Van Creveld's graf cited by Wolcott:
Whereas North Vietnam at least had a government with which it was possible to arrange a cease-fire, in Iraq the opponent consists of shadowy groups of terrorists with no central organization or command authority. And whereas in the early 1970s equipment was still relatively plentiful, today's armed forces are the products of a technology-driven revolution in military affairs. Whether that revolution has contributed to anything besides America's national debt is open to debate. What is beyond question, though, is that the new weapons are so few and so expensive that even the world's largest and richest power can afford only to field a relative handful of them.
Therefore, simply abandoning equipment or handing it over to the Iraqis, as was done in Vietnam, is simply not an option. And even if it were, the new Iraqi army is by all accounts much weaker, less skilled, less cohesive and less loyal to its government than even the South Vietnamese army was. For all intents and purposes, Washington might just as well hand over its weapons directly to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
We know that the Soviet Union, when it withdrew the 40th Army from Afghanistan led by Boris Gromov, had the advantage of a contiguous border and the Friendship Bridge as logistical assistance. Both enabled some semblance of an orderly withdrawal, albeit in defeat. And the government in Kabul stayed in power longer than expected, giving Moscow that ever-so-ellusive “decent interval.”
For the Americans to withdraw, as Van Crevald notes, it would involve (a) falling back to Baghdad; (b) moving south to Basra; and (c) exfiltrating somehow out via Kuwait/Qatar or the sea. And somehow, any withdrawal/drawdown/victory/bugout will have to permit some lingering and credible U.S. security umbrella in place.
Yet again, via Wolcott, Fred Kaplan at Slate asks a host of questions. Who will take over border patrols? Which troops will remain, and what profile will they maintain? What are the circumstances for re-introduction? Which troops come ouf first?, etc.
I hope Kaplan expected no answers yesterday. The Administration's commitment to warfare and governance by Agitprop requires avoiding precisely these questions. Given proven administrative and managerial incompetence not only in theater via the CPA on down, but here at home via Katrina response, one prays the Administration finds new reserves of competence to manage a withdrawl/victory, without screwing the pooch.
A high tech Berezina need not happen, let alone rooftops and helicopter skids. Too much is at stake. And the situations on the ground in those examples are completely different. But the track record of the Administration makes it clear: never presume competence.