Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

No way out: From Saigon to Kabul

The more I think about it, the more there is a good big study to be done comparing the problematic relationships that U.S. officials have had with host governments during our recent wars — Rhee in Korea, Diem and Thieu in Vietnam, Maliki in Iraq, and Karzai in Afghanistan. All have been problematic, so how ...

ELENA LAGARIA/Flickr
ELENA LAGARIA/Flickr
ELENA LAGARIA/Flickr

The more I think about it, the more there is a good big study to be done comparing the problematic relationships that U.S. officials have had with host governments during our recent wars -- Rhee in Korea, Diem and Thieu in Vietnam, Maliki in Iraq, and Karzai in Afghanistan. All have been problematic, so how can we start learning from them and doing better? And while we're at it, how can this hole be fixed in the current counterinsurgency manual? Or is the host government problem simply the natural reflection of the impossibility of nation building?

I bring this up because I have been re-reading H.R. McMaster's terrific Dereliction of Duty, and was struck that in October 1964, Sen. Richard Russell of Georgia suggested to President Johnson that the U.S. should find someone to take over the government of South Vietnam "who would demand that the U.S. withdraw its forces from that country." (165)

The more I think about it, the more there is a good big study to be done comparing the problematic relationships that U.S. officials have had with host governments during our recent wars — Rhee in Korea, Diem and Thieu in Vietnam, Maliki in Iraq, and Karzai in Afghanistan. All have been problematic, so how can we start learning from them and doing better? And while we’re at it, how can this hole be fixed in the current counterinsurgency manual? Or is the host government problem simply the natural reflection of the impossibility of nation building?

I bring this up because I have been re-reading H.R. McMaster’s terrific Dereliction of Duty, and was struck that in October 1964, Sen. Richard Russell of Georgia suggested to President Johnson that the U.S. should find someone to take over the government of South Vietnam “who would demand that the U.S. withdraw its forces from that country.” (165)

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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