October 31, 2009

Iran - continuing to play the West

Iran continues to effectively conduct its foreign policy, often at the expense of American foreign policy. In the last few months, the Iranians have virtually halted the West's efforts to stop its uranium enrichment efforts, have consistently delayed the imposition of sanctions, and in their last horse-trading have succeeded in getting a one-on-one meeting between Iranian and American officials. By having the United States back a plan whereby Iran would export 75 percent of its low-enriched uranium for further processing in Russia and France, Tehran has legitimized its uranium enrichment program.

Once the Iranians achieved that de facto legitimacy, they immediately began the process to renege on the deal. It's typical of the Iranians - agree, then reconsider and ask for changes to the terms, then agree to talk about the need for more talks. While this diplomatic charade goes on, the centrifuges at Natanz, and soon Qom, continue to spin. When the Iranians talk again, it will be about how much enriched uranium they should consider exporting, not whether or not they should be enriching uranium in the first place. The have in effect gained that right.

The Iranians have been very effective in manipulating the West, and now embarrassing President Obama, whether he knows it or not. For all of the overtures made to Iran by the Obama Administration since it took office in January, there has been virtually no progress. Let's look at what Iran is doing right now:

- continues to process uranium
- continues to defy the United Nations and Western powers
- continues to strengthen its relationship with Russia and China - which almost certainly takes meaningful international sanctions off the table
- continues to provide money, weapons and training not only to the Shi'a militias in Iraq but now to elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan
- continues to repress any political dissent in the country
- continues to hold three young American hikers for a minor trespassing incident

The Iranians are masters at playing the West. When they agreed to the uranium export proposal, they had no intention of giving up their enriched uranium. Almost immediately after the agreement was made public, "senior Iranian lawmakers" back in Tehran voiced opposition to the idea and countered that they should not export their uranium for further processing, but instead demanded that the West sell them fuel for the research reactor - I called this "Having their (yellow) cake and eating it too."

The much publicized internal Iranian debate is a sham. There is only one voice that counts in Iran and it belongs to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. He will make the decision about what Iran will do despite the support or objection of so-called senior Iranian lawmakers. That debate is for show - the Iranians intend to keep their uranium and continue to demand that the West send them even more. If it wasn't so serious, it would be almost comical.

In the last blast of rhetoric from the Iranians, they proposed that the United States and Iran continue to expand their one-on-one dialog, a key goal of the regime in Tehran. This ill-advised dialogue only legitimizes the regime and its nuclear ambitions. The Iranians even went so far as to offer to have Americans present at their nuclear facilities. Clever - the presence of Americans at what may become targets of Israeli military strikes complicates planning in Tel Aviv.

In response to the Iranian stalling and demands to purchase uranium, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton waffled, saying she would "let this process play out." She further said that the International Atomic Energy Agency and the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany "are all united and showing resolve in responding to the Iranian response and seeking clarifications. We are working to determine exactly what they are willing to do, whether this was an initial response that is an end response or whether it's the beginning of getting to where we expect them to end up."

Huh? I thought the Iranians were masters of rhetoric, but Mrs. Clinton has also succeeded in using a lot of words to say nothing. Is she serious? The IAEA is worthless - just take the Iranian issue as an example. The permanent members of the Security Council are united? Has she heard the Russian and Chinese statements opposing sanctions on Iran?

While the President and his Secretary of State "let the process play out," Iran continues to effectively pursue its foreign policy objectives virtually unhampered by Washington. Does "play out" mean the announcement that they have a nuclear weapon?

October 29, 2009

Execution of Saddam - in hindsight a good thing

According to a new book by Saddam Husayn's lead lawyer Khalil al-Dulaymi, the deposed Iraqi president was planning an escape attempt in 2006. The plan called for Saddam loyalists and other Sunni militants to mount coordinated attacks on American and Iraqi facilities, and eventually overpower the guard force at the detention facility at Camp Cropper and free Saddam.

Camp Cropper was one of the primary U.S. Army facilities in Iraq, located near Baghdad International Airport. The facility was used to house high-value detainees, including many former senior Ba'th Party officials. The security around this facility was probably unsurpassed anywhere in the country. The thought that the insurgents would be able to free Saddam Husayn is ludicrous.

In most cases, I am not a fan of the death penalty. I also believe that there are unique situations in which execution is not only advisable, but essential. The execution of Saddam Husayn was one of those unique cases where the execution, as I look back, was in fact a good thing.

Why do I say that? Saddam Husayn was more that just a deposed dictator convicted of war crimes. Saddam was, and remains, a symbol to his supporters, mostly die-hard Ba'th Party members. The remnants of the Ba'th have been active in the violence directed at Iraqi, American and coalition forces.

Are there still Saddam Husayn supporters? Look at this poster (below) in the city of Tikrit, near to Saddam's hometown of 'Awjah and the center of his support base. There was an AP caption labeling this a "vandalized poster of Saddam." The use of the descriptor "vandalized" has a negative connotation, giving the impression that this was an anti-Saddam gesture. In actuality, the Arabic graffiti spray painted on the poster reads, "Long live Saddam and the Ba'th [party]." This is a pro-Saddam gesture, exactly the opposite of the reporting.

As long as Saddam remained alive - even in a maximum security facility guarded by American troops - there was always the hope that somehow his escape might be possible. In this case, it made sense to quash that hope. Likewise, moving him out of the country would not remove that hope that there was the possibility of his return. There still may be Ba'thi resistance, but Saddam will never again lead the Ba'th Party.

All in all, executing Saddam was a good thing. I don't see another solution.

October 27, 2009

Mr. President, make a decision already

Mr. Obama, you must make a decision about the strategy and troop levels in Afghanistan. You must do it now, not in a week, not in ten days, not in a month, but now. American troops are involved in combat operations now - they need to know the plan. Your vacillation, apparent confusion and delays only serve to embolden the enemy and are likely the direct cause of the recent spike in American and coalition casualties. Over 50 American troops have been killed thus far this month. Is there a coherent strategy anywhere in our future?

I understand - and fully support - a review of our strategy in Afghanistan. Obviously what we have been doing has not worked. We have been there for eight years - the situation is still unresolved and our purpose for being there is still undefined. I thought you had stated a policy in March - a counterinsurgency aimed at the defeat of al-Qa'idah. You fired the commander of U.S forces in Afghanistan and gave the mission to General Stan McChrystal. You tasked him to tell you what he needed to get it done.

General McChrystal, regarded as one of the best counterinsurgency operators in the American armed forces, told you he needed 40,000 additional U.S. troops to accomplish the mission. That was probably not the answer you were hoping to hear. Now rather than give the general the resources needed to accomplish the mission you directed, you have decided to take a breather and re-assess the strategy. One wonders if the mission is dictating the resource allocation, or if the resources you are willing to commit now dictate the strategy. I assume the mission remains the same. In any case, the troops are not taking a break while you decide what the strategy will be.

The definition of the mission raises some serious questions that you might consider. Your goals, if I heard you correctly in March, are based on the assumption that al-Qa'idah is still present in Afghanistan, and that presence constitutes a threat to the United States. While you are re-assessing the strategy, you might want to also re-read your intelligence community reports that clearly indicate that except for maybe a few holdouts, al-Qa'idah has moved on to Pakistan and points beyond.

After the mass exodus to Pakistan in late 2001 and early 2002 following their defeat at Tora Bora, many al-Qa'idah fighters moved on to carry on the fight in Iraq and Saudi Arabia. That didn't work out too well for them - eventually U.S. forces in Iraq and Saudi security forces in the kingdom decimated al-Qa'idah's ranks. The remnants appear to have moved on to places like Yemen and Somalia. Wherever they are, it is not Afghanistan.

So, Mr. President, just who is the enemy you are seeking to defeat? The Taliban? While the Taliban are a threat to the Afghan government and are now major supporters of the narco-economy of the country, they hardly represent a threat to the security of the United States. The thought that a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan would re-create an al-Qa'idah threat to the United States is a stretch as well. Most of the al-Qa'idah leadership has been killed, captured or marginalized. Their communications, finances and organization are in disarray. Remaining fighters in Pakistan are under pressure from the Central Intelligence Agency's missile strikes and Pakistan Army offensives in the Waziristan area. You could probably prevent al-Qa'idah from returning to Afghanistan by warning the Taliban (or whoever might emerge as the power in Kabul) that if al-Qa'idah returns, so does massive American air power.

In any case, Mr. President, now is the time to fish or cut bait - you have had more than ample time to make up your mind. You can conduct the counterinsurgency you ordered, or you can re-direct the strategy to that of counter-terrorism. Either will keep America secure, but you have to make a decision. The Taliban, al-Qa'idah and any other groups that wish us ill need to know that you can make a decision and then order the appropriate action to execute it.

Until you make that decision, there will likely be increased attacks on American troops in Afghanistan. The Taliban wants you to re-focus your efforts on a counter-terrorism strategy aimed at al-Qa'idah in the region - that includes Pakistan - rather than on a counterinsurgency beefing up American troop presence in Afghanistan. While that is a reason in itself to not to go with a change in strategy, the bottom line remains that the Taliban is not the real enemy.

Either way, Mr. President, make a decision. Our troops deserve clear direction and adequate resources. Do it now.

October 23, 2009

Iran: Having their (yellow) cake and eating it too

You can't make this stuff up.

After three days of talks - something in which Iran excels - the Iranians have thrown another wrench into the nuclear program talks between the Islamic Republic and the West, specifically the United States, Russia and France.

Just a few weeks ago, the Iranians claimed to be open to an arrangement whereby much of its enriched uranium would be exported to Russia and France for reprocessing into reactor fuel for their medical reactor in Tehran. On the surface, that appeared to diffuse one of the major issues between Iran and the West - Iran's continued enrichment of uranium.

This week's talks were held supposedly to continue work on that arrangement. However, yesterday and today there were conflicting and confusing signals from Tehran. It appears that the senior Iranian leadership now has reservations about the arrangement. We may be back to square one. I say "we" because although the West may be back to square one, the Iranians are continuing unimpeded in its nuclear research and development program - the centrifuges at Natanz and possibly the previously undeclared site near Qom continue to spin. While Iran and the West talk, uranium enrichment goes on - in fact, it has never slowed.

To complicate matters further, the Iranians proposed that instead of exporting most of its enriched uranium for reprocessing by the French into reactor fuel, that the West sell them the fuel for the small reactor. Their statement sounds a bit menacing. "The Islamic Republic of Iran is waiting for a constructive and confidence building response to the clear proposal of buying fuel for the Tehran research reactor," and warning the West to "refrain from past mistakes in violating agreements and make efforts to win the trust of the Iranian nation."

You have to almost admire the Iranians for their audacity. Basically what they are saying is, "Not only do we not want to send our enriched uranium to you to be processed into fuel for our reactor, we want you to sell us the fuel so we can keep our uranium and continue to enrich it for our own purposes (I say for nuclear weapons development), in essence, having our (yellow) cake and eating it too."

Do the Iranians think the West is that gullible? Evidently. Then again, what has the West done to disavow the Iranians of that notion? Nothing. The West has been threatening to impose sanctions for years. It has not happened, and the Iranians know full well that is not likely going to happen.

The Iranians have cleverly made oil export and refined product import deals with China. They also have convinced Russia to continue a close military hardware and nuclear power technology purchase agreement. Since both Russia and China are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council - meaning they each have veto power - the Iranian leadership has assessed (correctly in my view) that meaningful sanctions are not a threat. To make that point, the Russians reiterated their intention to continue "military-technical cooperation" with Iran. That probably means delivery of advanced surface-to-air missile systems in the not-too-distant future.

I expect there will be recriminations tossed back and forth about Iran's initial indications that it would agree to export its enriched uranium and its subsequent proposal to just buy fuel and keep its uranium. Then there will be a proposal to meet and have more talks - all the while, their program continues.

This is typical of what we have come to expect from the Iranians. Continue to enrich uranium, agree to talk.

October 20, 2009

Afghanistan Election Runoff

Dr Abdullah Abdullah and President Hamid Karzai

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has agreed to a runoff presidential election in the wake of convincing evidence that as many as one quarter of the votes cast for him in the recent election were fraudulent. He really had no choice.

The perception of such wide ranging corruption - even in one of the most corrupt places on the planet - did not sit well with many international observers, not to mention with many Americans, who have over 65,000 of their troops in the country. The specter of such fraud and corruption plays into the hands of those who are attempting to draw parallels between U.S involvement in Afghanistan with that of another corrupt government 40 years ago, that being in South Vietnam.

This election has far reaching implications for the future of Afghanistan. As long as there is no final outcome, the Obama Administration cites that as a reason to delay the President's strategy determination. meanwhile, battles go on - American troops are fighting and dying. The Taliban is attemptinf to take advantage of the indecision in Kabul and more importantly, Washington. Not only does the Afghan government appear to have no direction or commitment, neither does the American administration.

Both candidates are true Afghan patriots, even though one may be temporarily tainted by what we in the West consider corruption. We need to be very careful about focusing on Afghan culture and processes through a Western optic. Corruption and payoffs are a way of life - it always has been and from my observations, probably always will be.

Both Karzai and Abdullah opposed the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, and both were intimately involved in the American-supported operation to remove the Taliban after September 11, 2001. Abdullah's credentials may be a bit stronger than Karzai's but both were involved.

There is an ethnic factor to consider as well. Karzai is a Pashtun from an influential Kandahar family. Abdullah has always been considered a Tajik, although during the campaign he chose to reveal that his father had been a Pashtun. In any case, he was raised in the Panjshir valley, the Tajik heartland. Since only a quarter to one third of the population (there has never been a census), his declaration of Pashtun heritage is understandable. It will be difficult, but not impossible to overcome Pashtun solidarity.

Another overlooked but important factor may transcend the ethnic issue. This election runoff will be a referendum on the future structure of the Afghan government. Karzai prefers to continue the status quo with a presidential system - after all, he is the incumbent and likes the power concentrated in the executive.

Abdullah has stated a preference for a parliamentary system with a prime minister as head of government. To do this, he would need to convene a loya jirga and change the constitution, but it is possible.

I tend to favor Abdullah. He seems to be more above the corruption that has permeated the Karzai administration, and might have a broader power base throughout the country. That will be important as the improving Afghan security forces attempt to exert their control over the entire country. Of course, this control will come at the expense of the warlords. They might feel better dealing with Abdullah - he appeals to a wider audience.

In any case, the fact that there are elections in Afghanistan is a good thing. It will happen - there is no need for our president to wait for the results before he decides what our strategy will be. Make a decision and give the country a chance. If we wait too long, it may be a moot point.

October 18, 2009

Pakistan launches its offensive - a good sign

The long-awaited and much-anticipated Pakistani military offensive against Taliban elements in South Waziristan (blue circle on map below) kicked off on Saturday. The Pakistani leadership has finally realized that there is no negotiating with the Taliban - they have to be hunted down and killed.

Over the last few weeks, there has been a spate of violence in Pakistan as Taliban militants attempted to convince the public to force the Pakistani leadership to call off their publicized major offensive into the tribal area of South Waziristan. Actually, the plan backfired - all the militants succeeded in doing was galvanizing public opinion and the conviction of the military leadership that such an offensive was essential.

There has been a slow awakening in Pakistan since the Taliban moved closer to the non-tribal areas, such as the attacks in the Swat Valley late in 2008 and earlier this year. In that operation, the Pakistanis entered into a ceasefire with the Taliban after allowing the Taliban to impose Sharia' law in the region. The Taliban did not abide by the agreement and the Pakistanis had to launch an offensive to oust the Taliban from the area.

Swat Valley was a wake up call for the Pakistanis that the Taliban are not content to remain in the autonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas - Swat is in the North West Frontier Province, which falls fully under Pakistani sovereignty. It also demonstrated to the Pakistanis that the Taliban cannot be trusted. Agreements, ceasefires, truces - these are only tactics to be used to regroup and re-arm.

The Pakistanis have committed two army divisions to this fight, with air support. It began with a three-pronged assault deep into South Waziristan, the redoubt of numerous Taliban and al-Qa'idah fighters, including chief of the Pakistani Taliban Hakimullah Mehsud and possibly al-Qa'idah leader Usamah bin Ladin himself. The terrain is forbidding, and the Taliban and its Arab and Uzbek allies are tough and committed fighters.

This will be a costly fight for the Pakistan Army in terms of casualties, but a necessary fight if the central government is going to defeat this threat to its very existence. The Taliban militants don't want just to be left alone - they want to impose their own fundamentalist Islamic belief system to what already is an Islamic Republic.

Hopefully, the Pakistanis will execute this offensive to a successful completion rather than fighting for a short period of time, then entering into a ceasefire agreement that never holds. They did this in 2004, 2005 and 2008 - it just does not work. Maybe this time will be different. Maybe this time the Pakistani intelligence service - riddled with Taliban and al-Qa'idah sympathizers and supporters - will not be able to convince the leadership to negotiate.

As I have said before, you cannot negotiate with these people. You have to hunt them down and kill them.

October 16, 2009

A new NIE on Iran? It's about time....

"It's about time." I chose those words carefully. For years now, Iran has been playing the world for time, and playing it very well. Iran's foreign policy has focused on delaying the imposition of effective sanctions over its nuclear research and development program, which most analysts (me included) believe is nothing but a cover for a nuclear weapons development effort.

The Iranians have been remarkably successful in blunting and avoiding the type of sanctions that might actually work. They have done this by agreeing to talk, attending preliminary meetings and promising cooperation, combined with deeper ties with UN Security Council permanent members Russia and China. Since either of these countries can veto any Security Council action, close ties to one or the other makes the chances of the adoption of any meaningful sanctions protocol remote at best. (See an article I wrote in July, Iran's Foreign Policy Success.

A review of today's AIPAC Daily News Digest, published by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee - not Political Action Committee as some have charged - is illustrative of that successful Iranian foreign policy. Five of the six lead stories deal with this issue:

  • 1. U.S. Considers a New Assessment of Iran Threat
  • 2. U.S. Congress sends Obama Iran sanctions bill
  • 4. Iranian go-slow dims deal chances at Vienna atom talks
  • 5. China's links to Iran a snag for sanctions
  • 6. A Hitch in Iran's Nuclear Plans?

Now the Obama Administration is considering a "re-do" of the ludicrous 2007 National Intelligence Estimate - Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities. That document assessed that Iran halted its nuclear weapons effort in 2003 and had not re-started it by mid-2007. The idea is so preposterous that not only have the intelligence services of our allies - Britain, France, Germany and Israel - publicly criticized it, so too did both candidates in the 2008 U.S. Presidential race.

Please re-do the NIE - it's about time. However, we need to make sure that the NIE is in fact a real estimate of the intelligence community, not a politically-inspired tool to boost the Administration's fantasy that diplomacy - that means a sanctions protocol - is going to be effective.

October 11, 2009

US again fails to restart Middle East peace talks

In a rather surprising turn of events - given the fact that President Obama was just awarded the Nobel Peace Prize - special Middle East envoy George Mitchell left the region without a commitment for the Israelis and Palestinians to resume talks.

This is not a failure of an initiative, it is the failure to even begin an initiative. The best Mitchell could get was a promise for two low-level Israeli diplomats to travel to Washington later this week for "further discussions." The Palestinians have declined to participate.

Unfortunately, the President has had few - actually zero - successes in his "change" or "reset" foreign policies, especially in the Middle East. His overtures to Iran have been soundly rebuffed at every turn - the talks earlier this month about the Iranian nuclear program yielded nothing but a promise for more talks. Likewise, the Administration efforts to engage Syria have failed - Bashar al-Asad and his Ba'th regime remain firmly allied to Iran.

Attempts to help mediate between the Israelis and the Palestinians over Gaza have gone nowhere. American allies Jordan and Saudi Arabia have refused to engage in any kind of comprehensive talks about Israel. Lebanon has come increasingly under the thumb of Hizballah.

In Israel, almost always on the other side of Obama's initiatives, the leadership is not inclined to acquiesce to American demands that will move the peace process forward. They need to agree to a return of the Golan Heights and agree to some curtailment of the expansion of settlements on the West Bank. At some point they will, but not anytime soon, given the perceived slant of this Administration to side with the Iranians, Syrians and Palestinians - at their expense.

To many observers of the Middle East, it would appear that the Nobel Peace Prize was premature, given the failure of the Administration on virtually every front of peace in the region. Then, what do we expect from the legislature of a country that has been a mediocre NATO ally at best? These are the same people that granted this award to the likes of Yasir 'Arafat, Menachem Begin, Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan....

Maybe I should be patient and wait for the news from Oslo to reach Damascus, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Tehran, Riyadh, and Amman that the Nobel committee has spoken and they are to fall in line.

After all, has it not been ordained that Obama will bring peace to the Middle East?

October 5, 2009

Afghanistan and the White House - can you spell V-I-E-T-N-A-M?

Reading the press accounts and watching the media coverage of the ongoing debate in the Obama Administration over just what our strategy is and will be in Afghanistan unfortunately reminds of the late 1960's and a similar debate on what to do in Vietnam. Do we give the mission to the generals and properly resource their strategy and tactics to execute that mission, or does the White House micromanage the war from the West Wing?

If you recall the meddling from the White House in Vietnam - down to the actual daily targets to be bombed - you can see it starting again. When you have Vice President Joe Biden - whose only military expertise is listening to stories that his Army National Guard son might have overheard while serving as a military lawyer in Iraq - offering strategies that conflict with General Stanley McChrystal, the general on the ground with decades of experience, you have to wonder. When Senator Carl Levin - whose military experience pales in comparison to Joe Biden's - downplays General McChrystal as just someone down chain of command, you have to worry. Military strategy formulated in the Vice President's office and the Senate does not inspire confidence.

The only person in the inner circle with any meaningful military experience is national security advisor, retired Marine general James Jones, and he has not ventured his own opinion. If his stance on Afghanistan policy is anything like his stance on Iran's nuclear ambitions, don't expect anything other than the administration's nebulous line. Jones must be one of the few people left that are not convinced that Iran is attempting to develop a nuclear weapon.

So, who is President Obama going to trust? His political cronies who might be superb at organizing activists in inner city Chicago, or a professional military staff with years of training and experience? President George Bush listened to his generals and let them execute the mission of removing Saddam Husayn - a major sccess. Then, however, he changed the mission to one of occupation and nation building based on misguided advice of his political counselors. Now we appear to be watching the same mistake that President Johnson made in the 1960's, that President Bush made after successfully removing Saddam - listening to politicians instead of soldiers.

As I have said and written on numerous occasions, we need to re-evaluate what the mission is in Afghanistan. That debate needs to include politicians to be sure, but not in the formulation of actual strategy and tactics. The White House - which includes Biden - should define the mission and order Secretary of Defense Gates to determine the strategy and tactics, as well as the resources required to accomplish the task.

If the mission is to hunt down and destroy the remnants of al-Qa'idah, then Afghanistan is probably not the best venue for that operation. If that is in fact the mission, then the President better start looking at operations in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. There has been little al-Qa'idah presence in Afghanistan since late 2001. In the last few years, thanks to the CIA drone operations and Pakistani military incursions in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border tribal areas, al-Qa'idah has largely moved from Pakistan as wel, although some remain. Others initially moved to Saudi Arabia, but after being decimated by Saudi security forces, most have moved to Yemen and Somalia.

If the mission in Afghanistan is to defeat the Taliban and provide security so that Afghanistan can stand up as a country, fine, but say so. To continue claiming that the presence of almost 70,000 American troops plus scores of thousands of Afghan and NATO forces is to defeat al-Qa'idah is somewhere between disingenuous and misleading, or perhaps just naive. Some pundits have gone further - Council of Foreign Relations president Richard Haass has stated that with the departure of al-Qa'idah, Afghanistan is no longer a war of necessity, but Obama's war of choice.

Whatever the decision, it needs to be made now. The longer the President and Secretary Gates publicly discuss the various options and strategies, the more disoriented and confused we appear. That sends a signal to our enemies that now is the time to create what insurgents term a "significant emotional event." A significant emotional event - a classic insurgent tactic - is one that galvanizes your enemy's public opinion, resulting in a demand that the targeted government end its involvement in the war.

Knowing they cannot defeat American and allied forces in the field, the insurgents will try to shift the battle to public opinion in the United States. It was the Tet Offensive in Vietnam in 1968 that was the significant emotional event of that war, despite the fact that the actual combat virtually destroyed the Viet Cong as a viable fighting force. This weekend's mass attacks on two remote outposts in Nuristan province are just such operations.

The President needs to make a decision, then get out of his generals' way. Either that, or repeat the mistakes of Johnson and Vietnam.