Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Is Afghanistan America's Newest Vietnam -- A Commentary

Photo from The Telegraph

Obama’s Vietnam -- Newsweek

The analogy isn't exact. But the war in Afghanistan is starting to look disturbingly familiar.
About a year ago, Charlie Rose, the nighttime talk-show host, was interviewing Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the military adviser at the White House coordinating efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. "We have never been beaten tactically in a fire fight in Afghanistan," Lute said. To even casual students of the Vietnam War, his statement has an eerie echo. One of the iconic exchanges of Vietnam came, some years after the war, between Col. Harry Summers, a military historian, and a counterpart in the North Vietnamese Army. As Summers recalled it, he said, "You never defeated us in the field." To which the NVA officer replied: "That may be true. It is also irrelevant."

Vietnam analogies can be tiresome. To critics, especially those on the left, all American interventions after Vietnam have been potential "quagmires." But sometimes clich├ęs come true, and, especially lately, it seems that the war in Afghanistan is shaping up in all-too-familiar ways. The parallels are disturbing: the president, eager to show his toughness, vows to do what it takes to "win." The nation that we are supposedly rescuing is no nation at all but rather a deeply divided, semi-failed state with an incompetent, corrupt government held to be illegitimate by a large portion of its population. The enemy is well accustomed to resisting foreign invaders and can escape into convenient refuges across the border. There are constraints on America striking those sanctuaries. Meanwhile, neighboring countries may see a chance to bog America down in a costly war. Last, there is no easy way out.

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My Comment: For the past few months I have started to realize that present trends are not favorable for a NATO/U.S. victory in Afghanistan. I was hopeful a year ago .... I am not now.

The terrain is impossible to control. There are hundreds of different tribes and ethnic groups .... and almost all of them have a history of hostility towards each other. The Central Government itself is worse than useless, with corruption everywhere and a sense of "who cares" now permeating Afghan ministries and officials.

You have the Drug Lords, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, religious extremists, the War Lords, the Afghan Central Government, Provincial leaders who want to push a separate agenda from everyone else. Add in outside power interference from India, Pakistan, Iran .... and who knows who else.

No infrastructure. No valuable resources. No legal system. Inadequate schools. Non-existent social services. A million heroin addicts .... and land mines from 25 years ago scattered everywhere. Slums that now hold millions. No work. No hope. No future.

Vietnam looks like a cakewalk when compared to Afghanistan.

The misery index is off the scale. And no one has any solutions. Even the Taliban will never be able to bring any semblance of normalcy to the country if they should ever gain power.

Afghanistan needs humanitarian assistance and an army of at least 500,000 soldiers. But this is not going to happen. The world's financial crisis has cut off any hope for increases in aid, and no one wants to put soldiers into Afghanistan right now.

Afghanistan is a doomed state for the next few decades .... and so is our mission.

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