The results on the ground were not pretty. A reasonably stable non-French, non-communist government emerged in the South only after more than a year of turmoil that at times rose to the level of civil war; within a year and a half of the departure of the last French ship from Haiphong harbor, portions of central North Vietnam were convulsed by a peasant uprising against the Hanoi government. Viewing the situation from the perspective of how it managed a counter insurgency, these results were about as good as could be expected, and the French conflict-termination looks good in comparison to that of their successor in the conflict, the United States.

Ironically, after a rough start, American forces and their South Vietnamese allies effectively suppressed the Viet Cong insurgency in the South between the failure of the communist 1968 Têt Offensive and 1970-71. By then, however, the American public had concluded that the expenditure of blood and treasure was more than the stakes warranted, and this public opposition created the pressure to begin the withdrawal of American ground forces, then on the withdrawal of all direct American military support, and finally on the curtailment of financial support to South Vietnam. While US advisors and air power helped South Vietnamese forces drive back a major conventional invasion from the north in 1972, by 1975 American patience was at an end and, despite occasionally heroic stands by South Vietnamese forces, communist forces rolled to victory. American officials on the spot, particularly Ambassador to Saigon Graham Martin, responded in an inchoate manner. Unwilling to accept the reality that South Vietnam was doomed, HE began serious measures to secure the evacuation of US citizens and friendly South Vietnamese and other foreign nationals at risk only at the eleventh hour.

The final evacuation was mounted belatedly, using helicopters based aboard US Navy ships in the South China Sea, and while a significant number of evacuees were brought out, including essentially all Americans who wanted to be evacuated, belated and faulty implementation ensured that among friendly Vietnamese the bulk of those most a risk were left behind. Unlike the French, the Americans had failed to plan effectively for defeat, with disorder and chaos resulting.

By contrast, the earlier evacuation of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, had gone surprisingly well and only the refusal of the Cambodian government to release its own citizens had precluded the evacuation of a significant number of Khymer who, as we now know, would die at the hands of the Khymer Rouge.

France and Algeria
Our next case study is French conflict termination in Algeria (especially 1954-1962). The Algerian rebellion began with a spontaneous anti-French uprising in the immediate aftermath of VE Day in 1945. The initial uprising was put down with bloody and now infamous ruthlessness, but French retreat in Indochina fueled nationalist aspirations and anti-French sentiment among the Arab populace, and by 1955 the French were faced with a full-bore insurgency. In a limiting case of military control of strategic objectives and military means, the French Army responded with force and ferocity, making widespread and effective use of torture to break into guerrilla cells, effectively ending the insurgency in urban areas and driving it to the ground in the countryside. As part of their strategy, the French worked hard and successfully to bring elements of the Arab populace over to their side, and at the end French-armed anti-insurgents, the so-called Harkis, far outnumbered the nationalist insurgents.

But military victory had been purchased at a cost in human suffering rejected not only by international opinion, but by the vast majority of the French public. The result was President de Gaulle's decision to accept defeat and withdraw, granting Algerian independence. That decision prevailed despite a revolt by French forces in Algeria that threatened to overthrow the government in Paris, the last attempt at a military coup d'etat in a western democracy.

Just how many Algerians who had supported the French died in the early days of independence will never be known, but the total is surely staggering. Of equal or greater importance over the long term, French tactics desensitized many Algerians to violence. This desensitization expressed itself in a fundamentalist insurgency against the secular post-independence government. The horrendous consequences are still being worked out today, over a half century after French defeat. If the French in Indochina get a B+ in conflict termination, because there was an attempt to create the time and space for an orderly end to the conflict, and the US in Indochina gets a D-, for exactly the opposite reasons, the French in Algeria get a solid F. The extreme violence of the events in Algeria convulsed both Algerian and French society, and those events remain a black mark on French history and a destabilizing force in Algerian society.

The Portuguese Empire
Our next case involves the dissolution of the Portuguese colonial empire in Africa and Asia. Communist-supported guerrilla insurgencies got under way in the African countries of Mozambique, Guinea and Angola; and in Indonesia's Timor region in the early 1960s and entered what turned out to the their final phase in the wake of American withdrawal from Vietnam. By this time, Portugal had become an impoverished country, but it was not the financial cost of combating the insurgencies that brought the Portuguese empire down, rather it was defeatism among the soldiers who were fighting it, combined with the growth of communist influence within the Portuguese Army. In essence, paraphrasing a reporter for the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Portuguese threw the keys to city hall on the table and went home. Of our case studies, this was surely the most unplanned and un-systematic example of conflict termination, and although not as widely known as the Algerian or Vietnamese cases, arguably the most destructive. Timor, with the least-developed anti-Portuguese resistance, enjoyed a terrible fate, first under brutal Indonesian occupation before finally asserting independence. Both Angola and Mozambique were engulfed in multi-sided civil wars of incredible brutality from which they are only now beginning to emerge. Only Guinea has enjoyed reasonably orderly transition to independence, a function of the uncommon abilities of the leaders of the resistance. Like the French in Algeria, the Portuguese get an F, because the Portuguese neglected to confront the power vacuum left by their departure and the chaos that resulted from it.

The Soviets in Afghanistan
Finally, we have the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, a case that in many ways parallels that of the French in Algeria. Like the French in Algeria, the Soviets and their clients in Afghanistan made liberal use of torture and atrocity, and, as in Algeria, the insurgents replied in kind. As with France in Algeria, but in a somewhat different way—economic considerations rather than popular revulsion seem to have been the driving factor—the Soviet body politic wearied of the conflict and withdrew, leaving a full-blown civil war in their wake. As with the French in Algeria, the Soviets seem to have had no systematic plan for disengagement, and, as in the Algerian case, the human toll of the ensuing years of civil war and ruthless suppression of secularism by the victorious Taliban will never be known, but it was surely huge. The Soviets, too, receive an F, especially when we look at the fracturing of Afghani society and the rise of the Taliban that followed in the wake of Soviet withdrawal.

The Lessons of Recent History
Looking back on this largely sad history of conflict termination in the post WWII era we can draw a few conclusions. The conflicts reviewed here, except the Soviets in Afghanistan, stemmed from the collapse of larger imperial systems: the French in Indochina, the French in northern Africa, and the Portuguese in southwestern Africa. Thus, the failure to plan adequately for the end of these conflicts might be seen as a consequence of the end of empire. The U.S. has no long colonial history in either Afghanistan or Iraq, but the Iraqis certainly have their own collective memory of occupation by foreign powers, starting with the Ottomans, then the British. As was the case with American involvement in Vietnam, therefore, the U.S., as mounting evidence suggests, is now viewed as simply the latest colonial occupier, at least by some sectors of Iraqi society. One man's "liberation" might well be another man's "occupation."

More ominously, however, it increasingly appears that the U.S. embarked on the war in Iraq without sufficient post-war planning, nor is there much evidence, nearly five years into the war, that there is even now sufficient planning for how to end it, especially given the painstaking groundwork needed that can often take years to lay. Our record at the end of the Vietnam War does not give cause for optimism. In this sense, the U.S. might find itself exactly in the position of European colonial powers that found it easier to get into their colonies than they found it to get out of them. Finally, and perhaps this is most discouraging, it has taken years for these developing nations to recover from the effects of ineffective conflict-termination. Indeed, some, like Afghanistan and Cambodia, have not done so yet. The examples reviewed here, then, remind us that when Ambassador Ryan Crocker testified before Congress in September 2007 and described Iraq as a "traumatized society," such societies often take a very long time to heal.