Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Military involvement in Syria: Vietnam revisited?


Hal Pepinsky, pepinsky@indiana.edu, “peacemaking” at pepinsky.blogspot.com

April 26, 2016


                President Obama has just ordered 250 military advisers to Syria.  It carries me back to how the US became enmeshed in our Vietnam War.  I looked up a timeline at http://mahargpress.com/wounded/additional-material/timeline-of-vietnamconflict/ .  Military aid to the French, thence to the South Vietnamese, began in 1950 under President Truman.  President Eisenhower sent military advisers in 1956 to fight the Viet Cong.  One of President Kennedy’s first acts in office was to send 100 Special Forces to aid the South Vietnamese army.  By the time I did my summer stint as the legal intern in East Asian affairs in the State Department in 1967, President Johnson had increased the US combat deployment more than 450,000 combat forces.

                On NPR, as on “On Point,” and elsewhere, I hear some voices opposing or questioning Obama’s latest extension of our military commitment in Iraq and Syria, not to mention Afghanistan.  The US has an extensive history of sending in overt and covert (as with the CIA in covert operations in Vietnam beginning in 1954) “military advisers,” and hardware.  Some military exploits were short-lived.  Vietnam stands out as lasting from 1950, until its collapse in 1975.  It took only four years from the first deployment of military advisers until combat deployment was fully underway.

                There is something to the saying that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat.  I wish we were taking note of where “limited” deployment of US military advisers has so recently taken us, enough for the history of our deployment in Vietnam not repeat itself.

                It is ironic to me that a Democratic president who entered office vowing to get us out of the region has been sucked into fulfilling the prophecy that senior Republicans who wrote the declaration of the Project for a New American Century, that an attack like the downing of the twin towers of the World Trade Center would solidify US political will to everlasting warfare against a global “terrorist” enemy.  President Eisenhower warned of the growth of the military-industrial complex in his 1960 farewell address.  As far as I can see, no president, regardless of political affiliation or belief, has contained the military since, especially a president like Obama who comes to office with little experience in foreign affairs.  A double irony is that Hillary Clinton is the one candidate with the experience to be able to bend if not break the US military habit, if only she can learn as she has from the mass incarceration she helped her husband escalate when Bill Clinton took office.  More broadly, I wish more of us in the US looked at where escalation of involvement like President Obama’s now in Syria has taken us, that this time we might change course.  Love and peace, hal


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