Afghanistan is not Vietnam and the US is not the USSR

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Comparisons between the Afghanistan conflict and the Vietnam war are completely unfounded as they have little in common. Obama has no choice but to agree to General McChrystal’s request of sending more troops into Afghanistan.

The US entered Afghanistan under the guise of “Operation Enduring Freedom” on October 8, 2001 following 9/11. This means it is more than 8 years since the war began. As a friend of mine noted, “it took the US less time to defeat Japan and Germany in World War II than it has so far taken to subdue the Taliban in Afghanistan.” As we pass the eighth anniversary of the war, there seems to be clear differences of opinion within the US government over the strategy to use whilst responding to the increasingly sophisticated Taliban insurgency. The initial aims of the war were to remove the Taliban from power and destroy their organization, which both supported and facilitated Al-Qaeda’s attacks on New York and the Pentagon. But the reality is that this is taking longer than the entire length of World War II.

Although the war started with overwhelming public support in the US, favor has slowly ebbed away. With surging casualties some American pundits and media sources have started calling the campaign in Afghanistan ‘Obama’s Vietnam,’ US military commanders on the ground are demanding more troops, as in the late 60’s and early 70’s in Vietnam, whilst public approval is waning. However, there is one huge difference: Afghanistan is not Vietnam. This time the US military leadership and strategy is better and the cause is very different. Vietnam was more of an ideological war caught up in the context of the Cold War but Afghanistan is a war of necessity against those who have terrorized innocent people. By calling it ‘Obama’s Vietnam,’ Western pundits fail to recognize the successes of the last eight years. Although Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omer have not yet been arrested, the Al-Qaeda network has been dismantled fairly effectively with many of its senior members killed. Despite Al-Qaeda’s stated desire to launch a major attack, it has not not struck against the West in four years.

Critics are also increasingly drawing similarities between the current situation and the action the USSR took in Afghanistan during the 80’s. For those reading the headlines thousands of miles away it seems terrible. However, for those Afghan’s with dreadful memories of three decades of war – the bloody Soviet occupation followed by the brutal era of the Taliban – it is far better now. Over 1 million Afghans were killed by the Soviet forces whilst around 5 million fled the country. Afghans became the largest refugee diaspora in the world during the 1980s with over 1.2 million people, including children and women, displaced. Initially, the entire population resisted the invasion, but today the resistance is led by a small ethnic minorities who lack mass support. These small groups fight against a UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), composed of troops from 42 different countries including 28 NATO members. Also it must be considered that during the Soviet invasion the entire infrastructure was destroyed but over the last 8 years Afghanistan has had the kind of development in its economy, infrastructure and governance that it has lacked over the last two centuries. The country has never experienced a peaceful transition of power but today we have a democratic government selected by popular vote and an elected parliament. We also have an Afghan army of 90,000 troops and a similar number of police. Right after the Soviet withdrawal these were totally destroyed.

Today, the war in Afghanistan is at a historic juncture. At this crucial stage President Obama is set to take a risky decision. He has to decide between sending more troops in line with General McChrystal’s demand or to reduce forces in accordance with an exit strategy. With the controversial election situation in Kabul, the White House is now re-evaluating its strategy and Obama is stuck with a dilemma. As Henry Kissinger says “if he refuses the recommendation and General McChrystal’s argument that his forces are inadequate for the mission, Obama will be blamed for the dramatic consequences. If he accepts the recommendation, his opponents may come to describe it, at least in part, as Obama’s war.”

President Obama has no other policy option than to acquiesce to Gen. McChrystal’s request. With a range of voices all calling for different priorities, such as a focused targeting of Al-Qaeda leadership or negotiating with the Taliban, many forget that a sophisticated comeback will only be possible with Al-Qaeda funding. Tahir Yaldosh and the many other leaders killed in the tribal areas of Pakistan were the ones who made the Taliban revival possible through a considerable increase in the insurgency. Negotiating with the Taliban will never be a viable policy option. Any separation between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda is only temporary and the West must quickly realize that Afghanistan could easily become the home for international terrorists once again.



Filed under Insurgency, Taliban, US Troops in Afghanistan

4 responses to “Afghanistan is not Vietnam and the US is not the USSR

  1. Pingback: Afghanistan is not Vietnam and the US is not the USSR « Kabul … : Viet Sight

  2. Pingback: Afghanistan is not Vietnam and the US is not the USSR « Kabul … | Afghanistan Today

  3. norris hall

    Fighting the war in Afghanistan may desirable, but like providing Health care for every American it may prove to be too expensive.

    One lesson Republicans and Democrats never seem to learn is that when you are deep in debt (to the tune of 12 trillon dollars), the only way out is to
    1. Cut spending
    2. Raise Taxes
    If anyone knows of another way, please let me know

    If a family is swimming in credit card debt…then dad need to
    1. bring more money in by working two jobs, and
    2. mom and the kids have to give up cell phones, cable tv, Christmas presents and family vacations.

    Increase income. Reduce spending. Pay off credit cards.

    After weeping and protesting about marching against the current administration’s deficit spending, some of those same protestors now want to go out and finance the war in Afghanistan with more borrowed money.
    “We can borrow from the stimulus fund…or from health care”, they proclaim (as if those programs were not being financed with borrowed money).

    This sort of “credit card” mentality is what has gotten us in so much trouble to begin with.
    If you don’t have the money, don’t take on more debt.
    Very simple.

    What the US needs to do is slash government spending by 10% per year…across the board (healthcare, welfare, military…nothing is spared),
    and then hike taxes to raise money EARMARKED TO PAY OFF THE NATIONAL DEBT.

    I’ve heard enough hogwash about neat economic theories like “spending our way to a healthy economy” or “cutting taxes to stimulate prosperity” to know that they don’t worked.

    We’ve had Republican Presidents who have cut taxes and Democratic Presidents who have raised taxes. Except for President Clinton, every President, regardless of party has spent more money than they took in and left the US and our children deeper in debt.


    HELLO, Tea Party Protesters…where are you?????????

  4. neil jay wollman

    What if Afghani citizens were to determine whether the U.S. military continues a surge or withdraws troops? Certainly this is a fitting step in encouraging democracy. It would also provide the incentive for Afghanis to really own and support a chosen policy on the ground. And perhaps the Afghanis themselves know best how to create a stable nation that does not house terrorists.
    In January 2010, Iraq was to hold a referendum on withdrawing the remaining U.S. troops. This plan was scrapped when it became clear it would only reduce U.S. presence by a few months and so was not worth the logistic and financial costs. If a referendum on U.S. troop presence is of merit for Iraqi citizens, is it not also for Afghans, before U.S. troops become more firmly entrenched there?
    Who knows what the Afghans would decide if the choice was theirs. Poll results in Afghanistan have varied by region and ethnicity, with a fairly large margin of error. But Afghanistan could hold a national binding referendum on U.S. military presence at the same time as planned parliamentary elections in September. (Given the experience of their last public vote, for president, improved preparations and precautions are needed.) First, the U.S. President or Congress must assert their intent to open a space to hear the voice of the Afghan people. They could encourage Afghan lawmakers to consider such a referendum as a way of respecting the will of the people and of seeking the support of their own citizens.
    Would a referendum change the dynamics of the war? If the Afghanis voted to keep troops there, then the U.S. could expect better cooperation from the public (in both Afghanistan and the U.S.) and would be confident it is respecting the will of the citizens. (This is especially so if there is strong voter participation and the results show a wide margin.) It might also convince mainly skeptical world opinion and governments to provide more military and other aid. If the Afghanis voted against the troops remaining in Afghanistan, and the U.S. honors that, again we are respecting what Afghanis want for their own country. Then U.S. options might include undertaking training of police and military personnel; providing support for building the country’s economic, political, and educational systems; and making payments to militia in the same way that the U.S., perhaps in large part, bought its way out of an insurgency in Iraq. Significant resources could be made available in all these ways if there was no combat presence to financially support.
    Our nation asserts that it sends its military overseas to protect freedoms at home and promote freedom and democracy elsewhere. The United States can take another step toward democracy in the world by encouraging it in Afghanistan—and it might even bring other benefits, as well. The United States can let the people of Afghanistan choose.
    Cliff Kindy is an organic market gardener and has for the last twenty years worked frequently with Christian Peacemaker Teams in the war zones of the world. [1]
    Neil Wollman is Senior Fellow, Bentley Alliance for Ethics and Social Responsibility, Bentley University, and the author of a 2005 op ed suggesting that Iraqis hold a referendum concerning U.S. troop presence. [2]

    Note to readers: Please direct all communication to the Neil Wollman.
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