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.