Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Gordon Brown Channels William Westmoreland

"The enemy achieved none of his offensive goals in Vietnam. Indiscriminate mortar and rocket attacks on populated centers and costly attacks on remote outposts were all he could show for his highly propagandized military efforts. The Tet offensive had the effect of a "Pearl Harbor"; the South Vietnamese government was intact and stronger; the armed forces were larger, more effective, and more confident; the people had rejected the idea of supporting a general uprising; and enemy forces, particularly those of the Viet Cong, were much weaker."
-General William C. Westmoreland, June 30th, 1968, "Report on the War in Vietnam."

"It's been a hard year for our soldiers but it's been a much harder year for our enemies, who found they cannot defeat us."
-Gordon Brown, 2008

What can one do but laugh in the face of such relentless delusion? Especially when it emanates from the mouths of imperial overlords such as these. I'm reminded of the US military's constant invocation of the metaphor "there's a light at the end of the tunnel" in the months leading up to Tet. After Tet, it was widely remarked that the light was an oncoming train. Let's hope Messrs. Brown and co. catch theirs soon.

Indeed, there are some salient points of comparison between Vietnam immediately post-Tet and Afghanistan today. The Tet Offensive left the National Liberation Front in control of almost the entire South Vietnamese countryside. Regaining control of the countryside had been one of the key goals of the Americanization of the war from 1965 onwards, and had actually achieved some success in allowing the puppet government of South Vietnam to extract taxes and rent from rural areas. After Tet this progress was entirely reversed. A State Department working paper from March 3 reported that "our control of the countryside and the defense of urban levels is now essentially at pre-August 1965 levels."

The occupiers of Afghanistan today face a similar situation in some respects. While there has been no decisive push among the neo-Taliban, they now have a permanent presence in 72% of the country. As in South Vietnam, the central government has been reduced to running administrative functions in the capital city.

The recent spate of extremely successful attacks on the occupiers' convoys is also reminiscent of Vietnam. During Tet, the NLF claimed to have successfully destroyed 1,800 American and ARVN aircraft. One NLF spokesperson explained the impact of this destruction of matériel on American forces:

The result in lowered U.S military efficiency was immediately noticeable...in lack of coordination between American and Saigon forces; lack of coordination between their own ground units and between ground units and air support; and frequently a total absence of support for platoons and company-sized units caught in our ambushes.
Although the Taliban have not yet been able to to directly destroy the instruments of American warmaking in this fashion, their consistent attacks on supply convoys are going to result in "horrendous problems" for the occupiers, according to defense analyst Ikram Sehgal.

Though the similarities between the military weakness of the occupiers in both Vietnam and Afghanistan are striking, the political differences between the periods could not be starker. In the US, the antiwar movement is extremely weak at the moment, having been without national expression for over a year. While opposition to the war remains high, there is simply no organized expression of it.

This lack becomes crucial when we compare it with 1968, when a highly visible and confident antiwar movement was able to make significant inroads into the American military, so that by the 1970s one could not speak of one without the other. Today we are far from this position. While Iraq Veterans Against the War does brilliant and courageous work, it is not a substitute for a broad, visible movement against the war.

There's also an important political difference between the Taliban and National Liberation Front. Though the Taliban is certainly less homogeneous than American news media would have you think, its reactionary social program significantly diminishes its ability to forge a united resistance. To take but the most obvious example, women played an extremely important role in the Vietnamese resistance. Read Nguyen Thi Dinh's excellent "Founding of the National Liberation Front in Ben Tre" to get an idea of this role. The Taliban simply cannot inspire this kind of support among Afghan women, and even if they did, they would not allow women to play the kind of role Nguyen Thi Dinh did.

Finally, the comparison with post-Tet Vietnam should not encourage passivity among those seeking to rebuild an antiwar movement. The United States did not leave Vietnam until 1975, and in those seven years it wrought as much destruction on the country as it had in the previous decade. Instead, the military weakness of the occupiers should heighten our activity. Obama's plan to send more troops will undoubtedly intensify the slaughter, but the Empire's current weakness should be seized upon.