Attraction and Chastisement

The counterinsurgency that worked--a century ago.

Issue: Summer 2000

Brian McAllister Linn,  The Philippine War, 1899-1902 (Lawrence, KA: University Press of Kansas, 2000).

President Bush famously claimed to have buried the "Vietnam Syndrome" in the sands of Arabia. But, for a corpse, it is still showing plenty of signs of life. When Congress was debating an aid package for Colombia earlier this year, the specter of another you-know-what was once again invoked. Vietnam came up, too, when the NATO commander in Kosovo requested American reinforcements to help police Mitrovica and other trouble spots; the Pentagon blocked the request, in part because the generals apparently wished to avoid another "quagmire."

It is far from clear exactly what the "lessons" of Vietnam are supposed to be, but the general view (and, more important, the generals' view) seems to be that the United States should stay out of conflicts where it does not intend to use overwhelming force and where it lacks a clearly defined "exit strategy." This view, which was formally promulgated in the Weinberger/Powell Doctrine, implies that the United States should not become entangled in peacekeeping missions of uncertain duration. Such operations, after all, might involve combat against guerrillas, a term that has assumed an almost mystical connotation in the wake of America's withdrawal from Vietnam.

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