"It became necessary to destroy the town to save it', a United States major said today. He was talking about the decision by allied commanders to bomb and shell the town regardless of civilian casualties, to rout the Vietcong." - Peter Arnett, AP Correspondent, Feb. 7, 1968
The lesson we should have learned from our past: destroying a city to save it might win the battle, but seldom wins the war.
America's actions and strategic plans in Mosul are becoming dangerously close to a pattern we saw in Vietnam -- allies we don't fully trust and won't stand their ground, supporting a corrupt and barely competent government, and using overwhelming shock and awe tactics to rout insurgents from civilian areas, often leaving the areas uninhabitable.
And while all this is happening, we have a domestic rhetoric that focuses along the lines of not doing enough to 'win' and blaming the refugee crises on something other than the reign of fire that left them homeless and displaced.
We are now back to the Vietnam reality where areas controlled on a regional map and body counts 'mean' something in the overall war effort -- and not some larger plan for unconditionally winning or honorable peace.
But more importantly, our nation as a whole has totally missed the changing nature of our enemies -- from al Qaeda to ISIS, and the up-and-coming Wahhabist terrorist ideology.
Whether we want to admit it or not, al Qaeda was a political group, with a political agenda, that used religious undertones (sometimes overtly) and terrorism to advance their cause.
To a degree, organizations like this have a certain level of rationality, hierarchy, and infrastructure -- all of which were effectively destroyed to a large extent in the first months of the Afghan war.
ISIS is a theocratic utopian ideal, with the objective of setting up an Islamic State in the glorified image of something that has never existed before -- and they are willing to use all means to set up this state.
As ISIS has evolved and lost 'ground' in their military conquests, they have incorporated many of the Whabbist beliefs, making them even more dangerous.
Because it is up-and-coming, the next group we face will be the Wahhabist movement, entirely bent on world destruction and forcing Islamic prophecy to the inevitable conclusion.
As each of these organizations have become further away from what we would consider political adversaries, we haven't fundamentally changed our views on how to fight and win against them.
But this evolution has also been partially our fault, partially our allies' fault, and mostly from the changes in public sentiment of a prolonged unpopular war.
We have big problems if we ever have to face the Wahhabist movement head-on. Their nihilist doctrine is unwinnable to fight against, other than summarily killing off its adherents as fast as we can.
The House of Saud used to keep this movement in better check, but over the last decade has lost control over it. It is now a growing populist movement throughout Saudi Arabia, with several princes becoming adherents.
We never faced anything quite like this in Vietnam. Our adversaries there were nationalists first, communists second -- and basically were fighting a war to eliminate foreign influence from their soil.
If it were only that simple in the Middle East.
But the bottom line in all of this is that the Vietnam tactic of destroying cities to save them only plays into the hand of the nihilist groups: destruction, chaos, death, anarchy -- all things necessary to bring about the end of the world.
We are being played as fools in terms of their own religious dogma -- and it seems that all too many Americans would gladly play the role of the Grim Reaper in the entire area.
The next president is inheriting a military and geopolitical mess. There is no doubt about this simple reality.
But the next president must also find ways of winning, truly winning a war that by the customary standards of warfare has become unwinnable.
Unique ideas will have to come into play -- and not just more of the same.
While this may be a hard task, we've already devoted trillions of dollars to our failed shock and awe campaigns. Even hundreds of billions in failed ideas would only be a drop in the economic bucket.
But we need ideas, real ideas -- because when fighting an enemy that only cares about the end of the world, you'd better have a clearly defined mission as to how you're going to preserve the area.
Or you just wind up being a pawn in their overall scheme.