When Creighton Abrams took over the command of U.S. forces in Vietnam in 1968, he altered the way the U.S. fought to stress working with the population, shifting the focus from body counts to population security, that is protecting the people from the Communists. He emphasized small unit operations aimed at defending villages and hamlets, forcing the North Vietnamese to attack U.S. forces in places and at times advantageous to the U.S.
His approach showed promise. But by then the U.S. population had turned against the war, and, after the peace accords of 1973, Congress eventually stopped even our air support to the South Vietnamese and withheld weapons, supplies, and funds from the South Vietnamese military, who were totally dependent upon us for resources. That assured that the North Vietnamese would win the war.
Whether the U.S. could have had the wisdom to shape Vietnamese politics so as to assure democracy and the rule of law in South Vietnam is another question entirely. And on that question hinges whether we could have achieved political victory. But militarily, we were turning things around when the people of the U.S. decided the war must end, even if that meant shame and defeat.
That said, if we as a nation have learned nothing else from our failure, let us learn not to abandon the allies who have fought at our side and leave them to the mercy of our joint enemy. Our actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria—where we abandoned the Kurds who had fought by our side for years—suggest to me that we have not learned that lesson.
What does it take for us to learn the lessons of our failures?