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Thursday, April 29, 2004

Record book has a lengthy excerpt from Jeffrey Record's new book, Dark victory. Record, some may recall, was the visiting research professor at the Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute who attracted a lot of attention for his study "Bounding the Global War on Terrorism."

In that piece, Record argued that the Bush administration had erred by attacking Iraq -- diverting resources from the war in Afghanistan, blurring distinctions between rogue states and Al Qaeda, setting dangerous precedents, etc.

Since SSI is the Army's think tank, Record's criticisms attracted a lot of attention. While his views did not reflect the views of the Army, Record is a long-time defense analyst. He used to work for Senator Sam Nunn and has tours at both the Brookings and Hudson Institutions. Presumably, he'll be returning to his regular job soon at the Air Force's Air War College, where he is a professor of strategy and international security.

The excerpt provides 7 lessons from the Iraq war. I recommend reading the whole piece as a prelude to buying the book. Salon also has an interview with the author that is worth checking out too.

Here are some things Record says in the interview about security and political legitimacy in Iraq versus security and political legitimacy in Vietnam decades ago:
More troops generally will provide you with more security. It allows you to do more things, such as buy time so you can get the Iraqis sufficiently trained. I've been working on a study comparing Iraq and Vietnam. In Vietnam, in addition to half a million American troops, we had a South Vietnamese military establishment numbering anywhere from about 800,000 to over a million, depending on what year you're talking about. And even though they weren't crack, elite troops, they did provide a lot of static defense and soldiers and things like that that allowed some American forces to do the other operations. We don't have anything like that in Iraq, so in some respects we are worse off now than we were in Vietnam, even though the scale of fighting and the number of people killed in Iraq are much lower. Vietnam we failed to create a legitimate government in South Vietnam, and I think we face the same challenge today in Iraq under circumstances that are much more difficult.
As Billmon wrote yesterday, Iraq is starting to look in some respects like Vietnam on crack.

Record, however, generally doesn't think Iraq and Vietnam are military comparable -- there are important differences strategically and militarily. Politically, he sees parallels:
From a strategic and military standpoint, there are no meaningful comparisons between the situation in Iraq and the situation in Vietnam in the '60s and the '70s. The nature of the war, the scale of the fighting, the scale of the losses, the size of the contending forces, the quality of the enemy that we faced....

I see only two dimensions of the Vietnam conflict that ought to be looked at to provide some instruction for what we face in Iraq. One is our failure to create a legitimate, indigenous government in South Vietnam despite an enormous effort over a long period of time.

The other is the issue of the domestic sustainability of this entire enterprise. We ultimately got out of Vietnam because it became domestically unsupportable from a political standpoint. We're not there yet with Iraq for sure -- it took us seven years to get out of Vietnam. Reasoning by historical analogy is generally dangerous, and these wars are very remote from each other in time, place and strategic circumstances. So you can easily say, "This is not Vietnam." But are there dimensions of the Vietnam conflict that may have some parallels to the problems we face? Yeah, I think there are.
Of course, Record doesn't think the reconstruction of Japan and Germany provide good analogies either.

Like me, Record says we are over-extended thanks to Iraq and may be hurting our security. But instead of summarizing all of it -- let me recommend you read the interview too.

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