Sunday 15 November 2009

Why Afghanistan isn't Vietnam

In Vietnam, we cherished a lot of Cold-War myths about virtually all of the players involved: we had drunk the McCarthy Koolaid for so long, and terrorized ourselves with fear of Communism for so many years, that we persuaded ourselves that Communism was so obviously horrible that Communism's grip on the North Vietnamese would waver, while the American people and the South Vietnamese would never hesitate in pursuing the enemy. The fact was that Ho Chi Minh was much more a nationalist than a Communist and he was giving his people what they wanted, the expulsion of the invaders; that the South Vietnamese didn't see the difference between northern dictators and southern dictators as worth dying for; and that the American people were ready to take a breath and rethink the whole adventure.

LBJ wanted to get out of Vietnam but he felt as though he was being dragged helplessly to the right; he was positive the right would crush him if he surrendered Vietnam to the Communists. Nixon, contrariwise, felt pulled to the left -- he committed from the beginning to withdrawal, and fatally compromised the South Vietnamese government to get out quickly. Obama is perfectly willing to put troops in or pull them out, regardless of the political blowback -- provided that the strategy is right.

Also, LBJ's decision making process was crippled by the terror generated by the Tet offensive, coming just at the start of the 1968 campaign. Contrariwise, not only has the terror of 911 worn off over eight years, bin Laden has made it almost impossible to terrorize us, by hitting us harder than any future terrorist ever could (probably), and the Bush administration also wore out our Fear Reflex by the constant, endless efforts to push our fear buttons. Day after day: "FOX TERROR ALERT! FOX TERROR ALERT! FOX TERROR ALERT! FOX TERROR ALERT! FOX TERROR ALERT! FOX TERROR ALERT!"

America still has fears and hatred about al-Qa'ida just as we did about the Communists, but that has not blinded us (most of us, anyway) to the notion that the cost/benefit score on this conflict simply may not justify staying the course. We are facing reality about the eating-soup-with-a-knife effort to nail down the Taleban which usually is hiding in Pakistan where we can't go, and about the crooks in Kabul. Unlike 1968, we are allowed to have a public debate about these issues -- Eikenberry and McChrystal are publicly trading potshots. The brickbats which the Republicans are throwing at Obama are being written off as just another slam-Obama effort. And again, Obama has publicly shown his willingness to reject an escalation plan if it is not backed with realistic, well-crafted strategy.

We as a people are more clear-eyed, harder to frighten, more ready to consider crafting Afghan policy based on logic instead of emotion, and led by a man who isn't afraid to make unpopular decisions if he needs to.

So relax! It's not 1968!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"So relax! It's not 1968!"
Whew! Thank goodness.