WASHINGTON — The same failures of leadership that bogged down the U.S. in Vietnam are happening today in Iraq and Afghanistan, a panel of military experts warned Wednesday.
According to Bing West, former Assistant Secretary of Defense under President Ronald Reagan, both in the 1970’s and today it’s “close to idiocy at the top.”
“Only a few people make decisions at war.” said West. “And they don’t really ask questions. Looking now today I can’t say that we’ve corrected that.”
West joined other military experts to discuss what went wrong half a century ago in Vietnam, and what lessons the US can take from it today.
As of today, American forces are involved in the two longest wars in US history in Afghanistan and Iraq. The two wars have lasted 17 and 15 years, respectively. Vietnam, the previous record holder, saw active US military involvement for only 9 years.
The panel, held at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, included Vietnam veterans, like Bing West, as well as military experts and historians who’ve studied the conflict.
James Robbins, a Senior Fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council and Vietnam historian, noted that Presidents need to assume that “press coverage is going to be negative,” but that “public opinion is not as malleable as people think it is.”
Pierre Asselin, professor of history at San Diego State University, pointed out that the US fails to take the time to understand its enemies. “I think that’s tragic and quite dangerous,” Asselin said.
In the Middle East, for example, Asselin thinks Americans tend to question the sanity or strategic wisdom of their enemies. However irrational ISIS and Al Qaeda may seem, he said, “We need to acknowledge that they may do things right.”