Sunday, October 26, 2014

Why the Middle Path is often the worse option (regarding U.S. foreign policy)

       Ever since the Buddha spoke of the middle path over 2400 years ago, it has become an attractive option. To navigate between two extremes seems like a good idea, and it is often the most stable one. However, as the past 60 years have shown, regarding wars and foreign policy, this can be the worst.

     A classic example of this was the Vietnam War. In 1961, as tensions between the North and South were shapely escalating, the Pentagon gave Kennedy a report, the December 1961 White Paper. It proposed a sharp increase in military and civilian assistance to South Vietnam. Had Kennedy ignored the report, the war could have been avoided all together, and had he fully done what it recommended, these actions would have strengthened the South Vietnamese government and allowed it to better defend itself against North Vietnam. But instead, Kennedy went for the middle path, which dragged the U.S. into a long war but did not support Saigon as much as it could have. Another decisive mistake was made in 1968. In the Tet offensive, after initial victories the Viet Kong was beaten back  and faced heavy losses. General Westmoreland, the general in charge of the war in Vietnam, requested 206,000 addition troops to deliver a decisive blow against North Vietnam. By granting his request, it is possible that the Vietnam War could have been won, or ended in a stalemate. Alternatively, by withdrawing completely, the U.S. would have saved billions of dollars and thousands of lives. Instead, Johnson choose the middle ground, neither a decisive counter-offensive nor a complete withdrawal. Because of this mistake, the U.S. allowed its ally to be defeated at a high cost of both human lives and U.S. dollars.  A few years after the U.S. eventually withdrew, South Vietnam was conquered, with 58,220 American casualties and about 758.4 billion American dollars (in today's dollars) spent. However, the war was not a complete failure, for it did help prevent communism from spreading anywhere else in South-East Asia. It also cost the U.S.S.R. money in aid, training, weapons and solders stationed there, thus indirectly leading its demise. However, an inefficient economy and the Soviet-Afghan War more directly effected its collapse, and since the actual costs cannot be obtained easily, the real impact of the Vietnam War on the U.S.S.R. is uncertain. Additionally, the countries on the Southeast Asian mainland that were not hostile toward the U.S. (Laos, Cambodia and Thailand) had a combined population of 53.935 million at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, while Vietnam had a population of 48.03 million, nearly the same amount. Thus the most populous country in the region had completely fallen to communist. The middle path led to the worst of all plausible outcomes: a costly war in both lives and dollars that ended in defeat.!ctype=l&strail=false&bcs=d&nselm=h&met_y=sp_pop_totl&scale_y=lin&ind_y=false&rdim=region&idim=country:VNM:THA:LAO:KHM&ifdim=region&hl=en_US&dl=en&ind=false

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