Sunday, May 20, 2007

Dien Bien Phu, Tet, Baghdad?

1954, two years before the Triple aggression against Egypt, saw the first defeat of a modern European army by a "Third World" Asian army, probably the first in centuries. Dien Bien Phu lasted around two months, during which a beleagured French force hunkered down, surrounded by an invisible and determined enemy. The French had been a part of a "big push" based around the formation of bases around which a strategy of ink blots would be used to secure vital areas from "insurgent" activities. This "hedgehog" strategy failed, and resulted in the capture of over 10,000 French soldiers after ferocious battles. This proved the final stake in the coffin for French colonial occupation and a severe blow to France's credibility. As a result of this, French heavy handedness against Algerian revolutionaries, arguably, was an attempt to compensate for the Viet Nam failures. France was eventually forced out of Algeria too.

The Americans, failing to learn from the previous French experiences, also attempted to impose their hegemony in Viet Nam and, in a much more drawn out conflict, suffered a similar political defeat in the 1968 Tet Offensive. Though a military defeat for the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese army, the bold operation managed to inflict a devastating psychological blow on the United States from which it, like France, was never to recover. Western armies could simply not expect to get away with blatant occupation and colonialism in the face of a determined guerrilla movement. Though the true lessons of Viet Nam appear to have been forgotten in the United States with the euphoria that accompanied the collapse of communism, again we find them adventuring, this time in the Middle East. However, while the initial invasion was quick and easy, consolidating their occupation has proven far from possible.

In fact, it appears that the U.S. military presence is now falling for the same complacence which led to the defeat of their and the French army's defeat in Viet Nam. The capture of the 3 soldiers recently was widely reported as an ambush of a patrol, however unconfirmed reports indicate the attack was actually a well planned offensive against an outpost. Such attacks have become increasingly commonplace and are growing in complexity and sophistication. With U.S. public opinion extremely low, a lame duck and embattled President and an assertive Congress, the question becomes when, not if, insurgents intend to give the U.S. an Iraqi Dien Bien Phu or Tet to learn from.

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