Whiskey Tango Friday

You know what phrase I love? “Shit, or get off the pot.”

It’s always amused me. But it certainly speaks to what I always told guys when training to be OOD, “Look, whatever you do, make a decision and go. If it’s the wrong one, you’ll find out pretty quick and can change direction, but sitting there doing nothing is rarely the right answer.”

Seems those in the upper-upper-chain of command may not have had such excellent mentorship..

President Barack Obama does not plan to accept any of the Afghanistan war options presented by his national security team, pushing instead for revisions to clarify how and when U.S. troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government, a senior administration official said Wednesday.

Having an exit strategy is not necessarily a bad idea. My problem with it is, you can’t plan on how to get out when you haven’t fully committed to going in yet.

That’s the problem. Committing to something. Anything.

If we don’t we’re committing to repeating history.


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38 Responses to Whiskey Tango Friday

  1. Niall says:

    Your comment about “repeating history” is prophetic. Tell me, did escalation in Vietnam win that war? Did our full “commitment” to that war lead to anything but waste and futility?

    And is Pakistan the new Cambodia?

    I think these are the thoughts going through Obama’s head. At least in Vietnam we had a well-defined foreign government to oppose. Not so in Afghanistan. After eight years of fighting the Taleban, they are as strong as ever. What exactly is our military goal now in Afghanistan, and how will 40,000 more US troops accomplish that?

    We also forget that the invasion of Afghanistan was NEVER a strategic goal of the war on terror, neither was the destruction of the Taleban. We were more than happy to have them running Afghanistan until 9/11. If they had just given up Al Qaeda when we asked, they would be still be ruling the place.

    As for “Shit or get off the pot” – I think we’ve seen the results of that thinking in Iraq.

  2. chief torpedoman says:

    Tell me, did escalation in Vietnam win that war? Did our full “commitment” to that war lead to anything but waste and futility?

    Don’t think we ever did have a full commitment to that war, but instead we had to fight it half assed with all the restraints of the politicians.

    At least Nixon knew what go big or stay home meant.

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  3. Niall says:

    Chief – That’s such horseshit. We had half a million troops in Vietnam. We deforested half the country. We bombed the shit out of all of Vietnam and Cambodia. It’s hard to think of how we were “restrained” in any way in that war. Moreover, we won every conventional military battle we engaged in, either with the NVA or the Vietcong – and still we lost. We lost the war because South Vietnam was never a viable political entity, and would never become one. The parallel with Afghanistan is far too stark to ignore.

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  4. fastnav says:

    But the rules of engagement were what humstrung the military effort in Vietnam.

    Yes, we bombed the shit out of them, and yes, we won every conventional battle, but so much of that war was unconventional, and the ROE (from what I’ve heard) was very restrictive in allowing our soldiers to go in and get at the bad guys.

    But you’re right, the parallels with Afghanistan are clear.

    – Restrictive ROE makes it hard to kill those who need killing.
    – In a conventional battle we’d whip their ass, so that’s why they won’t engage in one. So what to do now?
    – Not having a strong government means as soon as we win an area, there’s no one there to hold it.

    So, we’re back to going big or going home. The Afghan government isn’t going to become legit or capable overnight, so either we commit enough forces to do the jobs that need to be done (clear and hold) or we bail.

  5. Niall says:

    I think the rules of engagement in Vietnam were fare looser than you assume. They certainly didn’t prevent us from invading and destroying a neutral country – Cambodia. What hamstrung us wasn’t some set of “rules” imposed on the military, but the US military’s own stupidity in how it conducted the war. For far too long it conducted it as a conventional war against an invading power. They never took seriously that the were in the middle of both (a) a revolution and (b) a civil war.

    We went very, very big in Vietnam, and still failed because there was no real government to take our place. If we “go big” in Afghanistan, we’ll just have the same experience, but will have killed a few thousand more allied soliders in the process.

    It is in fact time to go home, because that’s where were headed anyway.

  6. fastnav says:

    I think you and I are in violent agreement here…

  7. Niall says:

    Yep. This is happening more often. Something is very wrong.

  8. Anonymous says:

    What is often forgotten in these arguments over the Vietnam comparisons (of which there were are several valid ones–safe areas in adj countries, corrupt, inefficient & ineffective central govt, etc.) is that unlike the South Vietnamese (with the exception of RVNs two northernmost provinces in I-Corp adj to the DMZ which were filled with ex N. Vietnamese Catholics driven out by Ho’s Communists) none or few of the S. Vietnamese had ever lived under Communism, so had nothing to compare its blandishments to. The Afghans, by contrast, have already had a taste of life ruled by the Taliban and most don’t want any part of a repeat performance. Most Tribal Chiefs are the natural enemies of the Taliban and AQ and with the proper support can be very effective bulwark against the Taliban irrespective of the limitations of the central government. But they won’t rally to our side if it looks as if we are going to leave. As one tribal elder said: “Build buildings. Living in tents makes us think you will leave and gives no encouragement.”

  9. virgil xenophon says:

    Sorry, forgot to fill in box–not at my own computer.

  10. Niall says:

    Er, but the Taleban are not communists. Totally different. So you can’t compare the Vietnamese experience under communism and the Afghan experience under the Taleban.

  11. virgil xenophon says:


    Not Communists, no, but just as restrictive in their own totalitarian religious way. And the local tribsmen didn’t like the Taliban’s restrictive ways any more than most people who have been unfortunate to have lived under Communism have liked that system. Remember, most of the local tribal chiefs are natural rivals of the Taliban and are card-carrying “progressive” members of the ACLU by comparison.

    Rember, too: Communism is a religion dressed up as a political ideology; while Islam is a political ideology masquerading as a religion. Communism uses the power of the State to absorb the individual, while Islam uses the individual, via religion, to absorb the State. One works from the outside in, the other from the inside out. The result is the same in either case as both share the final destination: Total power and control, ( i.e., totarianism) by those possessed of the “Vision of the Anointed.”

  12. Niall says:

    The communists were far, far less restrictive than the Taleban. Particularly when it came to women’s rights, the rights of ethnic minorities, etc. The result was in fact not the same in either case.

  13. fastnav says:


    the point of Virgil’s arguement is that (regardless of level of duress, restrictiveness of laws, etc) both countries have experience with some party trying to instill a method of control over the populace (be it communism or Sharia).

    One population had no experience with the party attempting to rule (Vietnamese) and therefore may have been less willing to help us boot them out.

    The other population has most definitely had experience (Afghanistan) and would be more than willing to help, provided we commit to the long haul in helping them.

    Is that about the gist of it, Virgil?

  14. Niall says:

    But I think what the comparison ignores is that communism actually liberated many classes of society – particularly women. Though it was politically repressive, it was not necessarily socially repressive. I lived in the USSR a bit as a teenager (though I’m not Russian), and I have first hand experience of what that society was actually like. Things were much more relaxed there than we were led to believe in the US. Indeed, much more relaxed than in, say, Eastern Germany.

    Anyway, the communists didn’t execute homosexuals. They didn’t stone adulterers to death. They didn’t chop your hand off if you stole something. And they didn’t treat women like broodmares and chattel.

    Another big difference is that culture was a big deal in the USSR. Movies were made (and good ones), novels published, music written and performed. All of this was banned under the Taleban.

    There really is no comparison. Which is not to say the USSR was a free society – but it was an oasis of freedom compared to the Taleban.

  15. fastnav says:

    Niall- FOCUS – It’s not about the specifics of what each regime does.

    It’s about whether the people of a country have experience with the regime (and therefore want it or not).

    Keep the 10,000 ft view here.

  16. virgil xenophon says:

    Roger that on the “gist” fastnav. But why only the 10,000′ view? Why not 50 grand?–The view is so much better up here! 🙂

  17. Niall says:

    Fastnav – It is actually about “the specifics” if you are going to equate the Taleban with communists. They’re just too different to put in the same basket. We might as well equate those who have experienced Catholicism with the Taleban. Would you accept an argument based on that equivalency?

    But just two points:

    All Vietnamese had experience of French colonialism, which seemed to all of them to be worse than a nationalist communism.

    Second, not having actually experienced something often makes it seem more, not less, appealing. I point to American liberals fetishizing of Cuba as an example.

    Lastly, I really don’t know how this point, however we construe it, constitutes any kind of argument about what we should be doing in Afghanistan.

  18. virgil xenophon says:


    Would agree with you only in part. While most Vietnamese had lived under French Colonialism, not all of their experience was negative for all of them–witness the cultural absorption of the French language culture (food, sport–tennis & soccer–language and Religion (Catholicism) by many. The majority pop of I-Corps’ two northern-most provinces (Quang Tri & Thua Thin) were N. Vietnamese Catholics driven out of the north by the Communists and fiercely anti-Communist as a result of the experience. The 1st ARVN Div in I-Corps was one of the most effective fighting Divisions the S. Vietnamese had because it was comprised of almost entirely ex-North Vietnamese Catholics who knew what it was like to live under a despotic totalitarian regime as opposed to a mildly authoritarian French Colonial presence.

    Second, your point about the more relaxed nature of Communist control in Af as compared to the Taliban is, while true, beside the point for the reasons fastnav states.

    Finally, the whole point of the comparison, Niall, is that just like the N. Vietnamese Catholics in S. Vietnam who hated the idea of living under Communist Rule again, the vast majority of Afghanistan tribesmen, having lived under Taliban rule, do not want to repeat the experience and our our natural allies upon whom we should center our efforts around rather than a corrupt central government that they are suspicious of anyway.

    And I should state in passing that corrupt central governments are the rule in the vast majority of the world–be it in Africa, South & Central America or wherever. Almost all are regarded by their largely rural citizenry as corrupt money vacuums sucking the life out of the rural localities in the form of taxes and returning very little in terms of services in the form of improved roads, schools, health care or security. This is as true of Mexicans as it is of Afghans. If the US offered Statehood right now to every Mexican State that bordered the US it would be overwhelmingly be accepted by the majority of Mexicans in the region who despise Mexico City as much as Afghan Tribal leaders distrust Kabul. Talk to businessmen in Monterrey, for example and get an earful about their problems with the central govt in Mexico City–it’s the same the world over. If we based our foreign policy, financial&military aid on the quality of the worlds central governments we might as well close the State Dept, USAID offices, etc., and return home to Festung Americana.
    Alas, we have bigger fish to fry..

  19. Niall says:

    Virgil, Catholics in NOrth Vietnam were faithful supporters of the war against the South. Ho Chi Minh even went out of his way to thank them in public. What you’re not getting is that many Vietnamese – including many Catholics – saw the Americans as just the new imperialist power trying to subjugate them. De Gaulle warned Kennedy this would happen when he urged him not to get in involved in Vietnam.

    So much for that theory.

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  20. Grandpa Bluewater says:

    The Vietnam War was lost when Congress reduced the aid to the South Vietnamese to two grenades and one day’s personal combat load of ammunition per soldier PER YEAR.

    Soon thereafter came a North Vietnamese Offensive utilizing blitzkrieg as the primary tactic.

    CAS from USN carriers offshore in support of the North Vietnamese was not authorized. Death Sentence to RVN.

    All the rest is just recycled propaganda. Total Cronkite.

  21. Grandpa Bluewater says:

    Oops make that CAS in support of the South Vietnamese was not authorized.

  22. virgil xenophon says:


    Obviously not ALL Catholics were supporters of Uncle Ho, or what were two provinces and the better part of two Inf Divs (1st & 2nd ARVN) doing chock full of ’em? In fact I challange you on the numbers. The South contained more catholics in those two provinces than remained in the North, IIRC. But even if not the case, they represented a huge significant number of people who were ACTIVE opponents of Uncle Ho’s brand of tender mercy.

    Also, while it is indeed true that many S. Vietnamese Catholics viewed America suspiciously as just another imperial power, that hardly means that fact made them hate the Communists any the less–or that they were unwilling to enlist and support the Americans in aiding them in resisting the Communist onslaughts.

    So much for your “facts.”

  23. Niall says:

    Virgil, Catholics in the North were not persecuted, and, as a group, were as supportive of the war as other North Vietnamese. This is for two reasons. First, as I’ve already stated, most Vietnamese saw the US regime as the continuation of colonialism, with America simply replacing France. Secondly, once your city has been carpet bombed by the enemy, you are far more likely to support the war against that enemy.

    But to return to your “comparison” – how would these same Catholics have fared under a Taleban regime? They would all have been exterminated or forcibly converted. Nothing of the kind happened to them under Communism. Proving, once again, how useless your equation of the two is.

  24. Niall says:

    Grandpa –

    Yeah, we’ve seen in Afghanistan how decisive CAS is to winning a guerilla war… NOT.

  25. Grandpa Bluewater says:

    Niall ( or is that D. Niall, as in state of)

    What part of “offensive utilizing BLITZKRIEG as the PRIMARY TACTIC” confused you?

    Vietnam was not a “guerilla war” after TET ’68 for the simple reason that the VC had been chewed up, decimated, broken…as in suffered overwhelming casualties which rendered them
    incapable of successful military operations at of any significant scale. After that the enemy troops were mostlly main force
    NVA units, which were defeated in the 72 offensive by the ARVN and some few advisors
    including a Marine named Ripley who blew a bridge to stop A COLUMN OF TANKS. But they had sufficient ammo/demo.

    Back to the history book for you, boyo. Get one published in England, they just tell the facts, unlike the cronkite that permeates a lot of the stuff coming out of NY publishers.

    While you are at it go to the library and get
    “Deliver US From Evil” by Dr Thomas Dooley
    USNR. A Catholic and an eyewitness to the persecution of catholic north vietnamese evacuating south to avoid communist rule.

    You are consistently misinformed.

  26. Niall says:

    Grandpa, I suggest you look up the meaning of “Blitzkrieg”, and then show me how the North Vietnamese or Vietcong ever engaged in one. A blitzkrieg is a massive mechanized armored offensive, as carried out by the Germans in the opening months of WWII. I’m not aware that this ever occurred in Vietnam, but I welcome your proof of this claim.

    The final days of South Vietnam were simply an invasion of the South by the North, and was for the most part normal warfare. But for the whole time the US was in that country, we were fighting a guerilla war. Just as we are in Afghanistan. CAS is and never has been the key to defeating a guerilla insurgency.

  27. virgil xenophon says:


    I must take VIOLENT, VIOLENT factual exception to a couple of your statements. As someone who was personally responsible for dropping my fair share of ordenance on N. Vietnamese territory, I can categorically state that ABSOLUTELY NO “carpet bombing” EVER took place in the sense that that term is identified with Allied area-wide “city-busting” WWII bombing in Germany and Japan. Prior to the Christmas bombing campaign of 1973 ALL bombing was done by fighter aircraft against a highly restricted (i.e., limited) set of selective military and industrial tgts. And while some civilian collateral damage did, obviously occur, it can hardly be said to equate to the wide-area indiscriminate destruction that occurred in WWII. And even when B-52s were used in the 73-74 air campaign their use was equally restricted, although damage was somewhat wider due to nature of ordinance delivery. Almost all neutral observers who surveyed post-war damage in Hanoi, Haiphong, etc., attest to this fact. Every single credible report extant confirms this. I CANNOT LET THIS CANARD PASS. You casually toss around emotionally-charged words far too casually, sir. Your choice of words is just not “over-broad” but totally wrong. Please calibrate your verbiage more accurately, as with the use of a single phrase you have (inadvertently I am sure) managed to smear the integrity of not just the USAF, USN and the USMC, but of America as a whole. What is especially laughable–indeed savagely ironic–is that such a term would be used in the face of a very public record of American Presidents ham-stringing the bombing campaign with highly restrictive ROEs to include documented instances of LBJ kneeling on the floor of the Oval Office on hands & knees with SECDEF
    MacNamera pouring over maps of N. Vietnam personally hand-picking individual tgts in N. Vietnam. Please be more careful in your choice of words/descriptive terms.

    Next, I would only ask: If Catholics in the north were not persecuted, what were all the Catholic refugees from the north doing in the south? On vacation?

  28. Grandpa Bluewater says:


    What vehicle broke down the gates of the capitol building in Saigon at the end of the war? Come on.. first letter T….

    I know quite reasonably exactly what the term blitzkrieg means – for a squid, and it happened in the 72 Offensive and the final offensive. At the tactical level Lightning War is a tactic, or more properly a set of techniques, for the coordination of infantry, armor and supporting arms in the offensive, and at the operational level of war, a set of tactics for the use of armor heavy formations as the lead element in the offensive, to rapidly overcome infantry in the defensive. Sort of (I am not a qualified practitioner).

    Poland was the first use, and the technique was refined by the Krauts, then adopted and refined by the Red Army and the US Army, British Army and toward the end of the war by the free french divisions fighting under US high command, each slightly differently for multiple reasons. The North Koreans used it in 1950.

    The last two invasions south by the PLAVN were run out of the Red Army textbook with Red Army equipment.
    With obvious adaptations for the TOE and etc etc etc of the opponent – the ARVN. As called for in Mao’s little red book. I know that’s not the cronkite the public has been sold for forty years, but go do your homework – see for yourself.

    Interestingly, the subsequent Red Vietnamese – Viet Minh if you will – overthrow of the Kymer Rouge, because the Cambodian genocide had turned even their evil stomachs, was closer to a classic airmobile offensive, using captured US equipment, with tactical adjustments made on the basis of insights gained from fighting airmobile units and the Kymer Rouge’s vulnerabilities. Since there was no political opposition to this invasion of Cambodia, it was prosecuted with typical bloodyminded thoroughness to a successful (defeat of the Viet Minh) conclusion. Hardhearted and ruthless beats bloodthirsty and cruel every time. Giap was better at war than Westmoreland (the basic problem, for us.) and much better than Pol Pot.

    Now I’ll shut up and let the Leavenworth grads lurking eddicate (yes my good man, I am misspelling deliberately) both of us, because they really know who shot John in the big one.

    But to return to my basic point, the US congress won the war decisively, for the enemy.

  29. virgil xenophon says:

    Amen, Grampa.

  30. Niall says:

    Grandpa, how many armored mechanized divisions were used in the conquest of S. Vietnam?

  31. Grandpa Bluewater says:

    If you mean divisions with armored forces included, as well as artillery, mechanized and motorized infantry, enough to break the ARVN. The PLAVN TOE can be found at any good public library, but not in my cave library.

    A division contains elements of all arms, tailored for the task. Whether or not it has the word “Armored” as part of it’s name is irrelevent, if it uses tanks in direct attack, supported by infantry in armored personnel carriers and artillery or CAS en mass, in platoon, company or battalion strength, as required to achieve breakthrough’s in the enemy’s defense and rapidly exploit them, siezing control of the ooda loop away from the opposition. That’s close enough. Certainly far enough from shooting uncooperative village elders in the night, ambush tactics, and avoiding decisive engagement with conventional forces conducting search or pursuit operations to qualify as blitzkrieg rather than guerrilla tactics.

    You are consistently guilty of the mirror error, assuming the enemy has to be using the US Army’s TOE to use conventional warfare tactics when deemed useful. You know, like when the ARVN’s ammo resupply is cut off . Or the opponent’s principal ally’s legislature gives you a gilt edge invitation by screwing him in vital logistic support.

    Nice high school debate riposte, though.

  32. Grandpa Bluewater says:

    hmmm, my comma finger seems to be leading an independent life, sorry about the plural and possessive scramble.

  33. Grandpa Bluewater says:

    See also jerrypournelle.com the mail section for 1 DEC 09.

    Dr. Pournelle puts it at 12 divisions with”more armor than Guderian used to take France” or words to that effect.

  34. Jim S says:

    Hey fastnav, assuming you are still active, if your commander in chief wants to think it over a bit before committing more fully to a war that is not putting us in any immediate harms way, stfu, say yes sir, and salute.

    Pushing the rudder over and sending Americans into harms way are not exactly analogous. But more importantly, do us all a favor and stay on the right side of the Rubicon until you retire.

    Btw, all you guys might enjoy reading Eating Soup with a Knife. We didn’t lose Vietnam because of restrictive ROE any more than Burgoyne did at Saratoga. That “ROE caused us to lose” stuff is the old wives tail that Fulda Gap dreaming Generals made up to cover for the fact that just didn’t want to fight the kind of war they were dealt.

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