I thought it might be interesting to look at two speeches, comparing President Obama’s speech on Afghanistan Friday to President Nixon’s Vietnamization speech on November 3, 1969. Comparative excerpts follow.
First, announce the New Strategy–
We have adopted a plan which we have worked out in cooperation with the South Vietnamese for the complete withdrawal of all U.S. combat ground forces, and their replacement by South Vietnamese forces on an orderly scheduled timetable. This withdrawal will be made from strength and not from weakness. As South Vietnamese forces become stronger, the rate of American withdrawal can become greater.
Today, I’m announcing a comprehensive, new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. And this marks the conclusion of a careful policy review, led by Bruce, that I ordered as soon as I took office. My administration has heard from our military commanders, as well as our diplomats. We’ve consulted with the Afghan and Pakistani governments, with our partners and our NATO allies, and with other donors and international organizations.
Then the scary part–
Fifteen years ago North Vietnam, with the logistical support of Communist China and the Soviet Union, launched a campaign to impose a Communist government on South Vietnam by instigating and supporting a revolution. But the question facing us today is: Now that we are in the war, what is the best way to end it?
The situation is increasingly perilous. It’s been more than seven years since the Taliban was removed from power, yet war rages on, and insurgents control parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Attacks against our troops, our NATO allies, and the Afghan government have risen steadily. And most painfully, 2008 was the deadliest year of the war for American forces.
There’s no schedule–
I have not and do not intend to announce the timetable for our program. And there are obvious reasons for this decision which I am sure you will understand. . . .We must retain the flexibility to base each withdrawal decision on the situation as it is at the time rather than on estimates that are no longer valid.
Going forward, we will not blindly stay the course. Instead, we will set clear metrics to measure progress and hold ourselves accountable. We’ll consistently assess our efforts to train Afghan security forces and our progress in combating insurgents. We will measure the growth of Afghanistan’s economy, and its illicit narcotics production. And we will review whether we are using the right tools and tactics to make progress towards accomplishing our goals.
We’ll get their guys to fight our war–
The Vietnamization plan was launched following Secretary Laird’s visit to Vietnam in March. Under the plan, I ordered first a substantial increase in the training and equipment of South Vietnamese forces. . . .We have adopted a plan which we have worked out in cooperation with the South Vietnamese for the complete withdrawal of all U.S. combat ground forces, and their replacement by South Vietnamese forces on an orderly scheduled timetable.
For three years, our commanders have been clear about the resources they need for training. And those resources have been denied because of the war in Iraq. Now, that will change. The additional troops that we deployed have already increased our training capacity. And later this spring we will deploy approximately 4,000 U.S. troops to train Afghan security forces. For the first time, this will truly resource our effort to train and support the Afghan army and police. Every American unit in Afghanistan will be partnered with an Afghan unit, and we will seek additional trainers from our NATO allies to ensure that every Afghan unit has a coalition partner. We will accelerate our efforts to build an Afghan army of 134,000 and a police force of 82,000 so that we can meet these goals by 2011 — and increases in Afghan forces may very well be needed as our plans to turn over security responsibility to the Afghans go forward.
It won’t be easy–
Along with this optimistic estimate, I must in all candor leave one note of caution. Tonight I do not tell you that the war in Vietnam is the war to end wars. But I do say this: I have initiated a plan which will end this war in a way that will bring us closer to that great goal to which Woodrow Wilson and every American President in our history has been dedicated the goal of a just and lasting peace.
So understand, the road ahead will be long and there will be difficult days ahead. But we will seek lasting partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan that promise a new day for their people. And we will use all elements of our national power to defeat al Qaeda, and to defend America, our allies, and all who seek a better future. Because the United States of America stands for peace and security, justice and opportunity. That is who we are, and that is what history calls on us to do once more.
But presidents know best about these things—-
As President I hold the responsibility for choosing the best path to that goal and then leading the Nation along it. I pledge to you tonight that I shall meet this responsibility with all of the strength and wisdom I can command in accordance with your hopes, mindful of your concerns, sustained by your prayers. Thank you and goodnight.
As President, my greatest responsibility is to protect the American people. We are not in Afghanistan to control that country or to dictate its future. We are in Afghanistan to confront a common enemy that threatens the United States, our friends and our allies, and the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan who have suffered the most at the hands of violent extremists. . .Thank you. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.
Note: George W. Bush customarily ended his speeches similarly, e.g. May God bless America. God bless. Smedley Butler: “So vicious was this war propaganda that even God was brought into it.”
The war in Vietnam went on for five and a half more years. It was expanded into Cambodia and many more hundreds of thousands of deaths resulted in that country as well as in Vietnam and Laos, and 23,000 more US soldiers would die — average age 19. Communist Vietnam is now a favored US ally.
Santana: Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.
Don Bacon is a retired army officer who founded the Smedley Butler Society several years ago because, as General Butler said, war is a racket. Other articles by Don Bacon may be found here.