effectively removed most of the government workers with administrative experience.

Meanwhile, an undermanned US military force struggled to stabilize the ethnic maelstrom that consumed Iraq.

Pacification Strategy

The 150,000 troops engaged in Iraq meant an even smaller number of troops available for the war in Afghanistan. To Bush’s credit, the troop surge that he ordered in Iraq (against tremendous opposition, even within his own party) and led by Gen. David Petraeus, had largely pacified the country by the last year of his presidency.

GettyImages-1244303855 Barack Obama

Barack Obama (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

Incoming president Barack Obama effectively squandered the hard-won gains achieved by the surge, however. The new president (with the full support of his vice president, Joe Biden) pulled all US troops out of Iraq, which resulted in the quick reversion back to disorder and the re-emergence of ISIS, the terror group that took control of large swaths of the country.

Petraeus presented Obama with a detailed plan for stabilizing Afghanistan and the number of troops needed to defeat the Taliban. After innumerable meetings in the White House Situation Room, Obama gave Petraeus less than half the number of troops he requested and then, incredibly, announced the date when those troops would start to withdraw.

One can imagine the Taliban leaders sitting around their campfires, laughing hysterically as they read the Obama strategy. The fruits of that plan were manifest in the catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2022 – ordered and overseen by Joe Biden.

The Modern Theater

Biden appears to embody all the worst traits of presidents LBJ, both Bushes, and Obama. The Middle East and Eastern Europe are now in flames, thanks largely to Biden’s feckless malpractice.

Biden precipitated the disaster in Ukraine by showing weakness in Afghanistan and in stating that, basically, a small Russian invasion of Ukraine would not necessarily be a bad thing. When the expected invasion came, he offered to speed up Ukraine’s surrender by giving Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky an armed escort out of the country. When the Ukrainians proved to be courageous and skillful fighters who halted the invasion, Biden promised assistance for “as long as it takes”, but over the past two years has delivered aid in fits and starts and denied Ukraine the advanced equipment and aircraft that could break the stalemate and defeat the Russians.

Unsurprisingly, there has been no Biden statement to the American people on strategy or goals or any explanation of how preserving an independent Ukraine is in our national interest.

Ukraine is the latest entry on the list of “endless wars,” and Biden’s terrible record on the conflict invites that description. There are important differences, however. First, Ukrainians are a people united in their love of country and have proved their willingness to fight and die for it.

Second, the country is led by a fully functional government (unlike Iraq and Afghanistan) which has the overwhelming support of the Ukrainian people. Third, the country has a well-led military whose soldiers and sailors are battle-hardened and fierce in their determination to defeat the Russian invaders.

Fourth and finally, Ukraine (unlike Iraq, Afghanistan and, initially, South Vietnam) does not require the deployment of American troops on the ground. The Ukrainians are capable and willing to do the fighting themselves. All they are asking for is equipment and ammunition.

Of all the presidents involved in the sad history of recent military conflicts, the only exception since Reagan is Donald Trump. As president, Trump employed troops sparingly, but when he did so, he acted decisively. He ordered Secretary of Defense James Mattis to destroy ISIS and ISIS was promptly destroyed. He kept the Iranian mullahs in their box by ordering the killing of Qasem Soleimani. He kept Xi Jinping in line by employing tough sanctions on China, and he fostered peace in the Middle East by negotiating the Abraham Accords.

On Ukraine, however, Trump has been mostly silent, saying only that the Russian invasion would not have happened if he had been president – probably true – and that he would settle the conflict in 24 hours, which is an absurd prediction.

A defeated Ukraine, occupied by the Russians, would be a huge problem for America. Maintaining an independent Ukraine is in America’s self-interest. Donald Trump, speaking for the Republican Party, should place the blame for the crisis in Ukraine squarely on Joe Biden. Then he should call for a strategy of victory that expels the Russians from Ukrainian territory.

Finally, the votes are there in the US House of Representatives to pass a desperately needed aid package for Ukraine. Trump might consider urging Speaker of the House Mike Johnson to enable the bill to reach the House floor.

James C. Roberts served in the Reagan Administration from 1981-1984 and is the founder and executive chairman of Radio America, a national conservative radio network with more than 630 affiliates.

 ~ All opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Liberty Nation.


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