Back in 1961, President Kennedy initiated a program to send young Army and Marine officers to Vietnam as "advisors" to the South Vietnamese Army and Marines. As a Reserve Marine Officer, I was one who volunteered to be, first an advisor, and later a combatant.
But, by November, 1963, I believe Kennedy, a combat veteran whose PT boat had been sunk near Guadalcanal, was convinced that he should not send combat troops to Vietnam. The separation or unification of Vietnam should be left to the Vietnamese.
But then, Kennedy was assassinated. A new president came into power, a man who had never been in combat himself. He wanted to "bring the coonskin home" with an American war victory.
In July, 1964, by lying to the American people and Congress and claiming a non-existent attack on a U.S. destroyer by North Vietnamese gunboats, at the same time concealing the fact that we were supporting a South Vietnamese amphibious assault on North Vietnam, President Lyndon Johnson and Secretaries of Defense and State, Robert McNamara and State Dean Rusk, were able to get Congress to enact the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, authorizing the president "to meet aggression with aggression" in Southeast Asia.
In early 1965 President Johnson decided to send Marines to Danang, not for combat, but to protect that city's airfield and its South Vietnamese fighter bombers from guerrilla attacks.
That was 50 years ago. The disastrous war in Vietnam resulted in our first defeat in a war we should never have started. We fed in whole divisions and soon we had 110 "maneuver battalions" engaged in massive "search and destroy" missions, which, accompanied by saturation bombing, devastated a beautiful country the size of California. Ultimately, the publishing of the Pentagon Papers by the New York Times in 1971 -- revealing that our true purpose in Southeast Asia was 10 percent to help the south Vietnamese, 20 percent to hold back the Chinese (a traditional enemy of the Vietnamese) and 70 percent "to save American face" -- so changed American public opinion that we were forced to withdraw from Vietnam and ultimately watch the disgraceful collapse of a corrupt and oppressive government that we had spent untold billions and suffered 55,000 dead and thrice that many wounded to support.
After the success of President George H.W. Bush's liberation of Kuwait from Saddam Hussein's invasion in Operation Desert Storm, his son and his supporting cast of Vice President Cheney and the neocons concluded that it was necessary to invade Iraq in 2002 to destroy Hussein's alleged nuclear weapons and stop his cooperation with Al Qaeda's terrorism. The president referred to secret intelligence that Hussein had acquired nuclear weapons "yellowcake" from Nigeria. Those, at least, were the reasons given the American people and Congress to justify the invasion of Iraq. All the alleged reasons were blatantly false. Hussein had no nuclear weapons; he had not assisted Al Qaeda; the Iraqis had not bought yellowcake from Nigeria.
Thirteen years have elapsed since that invasion and the conflict in the Middle East between Shia, Sunni and Syria's Alawite leader, Assad, have led to a new Islamic would-be caliphate, ISIL, with designs on remedying the historic and terribly unjust Sykes-Picot Treaty negotiated between Great Britain and France after World War I to divide up Mideastern oil reserves. Sunnis and Shias remain at deadly odds, with a new combatant force in the Kurds, whose clans stretch from Turkey into Iran and Iraq. The Russians are now sending combat aircraft to attach the dissident Syrians who want to depose Assad, and President Obama has stayed with his demand that Assad be replaced. The huge flow of refugees from the Syrian conflict is proving an ever-greater problem for the nations of Europe.
What should be the next step? The president, like Kennedy, has decided to send "advisors" to help Arabs fight ISIL. Everything we have done in the Mideast in the past 15 years has led to ever greater conflict and chaos. Is there any reason to believe that the application of greater American military force will change the region for the better? Would it not be wise to leave the fates of the countries in the Mideast to the Mideasterners themselves?
So the question arises: Are the "advisors" merely a tactical ploy on Obama's part to force Assad to withdraw, or is the sending of advisors to help the so-called "coalition of Arabs" fight ISIL the first step, soon to be followed, first by relatively small Special Forces units as "boots on the ground," and in the end divisions like the Airborne and Marines?
Whatever happens should not be made in secret decisions by our leaders. The issue is not one of patriotically "supporting our troops," but hopefully a demand by the American people that all of the factors involved first be disclosed and justified by President Obama, the Secretary of Defense and his generals.
No more lies. Let the Congress decide and so resolve if we are to go to war.