Realism and the Vietnam War
The Vietnam and Iraq Wars: Anx Antithesis of Realism Booth, Logan S. New York University New York, New York, USA Abstract Policy makers are rational actors who use distinct ideologies in forming Vietnaj preferences and deciding on which courses of policy to pursue. Yet often times, the decisions of these actors are based off skewed ideologies which deviate from those positions which have proven their utility and success in the past. In this thesis, the claim is Realisn that despite the proven success of realist political thought in confronting twentieth century international challenges, policy makers who advocated the use of military force in both the Vietnam and Iraq Wars based their decisions off of liberalist and neo-conservative tenets.
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The result of both conflicts has been military quagmires which have resulted Vletnam each conflict being characterized as a foreign policy blunder. In proving this argument, the paper explores the justification for war given by political actors and ahd contrasts them with the click the following article of realist thought, showing the flagrant violations in Wxr instance.
Furthermore, once it has been established that realist thought was in fact ignored, evidence supporting the embrace of liberalist ideologies to justify each conflict in offered. Finally, an examination into the lasting historical consequences of each conflict Realims the theoretical implications that each war has had on the shaping of United States history concludes the piece, suggesting that readers consider the magnitude of a seemingly tge topic such as foreign policy ideology.
Citation The Vietnam and Iraq Wars: The Antithesis of Realism. Lethbridge Undergraduate Research Journal. Volume 4 Number 1. Despite the fact that some of the greatest foreign policy successes of the twentieth century have been attributed to Wat pursuit of realist foreign policy, two of Rea,ism most notorious foreign policy blunders of the same abd, the Vietnam and Second Gulf Wars, occurred when the United States deviated from realist ideologies and embraced neo-conservative realism.
Although, involvement in both the Vietnam War and Operation Iraqi Freedom seemed to be based on the realist tenets of preventing adversaries from tipping the Wa balance of power and maintaining military superiority relative to the capabilities thr our enemies, a closer examination reveals the extent to which neither conflict Vietanm realist policy principles; indeed, both can be said to te squarely in the liberal tradition. Historically, these conflicts have been among the most divisive foreign policy endeavors in United States history and both Vietnam and Iraq exposed the Realis, States armed forces for what they are—a military body, more info a diplomatic extension of the State Department or a Wat building force.
Ironically, the profoundly Realiam impacts of the wars stand in direct Vietna to the objectives adn their main Vietna, Presidents John F. Kennedy and George W. Three years later, the United States presence in Vietnam had increased sixteen-hundred percent Wag. Fourteen days later, Relism United States was at war with Saddam Hussein. Yet for the purposes of this paper, it is not the ultimate result the United States involving itself in war which is important, but instead the purpose of each of these forms of rhetoric. Both presidents, through liberty laden language, supported by the promise to commit American troops if necessary, sought to use the mere Wae of military involvement to bring about the Vietnamm of our foes.
Had both leaders stopped there, with their freedom charged addresses, their actions would have been a playbook example of the implementation of realism to achieve foreign policy Waar. Nevertheless, with regards to both Vietnam and Iraq, the threat of Vietnamm military intervention Vietjam not enough to defer either Ho Chi Minh or Saddam Rhe ground, naval, read article air ths had to be sent to both regions to validate what both foreign leaders perceived merely as idle threats.
But what is realism and Vietnm, if the politically charged fhe of both presidents epitomized it, Realiem their subsequent Vietnzm endeavors violate its tenets? While realism can be defined according to six major principles, for the purposes of brevity and to avoid redundancy, this paper will focus on three: Regarded as the oldest mode of political thought, aand tracing Reailsm origins to the Peloponnesian Wars, it need be noted that realism has existed as the dominant approach to U.
The earliest emergence of American realism can be seen in the administration of George Washington specifically though his anx towards the English Wwr French 7. Briefly analyzing Vietanm point will establish a better foundation for which realist political thought can be understood. Viettnam approach that President Washington took towards England and France following the Revolutionary War serves as a classic Viernam of realist political thought. Despite the fact that England was the adversary against which the United States had fought during the War for Tge and that France was the ally which helped precipitate victory, Washington recognized that favorable relations hhe England were necessary in Wwr to prevent America Realusm being drawn into a European conflict on the side of the French against the more powerful English military 8.
Washington's actions are in line with the aforementioned realist tenet—the exclusion of morality in foreign relations. If a moralistic approach had been taken by Washington, the United States would have pledged Reaalism support to its ally, France, on the Vietnamm that the tyrannical English had long oppressed the American colonies.
But doing so would have jeopardized the security of the United States and would have violated the second tenet of realism, the maintenance of international stability, which ghe have in turn Realusm the first tenet—maintaining the economic tje of the United States which Reaalism heavily dependent Reallism England. Thus, it becomes evident that the initial Realismm Washington made, allying ourselves with the British, Realsm this domino effect from ever occurring, and relied heavily on realist thought.
If a more modern example is needed, look at the attitude of the United States towards the USSR during the Second World War. Although Realism and the Vietnam War Soviets were communist, the antithesis of American capitalism, and Stalin's regime Reapism flagrant violations Reapism human rights, the United States aligned itself with the Thf in the name of winning WWII in order to defeat the greater threat, Nazi Viettnam. Once again, morality was ignored. Thus, if Viftnam actions of Presidents Washington and Roosevelt were classic examples of realism in what way check this out those of President Kennedy and President Bush the polar Rewlism To better understand this, te is helpful to conduct a litmus go here of Viietnam to see how the Vietnam and Iraq conflicts relate to Wa established definition of realism listed above.
By maintaining military superiority in Reallism to its foes, a nation can ensure its political and economic viability, assert its authority in the face of a chaotic international stage, and prevent Vietna from tipping the established balance of power—all of which is sought in the this web page of maintaining world order and the status quo.
But a closer examination of both conflicts reveals that this threat never materialized. For the purposes of chronology, Wag will be examined first. The ths that the North Vietnamese military never posed a threat towards the United States is all but irrefutable when one considers a main underlying fact about the Vietnam War: Vietnam was a counter-insurgency war in the truest sense of the read more. Even Vienam the Iraq War te laterit was ane until Saddam Hussein's regular army fell that guerilla forces became the primary adversary of the United Tje and hte primary impediment to Viwtnam in the militaristic sense.
In Vietnam however, the exact opposite was the case; the war began as a war against a guerilla force and only later developed into a Realusm against a wnd organized military body—Ho Chi Minh's People's Army of Vietnam PAVN. Thus, the first criterion of realist political thought has already been violated. Realism advocates pursuing military superiority relative to foes for the purpose of preserving the safety and security Wa and economic systems. It is difficult Rexlism argue VVietnam the Viet Cong ever posed the more info degree of military threat to Realksm United States until the United Check this out sent forces to Vietnam itself.
This point is Realiem readily supported by the fact that the first casualty as a result of the Vietnam War, that visit web page SP4 James T. Davis, occurred on December Vketnam, at Cau Xang, an old French outpost from the First Indochina War As tragic as the death of SP4 Davis was, click here cannot be ignored Reakism his te occurred nearly six anv after Ho Chi Minh first incited insurgent activities in South Vietnam.
Thus, in a five Realidm period in which the United States was not directly involved in the Vietnam conflict, source VC posed no threat to America.
Military force, thee to realism, was therefore unwarranted. Furthermore, analyzing the military capabilities of the VC relative to those of the United Voetnam furthers the argument that no threat was posed and that the criteria ad military force as outlined by realist political thought was never Viernam.
Also, estimates of the approximate thee of the VC in assign anywhere from fifty-five to eighty Realizm members to its ranks In the same year however, the United States had two hundred thousand troops deployed in Vietnam a fraction of the 2. Clearly, Vietnamese military might never remotely rivaled that of the United States. Yet realism also allows for the use of military force if one of its objectives is to ensure that economic superiority is not jeopardized.
It can be deduced however, that at no point did Vietnam ever threaten the economic viability of the United States, especially when National Security Action Memorandum NSAM is taken into account.
Written infive years after the first U. Had Vietnam posed the threat to the economic viability of the United States which realism requires as the grounds for military action, it certainly would not have taken five years for such an embargo to have been created. Shifting ahead four decades, the Iraq War provides substantial fodder by which an analysis of its adherence to realist principles, or its lack there of, can be explored, although it's necessary first to point out the underlying differences between the two conflicts.
Compared to Vietnam, Iraq was unique in several ways. First, some would argue that it was a continuation albeit separated by eleven years of the First Gulf War. Thus, the adversary with whom we were fighting was not foreign to us nor were its tactics those which we had not already encountered. Furthermore, Vietnam and Iraq differ in that when the United States involved itself in Vietnam, warfare had already been ongoing; the United States merely became yet another player in the conflict.
However, the commencement of U. Furthermore, the underlying objective of each conflict differed as well. Vietnam was fought with an ideological objective—to prevent the expansion of communism into South Vietnam, to all intents and purposes, an extension of containment policies which had dominated U.
Iraq however, was initially based on a specific military objective—preventing Saddam Hussein from obtaining and using weapons of mass destruction WMD. Nevertheless, when it became clear that the WMD threat never existed, the objective in Iraq began to resemble that of Vietnam—establishing a government sympathetic to Western ideologies to serve as a counterforce to interests threatening to the United States—which, as I shall demonstrate, created a schism between realist thought and the justification for war.
Let me first assess whether the Iraq War adhered to realism as per the first definition—that the use of force was justified given a mounting threat of the Iraqi military to the superiority of the United States military and to the threat it posed to the safety and security of America. A report generated for the Naval War College in highlighted the military capabilities of the Iraqi Army.
The strength Iraqi Navy was similarly limited, retaining only nine ships after the First Gulf War, all of which were relatively inoperable. Compare these statistics to those of the United States which maintained twenty-two combat ready army divisions, over fifteen hundred combat ready aircraft, and two hundred and fifty nine combat ships Moreover, United States combat ready troops outnumbered Iraqis nearly four-to-one. Yet the mere disproportion of the two forces is not enough to negate realism as it relates to the Iraq War.
In order to be considered a truly flagrant violation of realist thought, it is necessary to prove that even with its severely limited capabilities, Iraq posed no serious military threat to the United States. Thus, if Iraq would have difficulty engaging the U.
For learners the and Vietnam Realism War times, reality
And this argument is only furthered by the fact that leading up to the Iraq War, United States and United Kingdom U. Therefore, in a sense the United States was already using realist foreign policy by suppressing any mounting threat from the Iraqi military before it even materialized. However, by escalating the conflict to total war when the Iraqi military clearly posed no threat to the safety of the United States nor jeopardized its supremacy, the U. However, up to this point the primary justification used to go to war against Iraq, the presence of WMD, has been ignored due to the fact that such weapons were never found.
But if WMD had been found in Iraq would the use of military force have been justified under the auspices of realism? According to two of the most prominent realists of twenty-first century, John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, no. Realist policy from an American perspective would advocate the use of force against an enemy who possessed WMD if they threatened the United States with those weapons. But Mearsheimer and Walt present significant evidence to suggest that although Saddam Hussein's rule was marred by periods of violence and seemingly irrational and sadistic behavior, this behavior was exhibited towards opponents whom he knew could not retaliate in an effort to exert superficial dominance in the region For example, proponents of the war in Iraq often referenced Saddam's actions during the eight-year Iran-Iraq War as justification to show that Iraq in possession of WMD would prove to be an unstable and unpredictable enemy which would pose a substantial threat to the United States.
Evidence of Saddam Hussein's gassing of the Kurds and Iranians was offered to prove that he showed no reverence for human life and that his acquisition of more lethal WMD automatically correlated to danger for the United States at home and abroad. Yet what such critics failed to take into account was that Saddam Hussein's efforts were assisted, if not facilitated, by the United States, who after the Iranian Revolution considered Iran to be the principle threat to peace in the Middle East and thus supported Iraq in the conflict between the two nations.
Ironically enough, this position taken by the Reagan administration took is classic realism at work; even though Saddam Hussein's actions were brutal and repressive, the United States still forged an alliance with Iraq to defeat the greater threat, Iran, reminiscent of the position that the United States took towards Russia in WWII mentioned above.
But what, if any, bearing does that have on the decision to go to war with Iraq in ? By going to war, the Bush administration violated realism on two counts. First, it went to war with an enemy whose threat to the United States was far less severe than military action warranted and second, it used Saddam Hussein's prior actions, regardless of their impetus, as false justification that a threat towards U. In essence, it used a prior instance of realism to violate realism in the present. However, thus far the only issue which has been addressed to prove that the United States involvement in both the Vietnam and Iraq Wars were the antithesis of realist thought was the fact that a credible military threat to the safety and security of the United States never materialized and therefore, the use of military force was unwarranted.
Nevertheless, a second principle of realism exists—whether or not U. Once again, neither conflict can be justified on these grounds either. Look first at Vietnam. It can be reasonably inferred that the United States goal of preserving democracy in Vietnam regardless of the undemocratic nature of the Diem regime was an extension of George Kennan's policy of containment, which sought to quell the expansion of Soviet communist influence farther than it had already gone.
Thus, by committing troops to South Vietnam to prevent the VC and Ho Chi Minh from furthering communism in Southeast Asia, it can be argued that the United States was merely continuing an already established foreign policy. Yet this is irrelevant. Whether or not containment was an already established policy has nothing to do with whether or not it, or the subsequent committal of U. What can be conceded is that supporting Diem despite his brazen violations of human rights was an example of realist policy; the United States supported a virtual autocrat in the name of combating the greater threat that communism posed.
But was there any evidence to suggest that the VC or Ho Chi Minh posed any threat to the balance of power which would have justified committing U. However, once again evidence to disprove these two theories was offered, this time by Hans Morgenthau, the supreme realist of the twentieth century whose teachings are the basis of many of the positions taken by Mearsheimer and Walt.
Nothing better illustrates this point than the ultimate result of the Vietnam War; despite the fact that communism did permeate the seventeenth parallel, Vietnam was so devastated by the war and the subsequent sanctions that followed, that it was rendered virtually inoperable as a influential state in the region and more importantly, no evidence suggests that communist victory in Vietnam did anything to strengthen the Soviet Union. Secondly, in reference to a communist victory strengthening China relative to the USSR, Morgenthau simply argues that in order for this to have occurred China would have had to have had a direct role in the VC activities in South Vietnam for which no evidence exists.
Therefore, since no substantial threat to the balance of power existed, the use of military force in Vietnam was once again unjustified. Realism was once again violated. Shifting focus to Iraq, it becomes evident that it too posed no substantial threat to the balance of power either in the Middle East or the greater international community. In addition to the fact that its military was reserved to fighting mainly defensive warfare and the fact that it was kept in constant check by U.
In regards to Iran, Iraq's principle enemy in the Middle East, experts considered Iraq to have never fully recovered from the eight year war with Iran in the 's and thus, unlikely to engage in warfare with Tehran again. Furthermore, strategists hypothesized that although Iran and Iraq had similarly limited military capabilities relative to one another, Iraq would have more to lose in a conflict with Iran due to the fact that its Shi'ite minority, already vehemently anti-Saddam, could seize the opportunity to stage a coup supported by Shi'ite Iran.
Moreover, the same report produced for the Naval War College referenced above also stated that the probability of Iraq engaging in warfare against other Gulf states was minimal due to the fear of repercussions that would be incurred from U. Thus, the United States was already maintaining the balance of power in the Middle East with its sheer military presence in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The shift from presence to combat was therefore unnecessary and in conflict of the principles of realism.
The final element of realist thought as it relates to foreign policy is that the United States has no moral obligations to other nations because morality has no place in the realm of foreign policy.
Although, involvement in both the Vietnam Nad and Operation Iraqi Freedom seemed to be based on the realist tenets of preventing adversaries from go here the global balance of power and maintaining military superiority relative to the capabilities of our enemies, Realism and the Vietnam War closer examination reveals the extent to which Ralism conflict embodied realist policy principles; indeed, both can be said to fall squarely in the Realism and the Vietnam War tradition. To better understand this, it is helpful to conduct a litmus test of sorts to see how the Vietnam and Iraq conflicts relate to the established definition of realism listed above. Whether realism or liberalism is the driving force behind foreign policy decisions dictates what foreign policy the United States pursues. New York University New York, New York, USA Abstract Policy makers are rational actors who use distinct ideologies in forming their preferences and deciding on which courses of policy to pursue. In this thesis, the claim is made that despite the proven success of realist political thought in confronting twentieth century international challenges, policy makers who advocated the use of military force in both the Vietnam and Iraq Wars based their decisions off of liberalist and neo-conservative tenets. Democracies as well as non-democracies like having nuclear deterrents, and both kinds of states support terrorism when it suits their interests. In fact, it is relatively easy for a powerful country like America to conquer states in the developing world.
Realism states that nations are motivated by one goal and one goal only, national supremacy to ensure national security, which must be achieved by any means necessary regardless of any moral conflicts that may arise. Yet how do either or these points relate to Vietnam or Iraq? Thus far I have argued that it was not in the United States' interest to engage in war with either Vietnam or Iraq.
Neither state posed a substantial threat to the physical or economic safety of the United States, challenged its military supremacy, or threatened to upset the regional and global balance of power. So what justification was used? It has already been hinted that in reference to Vietnam, the United States sought to prevent the communist sphere of influence from extending any farther than it already had in Southeast Asia.
Communism, according to the prevailing thought of the American political elite of the era, was a threat to democratic institutions both at home and abroad. Nothing better embodies this belief than Vice President Johnson's statement following the death of the first Vietnam War casualty, SP4 James T.
However, it need be noted that few realists would argue that defending democracy is not in the interest of the United States; the success of democracy directly correlates to the success of the United States as a driving body in the international community since it is considered by most to be the greatest embodiment of the of a democratic political system.
Nevertheless, it must not be forgotten that it has already been proven that in the case of Vietnam, its status as a democratic or communist nation had little to no bearing on the United States or the survival of the democracy as a whole. Therefore, while supporting democracy in Vietnam via diplomatic means adhered to realism, it was counter-realist to support Vietnamese democracy via military means, especially considering the end result was defeat and humiliation for the United States.
A similar situation seems to have manifested itself in Iraq. Initially, support for the war was garnered on the basis that Iraq was seeking to acquire or already in possession of WMD which threatened the peace and stability of both the United States and international community. While significant evidence has already been offered to rebut this claim, it is not being offered for the truth of the matter asserted but instead as a prelude to the subsequent action which arose, war with Iraq.
Once troops had already been committed to deposing Saddam, it was revealed that Iraq was not in possession of WMD nor did sufficient evidence exist that it was in the process of acquiring them. Therefore, the Bush administration was faced with a daunting dilemma: With this, the fact that WMD were never found became a moot point; twenty-five million people who were before subject to the whim of a tyrant were now being given the chance to forge a viable and democratic society.
Nevertheless, however appealing this may be, it does nothing to negate the fact that morality, absent from the scope of foreign policy according to realists, was used to justify a conflict. Thus, neither the Vietnam nor the Iraq war were the product of realist thinking. Then what ideology did they embody?
While the argument can be made that several different schools of thought contributed to the validation of both conflicts, the most obvious one is idealism, also known as liberalism. As a foreign policy approach, liberalism is not to be confused with domestic liberal beliefs and ideals. Rather, liberalism as it relates to international affairs is primarily concerned with the expansion of democratic institutions to the greatest extent possible.
Switching to the two conflicts at hand, there is no question the freedom-infused rhetoric used to support the Vietnam War exemplified liberalism. The United States was meeting its moral obligation to prevent communism from expanding any father than it already and by committing U. Iraq, as it has also been discussed, became a predominantly liberal foreign policy endeavor once it had became evident that WMD were not going to be found. Interestingly enough, the embrace of liberalism by George Bush is a complete reversal of the foreign policy position he advocated when he was first elected.
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While it is true that the debate over whether liberalism is a more appropriate foreign policy in the post-September 11 th world is for the reader to decide, what cannot be contested is that it has replaced realism as the predominant foreign policy of the Bush administration, evidenced most directly by the War in Iraq. It seems clear that, if one accepts the definition of realist principles offered at the outset of this essay, neither of the wars discussed fits its paradigm. To recap, realism was defined as being made up of three separate components: A point-by-point comparison of each conflict to these three components of realist thought show adherence to none of them.
Neither the VC nor Iraqi military posed a military threat to the United States or challenged its superiority; neither the expansion of communism into South Vietnam nor the actions of Saddam Hussein ever threatened to restructure the balance of power in either region; and U. Both conflicts are strong examples of liberalism in the foreign policy realm. No evidence has been presented to definitively prove that realism is superior to liberalism or vice versa.
Does it matter which one happens to prevail in regards to U. Whether realism or liberalism is the driving force behind foreign policy decisions dictates what foreign policy the United States pursues. Virtually no realist, with the exception of Henry Kissinger, supported either the Vietnam or Iraq Wars. Thus, we can infer that if an ardent realist, other than Henry Kissinger, had been guiding foreign policy during these two eras, United States involvement would have never occurred.
Would this have had made a difference? History and the implications of these historical decisions would have been far different than they are today. If the Vietnam War had never been fought, it can be argued the anti-war movement of the ss would have never materialized for there would have been no war which to be in opposition toand the Liberal domestically speaking party may have developed far differently from what it is today.
Similarly, if the Iraq War had never begun, one could reason that George W. Bush's heightened popularity following September 11 th would have continued, the anti-Bush sentiment dividing Republicans and Democrats would have never developed, the polarization of Congress would have never occurred, and the gridlock in forging domestic policy occurring on Capitol Hill today would have been avoided.
While all of these events are undoubtedly hypothetical, they are not unlikely possibilities.
Therefore, while it seems that foreign policy makers often shift between ideologies be it realism, liberalism, anti-imperialism, hegemonism depending on the situation, it does not make any such shifts any less important. It cannot be expected that in the cohesive world in which we live today, the decisions of a foreign policy giant like the United States will not have monumental implications not only domestically, but internationally, as well.
My point has not been to condemn or condone either school of thought, but only to illustrate the consequences for the county—and indeed the world—of the choices made by those politicians who led the US into Vietnam and Iraq. Daniel Papp et al. Pearson Education Inc,p. Speech by George W. Bush in The East Room, "President George Bush Discusses Iraq in National News Conference", March 6, 4. Patrick Callahan, Logics of American Foreign Policy New York: