Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Drinking the Kool Aid

In an appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1970, now

Senator John Kerry questioned the committee on how you ask a soldier to be the last one

to die for a mistake. That was about Vietnam. Fast forward to today. Kerry, just back from

Afghanistan and Pakistan, has had an obvious change of heart. He now appears willing to

ask our latest generation of soldiers to die for the same mistake again. An adamant opponent

of the War in Vietnam, Kerry has somehow come to feel Afghanistan is not Vietnam.

Afghanistan is the good war. This is the war that's OK to fight. Somehow the cause in

Afghanistan is just, even as it was unjust and a mistake in Iraq and Vietnam. Will we never


Recently, the New York Times had an article explaining how the Taliban of

Afghanistan is very different from the Taliban of Pakistan. The Taliban in Afghanistan is

led by Mullah Omar. They are a nationalist movement whose goal is to once again control

Afghanistan as they did prior to 2001. They are a group composed mainly of Pashtuns,

the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, and they defeated a Northern Alliance of warlords

mainly composed of Tajiks. They have a shadow government already in place in the parts

of Afghanistan they control. They collect taxes, provide some social services, and even have

a court system based on "Sharia law". The Taliban of Afghanistan were created with the help

of the Pakistani intelligence service in order to counter the influence of India in Afghanistan.

According to the Times, they do not share the global jihad sentiments of the Pakistani

Taliban or al Qaeda.

Despite Senator Kerry's assurances, Afghanistan resembles Vietnam in any number

of ways. First, it is a civil war as was Vietnam. Just as it was North Vietnam vs. South

Vietnam, Afghanistan pits the forces of the Northern Alliance and President Hamid Karzai

from the North/West against the Taliban in the South/East. Second, like South Vietnam,

the government is corrupt and losing support among the people. According to the Times,

warlords who used to fight the Taliban have joined them to fight Karzai because of the

corruption. There is no way to defeat the Taliban without an honest government that enjoys

popular support. This is true in Afghanistan just as it was in Vietnam. In Vietnam, President

Kennedy approved the assassination of the South Vietnamese President in order to replace

him with someone the people might support (a puppet government approved by the U.S.).

It didn't work. The U.S. recently pressured Karzai to call a new election because the previous

one was proven corrupt. If he is re-elected there will still be no guarantee of popular support.

Third, as in Vietnam, we face an enemy on their home turf who are battle-hardened with

lessons learned in their war against Soviet occupation and techniques taught to them by

those currently fighting us in Iraq. They are comfortable waiting us out and inflicting

unacceptable levels of casualties, elementary tactics of guerilla warfare. Finally, as in

Vietnam, no one can define what victory would look like in Afghanistan. No one can lay out

an exit strategy nor can they say how long our troops would have to fight in country.

General McChrystal says counter-insurgency takes at least ten years. Is Senator Kerry

saying we will commit American blood and treasure for at least ten more years? And then

what, ten more years after that?

Senator Kerry says Afghanistan is the "good" war because they committed mass

murder on September 11th. The reality is the Taliban allowed al Qaeda to have a safe haven

and operate training camps (as Pakistan does now). However, the Taliban played no role

in the September 11th attacks; just as Saddam Hussein played no role in them either. Yet

now Senator Kerry wishes to use September 11th as a justification for increasing American

military forces and America's commitment. He hasn't yet endorsed 40,000 more troops,

but he is not articulating a policy which Americans can judge and decide whether the effort

is worthwhile or not.

There is no government in Afghanistan with popular support. There is no infrastructure

of police, courts, local government, or even decent roads in much of the country. People

do not feel safe and don't like the large number of NATO troops currently occupying their

country without producing what was promised, better security and better political progress.

For eight years, Afghanistan was ignored by the Bush Administration. Bush, as

Commander in Chief, allowed Mullah Omar and bin Laden to escape at Tora Bora and then

stripped the country of equipment and personnel. That's history. President Obama recently

sent an additional 20,000 troops and according to General McChrystal things have gotten

worse. Once again, we have a direct parallel to Vietnam. Presidents Kennedy, Johnson,

and Nixon sent more and more troops at the same time as the situation was deteriorating.

North Vietnam was willing to sacrifice one million men and women in order to win. Winning

was easily defined for them. If America leaves, Vietnam wins. No definition of victory

existed for America then as now. American soldiers are once again being asked to go tens

of thousands of miles away from home. They will be fighting on the enemy's home field.

They will be facing a battle-hardened enemy willing to die in order to win, an enemy fighting

for their own land and families and future.

We need to end this pattern of starting and sustaining wars which have no chance

of victory because our leaders have no idea what victory would mean. If the Taliban in

Afghanistan agreed to keep al Qaeda out, restrict or reduce the opium trade, and not allow

their country to be used to destabilize Pakistan; would we accept this?

It is being reported President Obama, Vice President Biden, Senators Kerry and

Levin and others want to send more troops, but just not as many as General McChrystal

asked for or says he needs. This is just creeping incrementalism and also parallels the

experience of Vietnam. We cannot ask another soldier to die or a family to lose a child

for a cause which is as clear as mud. Bring them home. Are we ever going to learn the

lesson that repeating the same action over and over again while expecting different results

is truly the definition of insanity? What do you think? I welcome your comments and

rebuttals. Please send them to

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