Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Sometimes The Easiest Solution is Not the Best Solution

Occam's Razor states, basically, that "All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one." That is not always true.

In the early sixties, the United States was increasingly involved in the civil conflict in Vietnam. The French had continued to occupy Vietnam, after the defeat of the Japanese, who had occupied Vietnam during the war. After their defeat at the disasterous Battle of Dien Bien Phu, the French decided to negotiate a withdrawl. In the 1954 Geneva, Vietnam was partitioned-- a partition that was supposed to be temporary, until elections that were to be held in 1956. Communist Ho Chi Minh, who had fought the Japanese with funding and training from the Office of Strategic Services, a predecessor of the CIA, took over in the North. In the south, Bao Dai, who had been a puppet ruler for the French and Japanese, became emperor, with Ngo Dinh Diem as his prime minister.

U.S. President Eisenhower feared, for good reasons, that if elections were held, Ho Chi Minh, a beloved Vietnamese nationalist, would be elected leader. The United States looked the other way as Diem launched attacks against the Cao Dai religious sect, Buddhists, Communists and any other group he thought might challenge his authority.

The rationale at the time was the "Domino Theory"-- the idea that if one regime in the region fell, the other nations-- Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Burma, maybe even eventually India-- would fall to communism like dominoes.

In 1955, there was an election. Diem won with 98.2% of the vote, including 133% of the vote in Saigon. He'd ignored his American advisors' recommendation that he keep his vote tab to 60 or 70%.

There was no all-Vietnam election in 1956.

Ruling with his younger brother and chief political advisor, Ngo Dihn Nhu, Diem grew increasingly oppressive.

The conflict continued to grow, as did the number of American "advisors" as John Kennedy was elected and took office. By 1962, the number of "advisors," many of whom were actually leading Vietnamese troops into battle and fighting, had grown from 700 to 12,000.

The increase in the number of U.S. troops did little to help the slide. The Viet Minh (later the Viet Cong) were well-organized and disciplined, while the South Vietnamese army was riddled with corruption and incompetence. The Diem brothers had become hated figures in South Vietnam. U.S. leaders began to discuss a regime change.

The U.S. State Department was in favor of a coup, while the Pentagon and CIA warned of the destabilizing effect this might have.

On November 2, 1963, members of the South Vietnamese military overthrew the Diem brothers, summarily executing both of them. U.S. President John Kennedy was shocked-- he had not ordered the execution.

Later, Kennedy sought the advice of Canadian leader Lester Pearson about the Vietnam situation. Pearson's advice was "Get out." Kennedy responded "That's a stupid answer. Everyone knows that. The question is: how do we get out?"

Kennedy never answered that. 20 days after the execution of the Diem Brothers, Kennedy was felled by an assasin's bullets.

The next summer, Kennedy's successor, Lyndon Johnson used the fabricated Gulf of Tonkin Incident to vastly escalate the war, miring the United States in a conflict that killed over 58,000 Americans and millions of Vietnamese. The South Vietnamese government foundered from one corrupt, incompetent leader to the next.

In 1973, the United States, under Johnson's successor, Richard Nixon began bringing all U.S. troops out of Vietnam under the conditions of the Paris Peace Accords. By April of 1975, just a few months before I started high school, and under yet another U.S. President, Gerald Ford, Communist North Vietnamese troops entered Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), ending the war.

Ironically, the Domino Theory, the ostensible reason for the war, never occurred. While Cambodia eventually became an allegedly communist state under the genocidal Pol Pot, it bitterly opposed Vietnam, and even fought a war against them. When Vietnam finally invaded Cambodia in 1979, ending a genocide that killed over half of Cambodia's population, there was tacit approval, even from the United States.

Vietnam eventually withdrew its troops from Cambodia.

Through history, simplistic solutions have proven to be troubled or even disasterous. DDT, internal combustion engines, the introduction of sport species of fish into lakes, thalidomide, the murder of the Diem brothers-- and regime change in Iraq-- spring to mind.

The invasion of Iraq has had, as has been pointed out by many, disasterous results, and has even worked counter to the aims of the war. As Iraq spirals out of control, I'm certain that even an idiot like Bush is having sleepless nights, as more and more Americans come home in coffins or grievously wounded, and thousands of Iraqis are slaughtered in a complex, escalating civil conflict.

I suspect that the pundits are right about the "surge;" it's aim is to push off the problem of getting out of Iraq to the next administration. That means until January 20, 2009, we can look forward to many more Americans killed and wounded. And another American president will be up late with his or her advisors echoing John Kennedy's words: "How do we get out?"


Skylers Dad said...

This is a wonderful, and compelling synopsis of the tragic situation we find ourselves in.

When will people learn?

SamuraiFrog said...

My favorite part of Iraq so far (this is bitter) has been the argument that Iraq is not Vietnam, because in Vietnam there was a Domino Theory, and in Iraq there isn't. We just can't let Iraq fall because then other Middle Eastern natons will also become more friendly to terrorists and give the jihadists a base from which to launch attacks on the world.

But at least there's no Domino Theory.

Danielle said...

Very good post. How do we get out? I fear the best solution is out of the mental reach of our President, or even the majority of military minds. We do need a new way forward, think outside the box and attempt to squash the root of the conflict.
I too noticed that the surge and also the proposed troop withdrawal will be rather convenient for the next president.

Wishing you well.

GETkristiLOVE said...

Thanks for writing this JYen. I've been trying to contemplate the similarities in my head lately too. I had forgotten Kennedy's quote.

Erik Donald France said...

Excellent post, precisely drawn.

It's easy to get out -- order the bulk of the troops to "redeploy" and cover your ass with diplomacy. Or the Reagan way -- withdraw from Beirut and invade Grenada. Or the Woody Wilson way -- withdraw from Mexico and go "over there" to Europe. Or the Polk way -- retreat from 54/40 and fight but invade Mexico. SO, withdraw from Iraq and invade Iran. Evil!

Anon. Blogger said...

Yes. In life there is the choice to have integrity or 'stay the course'. I only hope that if I were given the chance, I would opt for integrity, in spite of losing face.