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Military Strategy in Vietnam
Explaining U.S. Military Strategy in Vietnam
Thinking Clearly about Causation
Jonathan D. Caverley
hat would cause a democracy to conduct a ºawed counterinsurgency campaign? What would lead a democracy to fail in a war against an insurgency? Why would a democracy choose war despite its leaders knowing it will ªght in a manner making failure more likely? I offered answers to these closely related but crucially distinct questions in “The Myth of Military Myopia: Democracy, Small Wars, and Vietnam.”1 In “The Myth of Military Myopia,” I argued that leaders of democracies shift the burden of providing for their nations’ defense onto the rich by substituting capital (armor, artillery, airpower, etc.) for military labor, thus shielding the relatively less wealthy “median voter” from the costs of defense and of war. Because the costs of ªghting an insurgency with ªrepower are relatively low for the median voter compared to the more labor-intensive, population security– oriented approach that is generally recognized to be more effective, rationally she will favor the former’s use despite the diminished prospects of victory. In “Myth of Military Myopia,” I employed this deductive argument, which I call “cost distribution theory,” to examine the case of the Vietnam War and shed light on an as-yet unresolved historical puzzle: Why did U.S. forces conduct a ªrepower-intensive campaign against the Vietcong (VC) insurgency in South Vietnam, even as it appeared not to work? I argued that President Lyndon Johnson and his administration ensured that the U.S. military pursued a strategy that emphasized the ªght against conventional enemy units and relied on the use of ªrepower for the ªght against insurgents. Furthermore, I drew on both primary and secondary sources to show that Johnson and his civilian aides were very much aware that although members of the administration considered this strategy ineffective against insurgencies, it was politically popular in the United States. My argument offers a more compelling account of the ºawed U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Vietnam than “military myopia” explanations, which place blame for the United States’ failure on the U.S.
Jonathan Caverley is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Northwestern University. The author would like to thank Jennifer Light, James Mahoney, Nuno Monteiro, Michael Noonan, Elizabeth Saunders, Frank Smith, and especially John Schuessler. Lexi Neame provided invaluable research assistance. 1. Jonathan D. Caverley, “The Myth of Military Myopia: Democracy, Small Wars, and Vietnam,” International Security, Vol. 34, No. 3 (Winter 2009/10), pp. 119–157.
International Security, Vol. 35, No. 3 (Winter 2010/11), pp. 124–143 © 2010 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Explaining U.S. Military Strategy in Vietnam 125
military’s intrinsic culture, its bureaucratic incentives, or its inability to learn from experience.2 James McAllister’s response to my article does not challenge the deductive theory but instead makes three main arguments against the empirical claim above.3 First, McAllister cites the large amount of primary and secondary sources that establishes the U.S. military’s disdain for labor-intensive counterinsurgency (COIN), and in that process suggests that my case rests on cherrypicked data.4 Second, he contends that all U.S. decisionmakers, both civilian and military, understood the centrality of the Government of South Vietnam (GVN) to a successful war outcome. He uses this evidence to explain why these decisionmakers preferred to avoid further Americanizing the conºict, and to suggest that my argument regarding the U.S. military’s poor counterinsurgency efforts fails to capture the roots of the U.S. defeat. Third, McAllister ªnds unpersuasive the evidence I presented suggesting that, when establishing its counterinsurgency strategy, the Johnson administration considered voter preferences. The logic and evidence McAllister uses to support his positions do little damage to my argument. In this article, I explain why. In the ªrst section, I show how my argument ªts within the mainstream of Vietnam War historiography, and suggest that deductive reasoning can play an important role in addressing puzzles remaining in this body of knowledge. In the second section, I show that because McAllister does not distinguish between necessary and sufªcient causal explanations, his evidence is of little use for testing cost distribution theory against arguments resting on military myopia. In the third section, I address McAllister’s challenge to my evidence that the Johnson administration expected, encouraged, and even directed its uniformed subordinates to take a capital-intensive approach to counterinsurgency. This section also examines McAllister’s claim that my linking voter preferences to military doctrine is unsubstantiated. In the fourth section, I assess McAllister’s conclusion that my efforts to suggest policy implications stemming from my argument are for naught because, in his view, the true cause of the United States’
2. John A. Nagl, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), p. 115; Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr., The Army and Vietnam (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986; and Larry E. Cable, Conºict of Myths: The Development of American Counterinsurgency Doctrine and the Vietnam War (New York: New York University Press, 1986). 3. James McAllister, “Who Lost Vietnam? Soldiers, Civilians, and U.S. Military Strategy in Vietnam,” International Security, Vol. 35, No. 3 (Winter 2010/11), pp. 95–123. 4. I use “COIN” to distinguish the labor-intensive approach from all other “counterinsurgency” strategies.
International Security 35:3 126 failure in Vietnam was not a poor strategy but the GVN’s inability to fend for itself against its enemies. p. Masters of War: Military Dissent and Politics in the Vietnam Era (New York: Cambridge University Press. Like supporters of the military myopia explanation for U. Ibid. especially in the pivotal years of 1966 and 1967. only to conclude that it did not matter for the war’s outcome. Theory and the Historical Puzzle of Civilian Noninterference “The Myth of Military Myopia” challenges an explanation for the U. p. Paciªcation: The American Struggle for Vietnam’s Hearts and Minds (Boulder. 110.Y. Here. That is. defeat in Vietnam. as McAllister acknowledges. I review how my argument ªts into the literature on the Vietnam War. Colo. 1996). “Who Lost Vietnam?” p. “If accurate. Here again. chap. N. Saunders. McAllister’s alternative explanation and evidence undermine neither my causal logic nor my justiªcation for focusing on counterinsurgency doctrine as a source of failure in small wars. With the statement. Any contribution to the historical literature I make results from providing an answer to a question rarely addressed in studies of the Vietnam War: Why was an administration that was willing to directly manage most other aspects of the war effort unwilling to closely supervise a ground campaign that appeared to be failing?7 A deductive theory based on simple assumptions about voters 5. Leaders at War: How Presidents Shape Military Interventions (Ithaca. Robert Buzzanco.: Westview. My claim that the United States pursued a counterproductive.5 By giving my theory’s historiographic implications too much credit. See. ªrepower-intensive counterinsurgency is even less debatable.S. 252. Hunt. 1995).S. 79. . 6. and Elizabeth N. I therefore reiterate the need to distinguish between necessary and sufªcient causes to explore cost distribution theory’s implications beyond the study of the Vietnam War.” McAllister creates a straw man. See also Richard A. the bulk of McAllister’s article defends the military myopia thesis.6 I do not challenge the wellestablished ªnding that Johnson and his civilian advisers directly managed the ground war much less than they did the air war. McAllister gives my evidence too little. I concluded that the United States focused on ªghting the enemy’s main forces rather than insurgents. and how deductive causal explanations can play a valuable role in the study of history more generally. 5. for example. a defensible if not undisputed position. [Caverley’s] argument would render entire shelves of books on the Vietnam War obsolete. I am hardly the ªrst to argue that the Johnson administration rejected a more intensive paciªcation strategy. 2011). McAllister. not the historical data underpinning that explanation.: Cornell University Press. failure in Vietnam. 7.
military to use ªrepower instead of more ground forces in the war in Vietnam. my “main argument is that Westmoreland and the military repeatedly tried to convince civilian ofªcials to adopt a labor-intensive COIN strategy and that ‘the president summarily rejected the COIN option on multiple occasions. Military Strategy in Vietnam 127 in democracies and civilian supremacy over the military can suggest causes that historians have left unaddressed. Caverley. Military Myopia. military. By contrast.S. In “The Myth of Military Myopia. one based on characteristics inherent to the U. 9.8 Inductive approaches will therefore discount the causal link between civilian leaders’ preferences and the conduct of the military. I revisit my theory’s causal logic. McAllister’s emphasis on Westmoreland’s enthusiasm for ªrepower and conventional combat in rebuttal to my argument belies a misunderstanding of cost distribution theory’s implications. is not evidence that the military controlled this strategy. however. I use “civilians” to refer to members of the Johnson administration. and Civilian Preferences McAllister correctly states that. These accounts claim to provide a necessary and sufªcient reason for the ºawed U.” p. empirically.S.Explaining U. . I do not suggest otherwise because (1) doing so would be wrong.S. “The Myth of Military Myopia. forces from paciªcation missions “was promoted solely by civilian policymakers against the better advice or recommendations of the military. 10. For the purposes of this article. To show why. counterinsurgency effort in Vietnam. had I actually made this argument. military on the United States’ counterinsurgency strategy. It is for this reason that considerable weight should be given to my ªnding that. 109. and (2) this shared preference does nothing to contradict my theory. Agreement by the Johnson administration and the U. “Who Lost Vietnam?” p. when civilian leaders and the military disagreed.S.’”9 McAllister claims that I am wrong in asserting that the exclusion of U. 146. Counterinsurgency.S. little evidence may exist of civilians directing the military explicitly. McAllister. but at no point did I deny that Westmoreland largely shared this preference. In the equilibrium predicted by such a theory.”10 This would be a grave error.” I provided several examples of civilians in the Johnson administration directing the U.S. Military myopia explanations of the Vietnam War take a largely inductive approach. cost distribution theory is a 8. the former emphasized main forces and ªrepower more than the latter.
Military myopia elaborates on causal relationship 1. The causal role of MM is therefore diminished. it sought to establish “both military myopia’s limitations and its need to be nested within a theory of civilian leaders and the public that elects them. or causal relationship 3. pp.. Soldiers. 121. “The Logic of Historical Explanation in the Social Sciences. . 14. p. My article denied neither military myopia’s existence nor its effect on warªghting in Vietnam. Richard K. No. 155. Ibid. 42. Vol. but to a large extent. a better (if longer) title for my article might have begun with “The Myth of Military Myopia’s Causal Power. CP is. 1991). p. Betts. Koivu. Cost distribution theory offers a causally prior independent variable. 13. which for simplicity’s sake I call “civilian preferences” (CP). My theory suggests that although MM is not necessary for CC. democracies would still engage in CC. capital-intensive counterinsurgency (CC).International Security 35:3 128 deductive theory about public and government preferences. Cost distribution theory is consistent with Richard Betts’s claim that “army leaders remained less alienated than those in the other services because they were less adamant than the navy and air force in their difference with administration strategy and because the President and the Ofªce of the Secretary of Defense did not restrict or monitor ground tactics on anything approaching the scale of which they controlled the air war. where the military’s predilection for conventional and ªrepower-heavy warfare (MM) is a sufªcient cause of a poor. 11.”14 I suggest that the two parts of Betts’s explanation are closely related.13 Evidence of causal relationship 1 does nothing to undermine cost distribution theory. Ibid.” Comparative Political Studies. For a formal discussion of this logic. This theory posits that. and Kendra L. Instead. or causal relationship 2. 11. If the military fought the insurgency exactly as I suggested civilians preferred. 114–146.11 Thus.” Figure 1 depicts the relationship of cost distribution and military myopia theories to the dependent variable of ºawed counterinsurgency. 12. its conduct would have been indistinguishable from the evidence McAllister presents. and Cold War Crises (New York: Columbia University Press. in democracies.”12 In hindsight. as a necessary condition for MM. and ultimately the voters’ support. Erin Kimball. see James Mahoney. is necessary for both ºawed counterinsurgency and military myopia. Were the military simply a transmission belt for civilian preferences. 1 (January 2009). Statesmen. p. civilian leaders’ approval. they make spurious the role played by military myopia.. not only are civilian preferences an important mechanism leading to poor counterinsurgency.
19 Both civilians and the military 15. Indeed. It would indeed have been odd if President Johnson had appointed a commander in Vietnam (MACV) who did not share his views. 29–30. and thus agreement between the administration and its subordinates is to be expected. “The Myth of Military Myopia. 1994).” Air University Review. including President Johnson. the Joint Chiefs of Staff. a 1965 Air Force Policy Letter for Commanders and a 1968 Air University Review article cite Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s televised statement that “what the U. I noted this understanding in my article. H. Herring. No. . Vol. George C. Dereliction of Duty. pp. McMaster. 329–334. 1965. LBJ and Vietnam: A Different Kind of War (Austin: University of Texas Press. quoted in “Air Force Policy Letter for Commanders. References to both the interview and the policy letter are in Robert M. Caverley.” p.S.” February 15. I suggested applying Occam’s razor to its relative lack of interference in the ground war. February 8. 18. Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson. civilian leaders can shape their uniformed subordinates’ actions in many indirect ways.000 Feet: The B-52 in Vietnam. McMaster. Robert McNamara. Robert McNamara interview. Military Strategy in Vietnam 129 Figure 1. 146. not gladiators. 1997). My theory assumes the ultimate dominance of civilians in the determination of security policy.R. 10–18. 19. pp. 2 (January–February 1968).”16 Beyond appointments. sought in South Vietnam was a limited objective. “Counterinsurgency from 30.15 The Kennedy and Johnson administrations ensured their principal military advisers were handpicked “team men. Kipp. 1965. and it would be accomplished with the lowest possible loss of lives and not necessarily with the lowest expenditure of money.Explaining U. understood the importance of paciªcation in Vietnam does not damage my case either. 19. and the Johnson administration’s deep involvement in every other aspect of the war’s conduct. That many in the administration. and the Lies That Led to Vietnam (New York: HarperCollins. 17. 16. pp.R. H.S. The Joint Chiefs of Staff anticipated the Johnson administration’s preferences in developing and presenting their campaign plans.”18 Given this state of civil-military relations.17 Statements to the American public also inºuenced and constrained the military. McMaster describes the Vietnam-era military as being at its Cold War nadir in terms of policy inºuence.
and acknowledge aspects where he 20. 1997). Political Institutions and Military Change: Lessons from Peripheral Wars (Ithaca.. On the other hand. 1965–1972 (Westport. For example. Deborah D. Hennessy. 21. they pursued ºawed counterinsurgency. Strategy in Vietnam: The Marines and Revolutionary Warfare in I Corps. but given that my argument neither claims nor requires constant civil-military disagreement. Conversely.: Praeger.Y. he provides much material in support of relationship 1 and challenges some of my evidence for relationship 2. Army to change its conventional bias. 1994).S. Nevertheless. Instead. Michael A. this is unnecessary. but make CP necessary as well. Conn. which “clearly endorsed an improved paciªcation effort. given the Johnson administration’s dealings with more COIN-oriented civilians such as Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge (who axiomatically did not suffer from military myopia). any ªnding of instances where civilians helped direct.International Security 35:3 130 recognized the labor-intensive principles of COIN and that ªrepower was a poor substitute. and yet the military’s strategy of main force focus.” supports my claims because the concrete instructions given to Westmoreland in Honolulu made attrition “the primary operational objective. relationship 2) means that “cost distribution theory explains more aspects of the war” than does military myopia. Avant argues that the “electoral circumstances” of civilians prevented them from inducing the U. ªrepower. and attrition prevailed. . 22. “The Myth of Military Myopia. brieºy highlight evidence that McAllister disregards. N. linking civilian preferences to counterinsurgency strategy absent a role for military myopia (relationship 3) is not entirely counterfactual. The evidence for these relationships may not be plentiful given that cost distribution theory predicts civil-military harmony in equilibrium. and reinforce the military’s capital-intensive campaign (i. 131. the most direct way for McAllister to overturn my argument is to provide evidence that the Johnson administration preferred paciªcation more strongly than the military did. Caverley. Avant.e.21 Despite the existence of the military’s enthusiasm for ªrepower in Vietnam.22 The Civilian Role in the Historical Record Space precludes addressing all of McAllister’s empirical objections.: Cornell University Press. I assign civilians a much more positive role. pp. A competing explanation might assign causal priority to MM.” p. I therefore tackle the aspects of McAllister’s rebuttal that truly bear on my theory (causal relationship 2 in ªgure 1). 82–83. the famous February 1966 Honolulu conference convened by Johnson.”20 To show that civilian preferences (CP) is a superior explanation to military myopia (MM) requires focusing on relationships 2 and 3 in ªgure 1. shape.
I will do likewise. 25. “Who Lost Vietnam?” p. and says little about the ªrst. the phase ii debate. troops were not going to be used against the enemy’s main force. Third. Military Strategy in Vietnam 131 adds corrections and nuance. memo as a rejection of paciªcation strategy. Operation Rolling Thunder. “The Myth of Military Myopia.26 This memo was part of the Johnson administration’s debate over “Phase II” troop deployments and expansion of the strategic bombing campaign. indeed. 1965.S. we should taper off our ground force build-up. “The Myth of Military Myopia” sought to establish three ªndings.”24 For example.S. 27. I address his claim that I engaged in poor scholarship. and whether.”25 Nonetheless. p.27 Rather. In so doing. McAllister objects to my interpretation of National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy’s September 23. 1965. McAllister correctly notes that Bundy’s memo did not explicitly repudiate paciªcation.” p. . Contrary to McAllister’s assertion. justiªed by Westmoreland’s deep involvement in a “laboratory experiment in paciªcation. “Who Lost Vietnam?” p.23 McAllister focuses primarily on this last proposition. the administration’s inºuence in the ground campaign McAllister’s case against my article rests largely on the role of the Johnson administration in determining the ground strategy in Vietnam. I argued that during this debate Bundy and other administration members suggested that if U. See also McMaster. Caverley.” p. 131. “The Myth of Military Myopia. my article presented more than “three examples to argue that the administration rejected a labor-intensive COIN approach. whether we should engage in paciªcation as opposed to patrolling actively. the government considers this preference in developing and approving a capital-intensive strategy. McAllister. and observed that “the problem arises as to how we use our substantial ground and air strength effectively against small-scale harassment-type action. Bundy summarized Westmoreland’s ground war plan. 149. McAllister. the government must explicitly direct the military to employ this strategy. 26. which prominently features paciªcation. Ibid. Second.” The memo reports the administration’s 23. the public in a democracy has a preference for spending treasure over blood. 188. Dereliction of Duty. this section concentrates on the three points addressed by McAllister. In my article. 24. 110.Explaining U. he does not acknowledge Westmoreland’s 1964 recommendation to maintain an advisory approach in Vietnam rather than initiate bombing or ground operations. they need not be deployed at all. makes some observations on the second. 110. Caverley. First.
Ibid.International Security 35:3 132 tasking Lodge with developing a plan involving “the concentration of GVN forces on paciªcation and the reliance on U. p. Doc. which contained a number of observations prompted by a military brieªng on Phase II.state. and Doc. presidential meeting (one of the few to include the Joint Chiefs of Staff) provide an additional example of administration resistance to paciªcation. 3. Ibid. Would like to introduce enough Marines to do this.. 30. A Soldier Reports (New York: Da Capo. 1964–1968. 67.S. 76.. Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS). 32. 83. Ibid. forces. 29. “The enclave concept will work. 28. ground forces.. the ªrst being that “these plans focus sharply upon a dominant ªghting role for U.”31 Notes from a July 22. They appear to imply that aggressive operations will be conducted almost exclusively by U.S.gov/www/about_state/history/vol_iii/index. Vol. McNamara’s Phase II descriptions barely mention paciªcation. Doc.S. 149. forces in . 183. 161.S.30 These linked concerns over manpower and paciªcation also appear in Bundy’s October 26. Westmoreland. troops should be sent only to engage in main force battles also appears in Bundy’s earlier memo recommending that “we should explicitly and plainly reserve decision about further major deployments. Doc. especially the degree to which it can and should be employed in any wider countryside efforts beyond necessarily slow securing efforts close to our base areas. 1965. 151. 141.html. 31. we have not yet had even a company-level engagement with Viet Cong forces which choose to stand their ground and ªght. forces to handle large-scale VC actions. The enclaves concept called for concentrating U. See ibid.S..” Johnson responds.”28 This notion that more U.000 more Marines to carry this out.”29 Secretary of State Dean Rusk reiterated this plan in a telegram to Lodge: We need to consider just how we propose to use our greatly increased ground and air strength. or whether we should in some small degree defer further increases. this article will cite material that can be easily found and interpreted by interested readers. Johnson Administration. 1989). 3. 1965. (We also question whether and how we can move from patrolling to real paciªcation in these areas—can ARVN [the Army of South Vietnam] and GVN police take advantage of our nearby strength for this purpose in these areas?) There is even a residual question whether further increases in strength at presently planned pace are wise. Doc. “Then you will need 80. FRUS. 1964–1968. draft telegram to Westmoreland and Lodge.”32 More Marines for paciªcation were not forthcoming. Doc. Westmoreland complains of these interfering cables in William C. Vol. Because McAllister frequently criticizes my interpretation of primary sources. http:/ /www. After all. Doc. “Use of Forces” section.” McNamara observes that Greene is asking for “men over and above the Westmoreland request. They record Marine Commandant Wallace Greene arguing.
. and concerned whether Westmoreland and others understood their preferred strategy. the president’s directive that Westmoreland should not consider his concept of operations approved was clearly prompted by retired general and former Ambassador to Vietnam Maxwell Taylor’s scathing analysis of the domestic political problems inherent in Westmoreland’s shifting emphasis. however modest. but the civilians were well informed on the strategic options. . 33. 220.S.” p. although he and Lodge must engage [Prime Minister] Ky and the ARVN fully if it is to work. his criticism centers on showing evidence of military myopia (causal relationship 1). Hennessy. 1964–1968.S.S. FRUS. Ibid. “The Myth of Military Myopia. clearly. 35.34 On the other hand. and Caverley./ Free World Maneuver Battalions” to be involved in paciªcation (relationship 2). Robert Komer.35 Whereas Taylor considered Westmoreland’s paciªcation plans overly aggressive. McAllister disagrees that Westmoreland’s description of his 1966 campaign plan to his civilian superiors represented a shift toward paciªcation. Strategy in Vietnam. they also support causal relationship 3. overt and covert. 221. toward paciªcation. 74–77. designed to defect VC and start Saigon VC negotiations . National Security Adviser Walt Rostow noted the Westmoreland plan’s shift “towards paciªcation. Once again. military more heavily involved in paciªcation. Military Strategy in Vietnam 133 Westmoreland may have largely agreed with the civilian leadership’s focus on enemy main forces. Vol. Ibid. Lodge believed that they did not go far enough and recommended a fortiªed population centers and increasing control of the surrounding areas gradually.” Johnson’s order to have his principal paciªcation adviser. pp. . The memos discussed above support civilian preferences over military myopia (causal relationship 2 in ªgure 1). 1966. whereas the plan’s signiªcance for theory testing is in civilian leaders’ negative reaction to Westmoreland’s explicit intention for “a signiªcant number of the U. “spark this inspiration” (and Komer’s subsequent focus on the GVN throughout 1966) referred to getting the GVN rather than the U. Doc. Doc.Explaining U. required to match Westmoreland’s military plan which is. . a strategy closer to COIN than Westmoreland’s or Johnson’s. 34.33 Subsequent decisions and directives by the administration favoring Westmoreland’s plan over Lodge’s much more paciªcation-oriented plan further underscore that the military was not the ultimate cause of the ªrepowerintensive campaign of 1966.” observing that it “underlines the need to mount a maximum political campaign. 151. in the right direction. westmoreland’s conops. 4. clearly in charge. because they show that the administration pushed the less ªrepower-centric Lodge in a similar direction.
Johnson threatens to shift paciªcation responsibilities from Lodge to MACV even as he appears to agree with the ambassador: There does not seem to me to be any major difference between your ideas of what is needed to make paciªcation work..”38 Johnson favored Westmoreland’s greater preference for ªrepower and emphasis on main force battles over Lodge’s more labor-intensive option. Doc. Johnson also understood that the military simhad more resources at its disposal for paciªcation but makes no reference to this here.S. participation in paciªcation operations should be stepped up. Doc. McAllister. MACV speciªcally states that what it calls “offensive operations” are conducted so as to create the opportunity to destroy terrorism. that the phrase “offensive operations” should be deªned as “split up the Viet Cong and keep him off balance”.S.S. embassy in Saigon or MACV would lead the paciªcation effort. and that the ªrst priority was more U. See also Hunt. Paciªcation.36 Contrary to McAllister’s assertion. 79.International Security 35:3 134 more ambitious U. FRUS. With characteristic disingenuousness. . 2. As a matter of fact. that a limited number of U. in the memo below. Doc. . Vol.S. 310. p. and that U. that is “paciªcation”. 114. as does General Westmoreland on the basis of the dispositions he is increasingly making.S. But the phrase “offensive operations” is deªned as meaning to “seek out and destroy”. and ibid. takes over too much of the job. I hope you will ponder whether this is not in the end the best way to achieve the aim you seek. “Who Lost Vietnam?” p. Bob McNamara and the Joint Chiefs realize. military more heavily engaged in refocusing ARVN on the heart of the matter is one reason why we here have seriously considered charging MACV with paciªcation. 4. In Lodge’s words. 38. 37.37 According to the FRUS editor. 39. troops allotted to paciªcation. . combat forces must be detailed to be the catalysts for the Vietnamese. the ARVN will tend to sit back and let us ªght that “war” too. What worries them is rather that if the U. . 294. 290 n. effort while lambasting Westmoreland’s approach. 1964–1968.S. not defective organization. getting the U. Ibid.39 36. Vol. ply FRUS. 1964–1968. Lodge sent “several similar communications” including a November 6 telegram wherein “he stated that the crux of the problem was security. 294. and those of my chief advisers and myself.” nor is Lodge’s memo “devoted entirely” to a “management issue” over whether the U. this strategic disagreement was far from a “minor element. I’m sure that you are no more eager than we are to let this happen..S. Doc. I believe that the Vietnamese war will certainly never be won in this way. 4.
1967.S. 1967. MACV’s justiªcation for these added forces needs further review. It actually gives the troops [to MACV] while only praying for their proper use. would the added US forces be used for paciªcation? General [William E. 177. Ibid. FRUS.41 The whole point of my article. Doc. Robert Komer wrote a memo on April 24. Doc. Both documents are described at length in Mike Gravel. pp. 41. The Pentagon Papers: The Defense Department History of United States Decisionmaking on Vietnam.42 While the main policy decision was ostensibly over whether the president should approve the Joint Chiefs’ request for roughly 200. 4 (Boston: Beacon. . Vol.S.S. McAllister objects to my characterization of the 1967 policy debate as being over paciªcation when it largely dealt with the need to head off additional manpower requests from the military. 177. Vol. it also deserves the full time attention of some of our best generals.. . 1971). FRUS.”40 represents a presidential threat that continued insistence on this percentage of U. 1964–1968. Vol. he directly addresses the use of U. McAllister rightly notes my incorrect attribution to this May 6 memo of several quotations from McNaughton’s version of a Draft Presidential Memorandum (DPM). Assistant Secretary of Defense John McNaughton’s May 6. Vol. 161. 42. McAllister. troops for paciªcation would result in the military being given the assignment.. McAllister’s selection from this document of Johnson’s observation that. I thank McAllister sincerely and take full responsibility for this error. Doc. FRUS. Doc. Ibid. 5. 22. “[i]f showing ARVN the way on paciªcation can take up to ten percent of our troops. p. 1964–1968. 147.. 114.] DePuy estimates that 50% of US/ROK [Republic of Korea] maneuver battalions are 40. forces in the ªrst paragraph of his list of recommendations.”44 In it. 43. 477–489. “Who Lost Vietnam?” p. is that these two issues cannot be separated. . Military Strategy in Vietnam 135 In this context. 5. “deliberately designed to plead an alternative case. civilians continued to favor main force engagements and were prepared to shift forces away from the “less essential” (McNamara’s phrase) paciªcation mission in an effort to limit new personnel deployments. however. 5. . philosophy of the war. memo to McNamara argues that limiting troop numbers is not enough because “the strategy falls into the trap that has ensnared us for the past three years.”43 To show the Johnson administration’s position on the troops’ “proper use. 44. 1967.” I turn to the person likeliest to recommend the most aggressive COIN approach the president would tolerate. If enemy main force strength is now levelling off because of high kill ratios.000 more troops or authorize a much smaller number. ed.Explaining U. 1964–1968. etc.. The FRUS volume includes a DPM version sent to the president by McNamara.
and some increased bombing—to further optimize its prospects. “Who Lost Vietnam?” pp.” Komer concludes. Army.” Komer ªrst recommended “an all-out effort to get more for our money out of” South Vietnam’s military. 45. “The above package could be combined with other US unilateral measures—let’s say a minor force increase to 500.000 [from about 470. accelerated emphasis on a barrier.48 Below. 146.000]. Because McAllister relies heavily on Westmoreland’s memoir.S.S. as compared to RVNAF [Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces]? What are the trade-offs? A major US force commitment to paciªcation also basically changes the nature of our presence in Vietnam and might force us to stay indeªnitely in strength. and a transition to an “effective. paciªcation] by dealing with the “middle war”. A Soldier Reports. i. more American troops were usually engaged on a day-by-day basis. despite my policy of using American units to oppose the enemy’s main forces. Westmoreland. p. but Westmoreland also frequently appeared more interested in paciªcation than his civilian masters. the VC main force provincial battalions. Marine Corps] maneuver battalion. or “the strength of one USMC [U. popularly-based GVN. 46. refugee management.200. I give it the last word on this subject: “In reality. 47. than were engaged in the big ªghts. I brieºy respond to these objections.”47 This description of Westmoreland’s ground war little resembles the civilian desires and expectations depicted in the above memos. helping weed out local opposition and supporting the paciªcation process.e. land reform. 48. advisers by a mere 1.” The other steps involved a minor expansion of civilian paciªcation personnel.S.International Security 35:3 136 already supporting RD [Revolutionary Development. How good are US forces at paciªcation-related tasks. he also challenges my evidence that it played an important role in ensuring that airpower was used to the maximum extent feasible in South Vietnam. bigger local militias. the administration’s inºuence on air and armor decisons Although McAllister focuses primarily on the Johnson administration’s involvement (or lack thereof) in conducting the ground war. Ibid.. and that civilian policy decisions shaped the use of armor in Vietnam by the U. Ibid. .”46 Johnson and Komer chose Westmoreland’s version of counterinsurgency over Lodge’s more labor-intensive paciªcation approach. better intelligence collection.45 To “reduce or obviate the need for a major US force increase. including an increase in the number of U. McAllister. 104–105.
p. 50. Doc. 39–40. McAllister.” but the facts reported in Starry speak otherwise. Vol. Army’s Armor School states explicitly why it was hardly used in Vietnam through 1966: “Because of the troop ceiling . 53. This emphasis by the military commanders is hard to square with military myopia’s claims of an obsession with ªrepower rather than soldiers. D.” p. the M-48 “Patton.50 The defense secretary later mooted that a Rolling Thunder pause would be more acceptable to the American public if these planes’ missions were shifted to the South. 231. Military Strategy in Vietnam 137 The Johnson administration’s involvement in airpower targeting in South Vietnam is not debatable. Westmoreland and other army leaders favored less heavily-armored units because they understood that Vietnam was not a conventional war. “The Myth of Military Myopia.”49 McNamara clearly instructed the reluctant Joint Chiefs that the South had priority over the North when determining how to use airpower assets. 55.: Air University Press. 107. . 142.S. Ibid. McAllister’s claim that “civilians attempted to instruct the military to recognize the merits of gradualism and limitations” conºates operations in the South and North. 1965” (Washington. Armored Combat in Vietnam (New York: Arno.53 Likewise. 55.”54 MACV did not control the number of soldiers at its disposal but could decide which units to deploy. Caverley.” p. the severely limited logistical base. Westmoreland’s back-channel complaints to other generals only provide additional support for my case. 1964–1968. 3.: USAF Historical Division Liaison Ofªce. allowing unrestricted air operations in the South. Jacob Van Staaveren. FRUS. and strongly restricting them in the North to ensure airpower’s copious use in the South. 46. civilian decisions shaped the army leadership’s use of armor. to avoid antagonizing China and the Soviet Union. and B-52 strikes in the South had to be approved up through early 1966 by McNamara.52 Even after the civilian micromanaging subsided. 54. Airpower in Three Wars (Maxwell Air Force Base. The ªrst signiªcant heavy armored unit arrived in Vietnam only in September 1966 after being largely stripped of its main battle tanks. A 1966 U. This is one of many empirical rea- . See also FRUS. p. Momyer. Civilians advocated gradualism only in the North. The analysis by the commanding general of the U. it is unclear what further measures McNamara needed beyond setting the aircraft and sortie numbers in country. 1964–1968. 114. 2003). Donn A. Rusk. 1966).C. Doc. armored units were not seriously considered for early employment in Vietnam. despite bombing’s public popularity. 1980).S. 52. “USAF Plans and Operations in Southeast Asia. “Who Lost Vietnam?” p. and the president. 51.55 According to 49. Vol. Ala. contrary to McAllister’s claim. and the many misconceptions about the country.S. pp. Van Staaveren. 3. “USAF Plans and Operations in Southeast Asia. 183. and thought that lighter battalions would be most effective given manpower constraints. . Air Force analysis describes the B-52 missions in the South as a “major administration decision.Explaining U.51 McNamara set the number of sorties in South Vietnam (1.2 per aircraft per day). Starry. and William W. Westmoreland’s memoir claims “enthusiasm” for the army’s primary main battle tank.
as before. Vol. 56. 3 (September 1999).58 Establishing direct links between polls and presidential action is a well-recognized problem. . Jacobs and Robert Y.” I argued that members of the administration believed that ªrepower. For example.” Starry continues. 1966. Defense Secretary McNamara imposed an absolute troop ceiling on U.”57 In sum. This arbitrary ceiling was well below the total number already in [MACV’s] proposed troop program. “Who Lost Vietnam?” p. public preferences and administration decisionmaking McAllister challenges my linking of public opinion to government preferences for substituting ªrepower for labor. pp. 58. pp. McAllister. and civilian leaders considered their strategy options accordingly. Lawrence R. other units had to be given up in order to get them. Armored Combat in Vietnam.” and MACV apparently did not want to give up any existing units. Here. pp. While bombing was clearly an inefªcient way to ªght the insurgency.” in part because “in November 1966. McAllister uses the January 5 meeting notes to “illustrate Caverley’s ten- sons why I favored the primary record over Westmoreland’s post facto recollections.” Presidential Studies Quarterly. and a phone call between McNamara and Johnson on January 17. 592–616. “Who Lost Vietnam?” p. A Soldier Reports.International Security 35:3 138 Donn Starry. Armored Combat in Vietnam. and McAllister. armored units became an important factor in battles against the large 1968 enemy offensives and during the subsequent drawdown “because they provided mobility and ªrepower at far less cost in manpower than any other type of unit. 105. in “The Myth of Military Myopia.S. 1966. “If more armored forces were wanted. Starry. a temporary cessation of the Rolling Thunder bombing campaign in North Vietnam)—rather than all the other pieces of primary evidence I marshaled to support my claims. p. civilian manpower decisions drove the army’s shift from favoring soldiers to deploying larger numbers of tanks. both of which addressed the “bombing pause” (i. 57. The research McAllister cites is far from conclusive. Starry. 137..e.. and I did not pretend to show conclusive evidence. Jacobs and Shapiro. 72–73. “Lyndon Johnson. and especially airpower. was the most politically acceptable means of prosecuting the war. 97.56 In Starry’s account. 86–89. Shapiro largely focus on Johnson’s inability to lead public opinion. 178.” Westmoreland. Ibid. a decision that McAllister ªnds “troubling. forces in Vietnam. the American public strongly believed that it was an important replacement for manpower and a means of protecting soldiers’ lives.59 Instead. 29. and Public Opinion: Rethinking Realist Theory of Leadership. No. I focus on the two examples from my article that McAllister uses to support his claim—a presidential meeting on January 5. Vietnam. 59. p. the impact of the 1967 pro-armor study cited by McAllister “was somewhat less than many hoped for.
”61 The president thus identiªes popular support in the United States with diplomacy. Doc. 61. It’s a new ball 60.”62 Johnson’s belief that the American public preferred to achieve its aims in Vietnam with minimal warªghting is neither surprising nor damaging to my case. 7. Mr. global diplomatic effort known as the “peace offensive. “I think so. Average fella doesn’t have much respect. One poll shows that 73 percent of the American people wanted us to increase our diplomatic efforts. FRUS. I think you’ll ªnd some foreign leaders will criticize you if you resume bombing. The connection of the pause to diplomacy is further established in the January 17 phone call. not in the United States. of which the pause was a component. and there was no movement at all on their part. “[D]o you think we’re going to have a sentiment that will support our resumption if everybody feels this way about it?” McNamara replies.” which emphasized the bombing pause’s popularity abroad.”60 Ironically. that he would soon face strong political pressure to ªght for those aims should diplomacy fail. Not coincidentally. In the last twelve months. . Doc. . 26.. notes on Johnson’s deliberation over the pause contain some of his most famous musings on domestic politics and the war: “I think we’ll be spending more time defending ourselves from hawks than from doves. following a lengthy brieªng on outreach attempts to foreign leaders. 200 conferences have been held by Secretary Rusk in an attempt to get negotiations going. . 62. Secretary of State Rusk distinguished explicitly between domestic and international support for the pause: “Our position will erode here if we wait much longer to resume the bombing but abroad we will lose support if we resume. and that airpower was the public’s preferred means of doing so. Military Strategy in Vietnam 139 dency to reach conclusions about public opinion’s impact on decisionmaking that are at variance with readily accessible evidence. 1965. .S. Ibid. . We’ve got a new election here. “The diplomatic offensive boils down to saying that we are ready to reason this out. It comes ahead of poverty & education. however. . . McAllister. But I think the great majority of the people in the country will believe that you gave them [the North Vietnamese government] a reasonable time. “Who Lost Vietnam?” p.Explaining U. This is a priority problem. We’re spending too much time with crybabies. 118. over a month. Afraid we’ll lose our own ªghting men. Vol. particularly among the great majority of the people in this country. Johnson asked McNamara. . . December 7. McAllister chooses a document almost entirely devoted to Johnson’s ostentatious. Johnson also believed. 4.” Johnson responds. . President. After expressing surprise at the pause’s domestic popularity. 1964–1968. The notes report that.
Vol. I do not see how in the context of “presenting our total policy” in a manner “acceptable to our own people. “Bombing in the North is our equivalent of Viet Cong guerrilla operations in the South. 1966 election.”65 McAllister objects to my interpretation of the word “turn-around” in this memo. Vol. I conclude this section by returning to another Rostow memo that encapsulates most of my empirical claims about the driving factors of U. Doc. 1964–1968. 223.. 65. “Who Lost Vietnam?” p.International Security 35:3 140 game. Doc. Unlike McAllister. 1964–1968. See also ibid. and the provision of additional allied forces to permit Westy to get on with our limited but real role in paciªcation—notably. FRUS. Doc.” McNamara’s handwritten note next to this paragraph reads. consider Rostow’s September 1966 memo declaring. fairly easily. Caverley is recasting a memo that is almost exclusively about policy into one focused on public opinion.66 Rostow is clearly discussing the likely public reception of a policy turnaround. Still. 120. etc. FRUS. and which is acceptable to our own people. Surfacing the concept of the barrier may be critical to that turn-around. FRUS. 66.” The memo’s ªnal paragraph reads in full. “I add an amateur political judgment: a ‘pause’ during the campaign. could be quite dangerous during the campaign.S.” the phrase “surfacing the 63. . 64. we shall have to devise a way of presenting our total policy in Viet Nam in a manner which is consistent with diminished attacks in the Hanoi-Haiphong area. 3. Doc.. “Closing the funnel” refers to interdicting the supply lines to enemy forces in South Vietnam from the North.”64 No plausible interpretation of this paragraph exists other than that Johnson’s two most important national security aides considered Rolling Thunder a source of electoral strength in the upcoming midterm elections. with the defense of I Corps and the hounding of provincial main force units. strategy in Vietnam but also prompts McAllister’s assertion that by “altering the wording of Rostow’s memo in a manner conducive to his thesis. which is honest. 5. Vol.”63 As additional evidence. 232. as well as providing evidence of over-anxiety and lack of perseverance to Hanoi. 162. in the context of Buddha’s birthday. but if we get no diplomatic response in that period—and I do not expect one—and if we set aside option A (closing the top of the funnel). “I am inclined to agree that a ‘pause’ prior to November would be unwise. 215. without solid evidence that a move towards peace will promptly follow. and I regret any confusion this caused. as will be other measures to tighten inªltration. McAllister. 1964–1968. my use of this word does nothing to change the thrust of Rostow’s concluding paragraph: The turn-around in policy can be managed. 4. an improved ARVN effort in paciªcation. over a period of some weeks.
477. p. p. does. The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America (Cambridge.70 McAllister’s argument suffers from two ºaws in causal logic. indeed he suggests that my article presents an unfortunate distraction from the true cause of failure. Regarding the barrier. Vol. McAllister. 70. one cannot consider the weakness of South Vietnam’s government and the coun67. First.68 I agree. 5. Ibid. which they believed would take pressure off the South Vietnamese forces to reform and aggressively combat the insurgency. military were centralized under civilian control. 120 n.” I made no such argument. p. Rebutting this charge necessitates another discussion of necessary and sufªcient causation. The Pentagon Papers.S. The editor of The Pentagon Papers shared my assessment. Edwards. He writes. 68. Necessary versus Sufªcient Causes of Failed Counterinsurgencies In this section I return to the question: Why do democracies fail against insurgencies? McAllister disagrees with my claim that part of the explanation in the case of Vietnam can be found in the United States’ reliance on a ªrepowerintensive counterinsurgency. “Who Lost Vietnam?” pp. Edwards describes the McNamara Line as “a microcosmic version of the whole United States approach to the Vietnam War” in which the operations of the entire U. McAllister creates another straw man by transforming my argument into a claim that populationcentric COIN is sufªcient for a successful outcome against an insurgency. it is to remember Westmoreland’s principle that the government that the United States is trying to assist in combating an insurgency must ultimately provide security and the prospects of a better life for its people. on the other hand. These American decisionmakers understood that the insurgents would ultimately win if a competent South Vietnamese government did not emerge. Ibid. Military Strategy in Vietnam 141 concept of the barrier” describes the actual use of the anti-inªltration barrier rather than its revelation to the public. 76.”69 To support this assertion.67 McAllister points out that this is a “typical. Paul N. 69. Gravel. a memo that concludes with a paragraph addressing public support for the war. 108. which he argues lies in GVN incompetence. McAllister. In his conclusion.: MIT Press. In “The Myth of Military Myopia. . 120 n.S. 119. Mass. “If there is one crucial lesson to take away from the history of the Vietnam War. 4. p.. McAllister employs evidence that both the Johnson administration and the U. 123.. McAllister.Explaining U. 1996).S. 76.” aggressive memo from the president’s national security adviser that is largely devoted to examining alternative policies in Vietnam. “Who Lost Vietnam?” p. military feared the Americanization of the war.
and curtailing state sponsors of the insurgency. acting on a perception of the American public’s preferences. The Irony of Vietnam: The System Worked (Washington. McAllister. 124.C.S. defeat in Vietnam to “human error” belies a misunderstanding of cost distribution theory’s implications and my article’s aims. 73. it needs only one parent. knowingly. his conclusion ªnds me too much like one because of what he claims is my “evident hostility” and “indictment against 71. the realization that multiple routes to failure in Vietnam existed undermines neither the power of my argument nor the justiªcation for my focusing on a single cause. . where military capitalization serves as a means of redistributing the costs of conºict away from the median voter. 251.” I sought to apply to the Vietnam War a theory of cost distribution within democracies. military as separate factors.73 Although McAllister ªnds me insufªciently like a historian in my collection and presentation of evidence. Norton. Conclusion In “The Myth of Military Myopia.S. p. Tragically. Second.: Brookings Institution Press. “The United States could not win by paciªcation alone. As Leslie Gelb and Richard Betts put it.W. may be uniquely prone. while third-party counterinsurgency efforts can lead to increased incumbent government incompetence. Larry Berman. Gelb and Richard K. while failure against an insurgency cannot be an orphan. and rationally chose a capital-intensive strategy that made failure against the Vietcong more likely.72 I ªlled one of these gaps by arguing that. I did this because investigations of the decision “to lose Vietnam slowly” still contain large explanatory gaps.”71 Moreover. p. Both the straw man argument that poor COIN is necessary for failure and McAllister’s own “one crucial lesson” are empirically false. such as the United States. I argue that ºawed counterinsurgency is the one sufªcient condition for failure to which democracies. Betts. Conversely. Each of these antecedent variables is necessary but not sufªcient for a victory against insurgents. the Johnson administration deliberately. but it could not win without paciªcation. 72. 1982). 1979). the former is also endogenous to the latter. including establishing government competence. 122. D. Successful counterinsurgency has many requirements.International Security 35:3 142 terinsurgency efforts of the U. a sufªciently capable government would obviate the need for much counterinsurgency. McAllister’s charge that I ascribed the U. instigating paciªcation. checking the enemy main force. “Who Lost Vietnam?” p. Planning a Tragedy: The Americanization of the War in Vietnam (New York: W. Leslie H.
Caverley.” p. 74. .76 Clear thinking about causality is necessary not only for answering important questions but for asking the right ones in the ªrst place. “International Politics and Diplomatic History: A Fruitful Difference. Cost distribution theory suggests a reason why democracies might ªght them all the same. I lay out a clearly stated causal chain leading back to a rational public that not only explains the use of a ºawed counterinsurgency strategy.org/ diplo/ISSF/ essays/1-Jervis. “a way out of the ongoing Vietnam history wars because it takes scholars’ analytical focus beyond the essential but still narrow focus on the decisions made by the political and military leadership of the United States. p. If by “indictment. his civilian strategists. failure is overdetermined.html. Ibid..74 McAllister offers an alternative to this pathological practice in which I apparently engage. No.h-net.” then I plead guilty as charged.S. “The Myth of Military Myopia. 28. 122. much less solve: Why would a democracy choose to ªght a war it was unlikely to win at an acceptable cost?77 Despite their disagreements. 157. “Who Lost Vietnam?” p. 1 (March 2010). http:/ /www. 76. Military Strategy in Vietnam 143 President Johnson. 123.. and ultimately the American people” for the U. Ibid. 77. and Robert Jervis. pp. a larger truth emerges from McAllister’s article and mine: when a third-party country ªghts insurgencies.Explaining U. 4.”75 McAllister’s formulation of this “way out”—the United States lost Vietnam because it was “unwinnable at an acceptable cost”—misses my point even as it begs the question. McAllister.” McAllister means “assignment of causal priority.S. defeat in Vietnam. 75.” H-Diplo/ISSF Essays. but also helps address a vexing puzzle that McAllister does not acknowledge.
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