by Peter Huessy
Forty-three years ago, on Memorial Day 1971, I was traveling home to Vermont following two years of study at the International Division of Yonsei University in Seoul in the Republic of Korea. During my time there, I marveled at the success the Republic of Korea had achieved in building the beginnings of a modern industrial state while also being a staunch ally of the United States.
But in the ensuing decades, conventional wisdom in academia, Hollywood and the entertainment industry and the media turned this view on its head. The new “wisdom” concludes that the U.S. lost the war in Korea. And not only that. Even our victory in the Cold War now seems to be in question.
In reality, with strikingly few exceptions, our soldiers and our allies have won the wars we asked them to fight. Why do so many Americans think otherwise?
We successfully saved the Republic of Korea in 1953. It is now a vibrant, free and prosperous country.
In Vietnam, every assessment says that between 1969-71 General Creighton Abrams had trained the ARVN to the point where Saigon’s troops were defeating the North Vietnamese in major battles by 1971.
In 1981 in the Gulf of Sidra American airpower stopped Gadhafi.
In 1983 in Grenada, U.S. forces liberated that country from a communist tyranny.
In 1987-8, our Navy escorted Kuwaiti tankers, successfully stopping Iranian attacks. In 1994, NATO’s air campaign in Kosovo stopped the slaughter of innocents.
In 2001, on December 6th, just 60 days after the commencement of Operation Enduring Freedom, the U.S. defeated the Taliban and its al-Qaeda allies.
And in 2003, on April 9th, the Iraqi government fell, just some 19 days after the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
As for the Cold War, the calculated plan of the Reagan administration (outlined in National Security Decision Directives 32, 66, 75 and 166) was to “implement a many-faceted strategy that abandoned the policies of containment and detente and used our competitive strengths to take advantage of the moral, economic and systemic weaknesses in the Soviet bloc” to cause the collapse of the Soviet empire.
But more often than not, these military successes have been followed by political failures.
In Vietnam, the U.S. Congress in 1975 abandoned our Vietnamese allies right as they were winning.
In Iraq, after the 2007-8 “surge” destroyed the Iranian and Syrian-sponsored insurgency, we exited too soon and threw away the victory earned with so much blood and treasure.
And in Afghanistan, flawed rules of engagement, a failure to destroy Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan and squelch Iranian support for terrorism, and a planned but premature withdrawal may cause the country to revert to its former role as a terrorist haven.
At the same time, we are implementing a sequestration of defense dollars of $500 billion over the next decade – cuts that our military and civilian leadership admit will severely harm the readiness of our troops and the capability of the weapons they rely upon to do their job.
On top of which, we are wrestling with military personnel costs that have more than doubled since the year 2000, leading some to propose major cuts in veteran support.
To honor our veterans, we should end sequestration, overhaul completely and fix our veterans care system. Then we can openly decide the worth of each American soldier.
After all, despite the conventional wisdom, every war we ask them to fight, they win.
It’s us, the politicians and the public, that all too often throw away what our soldiers have achieved.
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Peter Huessy is Senior Fellow in National Security Affairs at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC.