Sunday, December 6, 2009

Misgivings About Obama's Afghanistan Policy

By Manifesto Joe

After several days to ruminate on the matter, I still find myself in a state of utter ambivalence about President Obama's decision to ramp up the Afghanistan war. I want this president to succeed -- but I faintly smell napalm in the morning, and I don't love that smell. This involvement is beginning to look a lot like a small-scale Vietnam with sand and mountains.

Although I have what I believe is a healthy skepticism about war in general, I'm no pacifist. My left knee doesn't jerk every single time the U.S. embarks upon military action. But there are just enough Vietnam parallels to make this a bit disturbing.

First, the Differences

There are contrasts between this action and the invasion -- yep, I said invasion -- of Vietnam. The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong never attacked Americans on our own soil -- ever. One could argue that neither did the Taliban. But they harbored people who did -- namely, Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida.

I would characterize the initial U.S. assault on the Taliban as justified, as does Obama. It's just a shame that the Bush-ordered action didn't result in a quick knockout (the capture or killing of bin Laden), and that opened the door for all kinds of international mischief by the Il Doofus administration, most tragically the Iraq invasion.

In contrast, I would characterize the U.S. invasion of Vietnam as virtually a rogue action, with little justification at its core. I have concluded this largely with the benefit of hindsight. At the time, without hindsight, many if not most Americans wore blinders about 'Nam. Obstructing vision on one side was the Domino Theory, which now looks like nonsense. Blocking the other side was the notion of a monolithic communist threat, the idea that a commie is a commie is a commie. That's no more true than a fascist is a fascist is a fascist, or a capitalist is a capitalist is a capitalist. Any broadly drawn political or economic ideology will contain within it some diversity, even conflict.

The assumption in Vietnam was that a communist there was the same as a Soviet one, or a Chinese one. And of course, a common view during the Cold War was that any and all communists must be opposed, at any cost and regardless of ethics. We largely know now, 40 years later, that some communist regimes were expansionist, while others were not and are not now.

Around 1946, Vietnamese communist leader Ho Chi Minh actually approached the U.S. for support, with an appeal to our sense of independence and self-determination. He was ignored, and we backed the French colonialists in that war. In 1954, with the French in defeat, the Geneva Accord called for a plebiscite for eventual reunification of Vietnam. The U.S. opposed and ultimately blocked that vote -- because it was sincerely feared that Ho would WIN. So much for democracy and self-determination of peoples.

The U.S. involvement in Vietnam was fatally flawed from the beginning. I don't believe that to be the case in Afghanistan, where arguably, a much more clear and present danger was lurking, and the leader of our enemy would never have invoked the name of George Washington, as did Ho.

Here's Where the Involvements Start to Look Alike

-- In Afghanistan, as in Vietnam, we're fighting seasoned guerrillas who have fought multiple foes, generationally, and prevailed because of the simple fact that they wouldn't quit. The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong lost every major battle, and it's estimated that about 3 million Vietnamese died during the U.S. involvement. Yet they fought on, against us and many of their own people. It eventually became too expensive for the invaders to sustain their effort.

-- Afghanistan, like Vietnam, is a place that has been historically untenable for any occupiers, all the way back to Alexander the Great. The British and the Soviets found the place equally inhospitable. Can the U.S. expect a different result?

-- The Karzai "government" bears more than a passing resemblance to the corrupt General Thieu regime in South Vietnam. With friends like that, it was harder to fight the enemy. And yet, we expect to establish a strong, democratic and relatively honest central government in a place that has never known one?

Again, I want the Obama presidency to succeed. The U.S. is just starting to emerge from 28 years of political reaction. Obama's success is crucial for keeping America from lurching back into the stupor of the Reagan/Bush/Gingrich/Bush II years.

But I fear he's in a no-win situation. He's escalating, and if it doesn't "work" soon, the Republicans will hammer him. If he had refused to do so and started a gradual withdrawal, there's a serious danger that the Taliban would eventually retake Kabul, and Obama would certainly be blamed for that and characterized as weak.

Since I can't be less ambivalent about this, I'll wrap up. My hope is that, seemingly against the odds indicated by history, Obama can somehow have the U.S. emerge from this involvement relatively unmuddied, and with our re-energized progressive movement still intact. He has my very, very reluctant support.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.


Ron Southern said...

I'm sorry, but I withdraw all support (not that it would paid for a taxi ride to the end of the block). For all the reasons that you named, I don't think it can work. Obama is now just another variation of "the big tough American" out to fix the world.

Jack Jodell said...

I think you have summed the scenario up nicely and are correct in your analysis, Manifesto Joe. This is SUCH a slippery slope. With warmongers like Dick and Liz Cheney out beating their drums every day, it is a very sorry scene. I just hope we don't see the emergence of another manufactured "Gulf of Tonkin incident" this time around. I wouldn't put anything past the Cheneys, or mercenary members of the military/industrial complex like Blackwater...

Marc McDonald said...

As much as I despise Republicans, I have to admit, I'm in the Ron Paul camp on the issue of overseas military involvement.

If I had it my way, we'd withdraw from both Iraq and Afghanistan and close all overseas military bases.

Neither Iraq or Afghanistan is a winnable war. Both will drag on for many years, with the only result being the deaths of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children civilians and the waste of trillions of our tax dollars.

Incidentally, the Islamic terrorist threat the U.S. faces is a RESULT of the U.S. presence in many Islamic nations. Our actions overseas cause blowback (the CIA's own term) and that leads to things like 9/11.

We can expect more blowback in the future as a result of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We're only making things worse by continuing those misguided wars.

Does anyone else find it strange that a nation like Sweden never faces terrorist attacks and yet that nation has no military bases overseas and a small defense budget?

Manifesto Joe said...

Hi, guys. Marc, I agree that "blowback" has brought much grief to the U.S., and perhaps quite deservedly. But then you face a problem of what, pragmatically, to do once a devastating attack has already occurred. I wish the U.S. could go back to having a small Army and withdraw from world conflicts even more than ever in the past. History gives me the impression that this would be another nasty attack waiting to happen. The hard thing for the U.S. is going to be how to find some reasonable middle ground -- to have enough military power to deter bullies, but to cease being an international bully ourselves.

Marc McDonald said...

Hi, Manifesto Joe, you make some good points, but:
>>History gives me the impression
>>that this would be another nasty
>>attack waiting to happen.

Yes, but let's face it, the U.S. WILL face more 9/11 style attacks. Does anyone really believe seriously otherwise?

Al Qaeda took eight years after the 1993 WTC attacks to launch another major attack on 9/11.

This group is patient and quietly takes years and years to very meticulously put together attacks.

Yes, we've deterred a few attacks since then. But the people we've arrested are frankly a bunch of amateur bozos. Maybe they were inspired by AQ---but they weren't THE AQ that hit us on 9/11. The latter are pros and are lethally efficient. And I don't believe they've even tried to attack since us since 9/11....instead, they're biding their time and fine-tuning their plans. After all, unlike in a conventional war, there's no real hurry, or deadlines to meet. Timelines are unimportant. Success is all that matters.

And I can't believe that the ongoing wars in Iraq or Afghanistan have done anything whatsoever to deter any future 9/11s.

To the contrary: the U.S. has invested so many resources into pursuing those wars that we are still shockingly vulnerable at home.

Example: the vast majority of cargo entering America is still not screened in any meaningful way.

And random spot tests by officials have indicated that it's still amazingly easy to smuggle weapons aboard commercial airliners.

Nothing substantial has really changed since 9/11 in protecting the American homefront. The only real difference is that now we're required to take off our shoes when entering an airport terminal.

Manifesto Joe said...

I agree that Iraq was a complete waste as far as deterring any future 9-11. Afghanistan may be another matter. AQ has already shown us, quite vividly, that they can reach us. An important thing for them to know is that we can also reach them.

Anonymous said...

Why don't you Liberals GET WITH THE PROGRAM and support your country for a change. The troops who are putting their lives on the line in this Moslem nations are protecting YOUR freedoms. If we don't fight them there, then we will surely face them here. Why don't you Libs enlist and serve your country.....seems like the Republicans are the only ones with the balls to put on the uniform and serve their country during time of war.

Manifesto Joe said...

Hi, Anon:

You mean conservatives like Dick Cheney, with all those draft deferments? How many was it -- 5?

Manifesto Joe said...


Then I seem to remember Rush Limbaugh getting out of the draft because of a boil on his fat ass ...

Marc McDonald said...

On Fox News last night, Dick Cheney accused Obama of "giving aid and comfort" to our nation's enemies. (In other words, committing treason).

I may do a piece on my blog about this, if I get the chance.

But in the meantime, I just have to ask (1) Who the f*ck cares about what Dick Cheney thinks and (2) Why is it that the Libs sit back and let the GOP pound them like this time and time again---and yet we never take off the gloves and respond forcefully?

SJ said...

@Marc McDonald:
Right on. Dick Cheney is now the Vice President of his own home and nothing more.
He and his administration dropped the ball on 9/11. He has no business telling anyone what would make us safer. The biggest terrorist attack on our soil happened on his watch. That is in fact what has made us "less safe." That, and the wars he was co-architect of.