Steve Inskeep opens this morning's rewriting of the history of the Vietnam War with this gem: "It is of course hard to understand the present without an occasional look at the past." The report claims that 40 years ago a new, successful strategy was launched in Vietnam by Gen. Creighton Abrams, the brand spanking new
Tom Bowman says that unlike his predecessor Gen. Westmoreland, "Abrams saw the fight in Vietnam differently. In a counterinsurgency, the important thing isn't enemy body count; it's protecting the population, training local Vietnamese forces, providing money and programs for a better life....For Abrams, the right strategy was not 'search and destroy.' He saw it as 'clear and hold,' words that echo four decades later..."
Now that's funny. I could have sworn I read that Abrams strategy meant something besides "a better life" for the Vietnamese. I went to the library and found Fire in the Lake where Frances Fitzgerald writes on page 405 "Abrams...diverted the American forces...to an all out attempt to destroy enemy base areas...under the Accelerated Pacification Campaign the US Ninth Division almost literally 'cleaned out' the Front-held regions...bombing villages, defoliating crops, and forcing the peasants to leave their lands..."
Clear and hold wasn't pretty, and it definitely wasn't about "protecting the population." Bowman also doesn't mention that one side of the Abram's clear and hold strategy was the bloody Phoenix Program. In Fire in the Lake you can also read how under Abrams in 1969 the United States set a goal for the Phoenix Program to 'neutralize' twenty thousand NLF agents during the year. Of the 19,534 people reported "neutralized" that year torture was systemic and one third were dead (page 412).
But tallying the US atrocities of the Vietnam War are beside the point for NPR. Bowman's story is all about how great Abrams' strategy was - "Abrams was also more successful in his strategy. By the end of 1968 and into 1969, an analysis of Abrams' efforts showed the military situation in Vietnam had significantly improved." And of course this strategy (40 years later) is what has delivered such glorious successes in Iraq: "that clear, hold and build strategy in Iraq came after failed attempts, some akin to Westmoreland's....Iraq was being compared to the quagmire in Vietnam, at a time when Abrams' clear and hold approach was finding its way into a new Army manual created by Gen. David Petraeus."
Finally Bowman wants us to know that Vietnam could have been won with Abrams' strategy: "Creighton Abrams believed the South Vietnamese could have been victorious over the North, if only the U.S. continued to support them." Just like the victory that is at hand in Iraq...see, only the fickle US public's lack of support will deliver defeat from the jaws of victory.