Thursday, October 8, 2009

Bury Vietnam

In an excellent write-up over at the Daily Beast, Peter Beinart, their Senior Political Writer, dismantles the "Afghanistan is another Vietnam" analogy: "Bury the Vietnam Analogy." The three key points he makes are:

1. He asserts that Afghanistan is a nation whereas South Vietnam was created by the French in 1954. He notes that Afghanistan dates back to 1747 and that the "vast majority of Afghans say their national identity trumps their loyalty to the tribe." I would argue that this is the weakest of the three points he makes: a poll of Afghans? Seems to me the only people that would know enough or could be contacted are going to be the urban residents in Kabul and Kandahar who are one step removed from their tribe - the rest of the country is definitely tribal. But, the older nation argument stands.

2. Beinart then states that the enemy is different. When the U.S. entered the war, we largely took up the part that the French had abandoned...and "Ho Chi Minh was Vietnam's George Washington." The Taliban are not viewed as some kind of unifying nationalist force - they are murderous thugs and often when villages are liberated, they are grateful for U.S. and NATO forces.

3. His final point of difference is that in Vietnam, "we tried." We only recently got above 20,000 troops in Afghanistan versus the half a million we poured into Vietnam. Now warfare has changed dramatically since 1968 and man for man, our military is far more lethal than back then. But point well taken. Our initial arrival in Afghanistan was to take out the regime that had harbored the terrorists that attacked us on 9/11. That mission was accomplished with a very small footprint in the country. Since then, our mission has become befuddled - and now it is especially befuddled with troop morale starting to plummet.

Beinart's conclusion? "Afghanistan isn't Vietnam; it's worse."

Sadly, I tend to agree. Rumbler has never been a fan of nation building on the part of our military. As I have scribbled on these pages in the past, the U.S. military is exceptionally good at "killing people and breaking things." The military that fought the first Gulf War was basically one designed to fight the Soviet Union - big tanks, lots of bombs and missiles, air superiority. The military that fought the second Gulf War and swiftly defeated the Iraqi Army was the same. The military that fought in Afghanistan and defeated the Taliban was far more lethal and cunning. We learned from the Soviets that tanks don't work so well in the Afghan terrain...special forces and working with different tribal factions to achieve our aim does.

But once our initial mission was finished, what then? Eight years on, we are still asking that question. We continue to operate under the cultural ignorance that somehow, we can make democracy happen in a rabidly Islamic and tribal nation. Islam is profoundly anti-democratic. The notions of equality and a rule of law not based in 12th Century jurisprudence are anathema to them.

I do not believe that the "surge" strategy that worked so well in Iraq will work here either. Iraq had a very high literacy rate and an infrastructure in place for success. Further, most of the "bad guys" in Iraq were "out of towners" that the Iraqis didn't like either. In Afghanistan, the Taliban bad guys are native. Most of the Al Queda bad guys are out of towners, but there are precious few of those guys left and most of them are believed to be on the Pakistani side of the border.

I believe that the best option is to get a thug in place that will prevent the country from descending into an Islamic nutjob failed state such that Al Queda and all the other factions of world hatred will have a breeding ground. To accomplish this, we need a commitment of additional forces to buy the time to get the Afghan Army and police force to a point that they can take care of themselves. Once that's done, exit stage right as fast as we can.

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