Wednesday, October 07, 2009

What if Afghanistan is Not Another Vietnam?

"Generals always fight the last war," goes the cliche. After listening to current public debate over Afghanistan policy, and the recurring invocation of America's Vietnam experience, perhaps that might be updated to something like: "Anti-war activists always fight the last war?"

Of course, any war could become another Vietnam. Such a parallel could easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just run an interminable "limited war" rather than demanding victory. Make strategic decisions for short-term domestic political gain. Give juicy contracts to Kellogg, Brown and Root (which became KBR/Halliburton, for a while). Undermine your allies and the leadership of the country you purport to be defending. Watch domestic public support disappear. See your party crushed at the polls....

But if there is a reasonable strategy, there's no necessity to repeat the Vietnam debacle. Anti-war activists tend to call any war "Vietnam" just because it is a war they oppose. I was around in 1981, and like most New Yorkers, a knee-jerk liberal anti-war protester, when Glenn Silber released a documentary film under the title "El Salvador: Another Vietnam. Unfortunately for Glenn, who might have become his generation's Michael Moore, President Reagan came up with a successful strategy for Central America as one front in the context of a global ideological struggle against Communism--and not too many people remember the film, or even America's war in Central America. Even anti-war activists don't talk much about Central America anymore. So successful was Reagan, that I eventually became a late convert to Reaganism--as did many in the former Soviet Bloc (my university in Tashkent had pictures of Milton Friendman and von Hayek hanging on the walls).

So, speaking from personal experience, it seems clear that defeat of Al Qaeda should put an end to talk of Vietnam redux, even from anti-war activists.

In any case, no Vietnamese ever blew up the World Trade Center or Pentagon. Which in my mind, makes America's conflict with Al Qaeda and the Taliban more akin to World War II after Pearl Harbor. It is unfortunate that George Bush wasn't up to the job. But just because the worst President in the history of the United States couldn't beat Osama Bin Laden (is he dead or alive?), doesn't mean that Barrack Hussein Obama won't be able to do the job that, in my opinion, he was elected to do... And strongly in President Obama's favor is his decision to shoot those Somali pirates a few months ago (piracy headlines have disappeared, since).

Of course, I'm not the only one who believes the Vietnam parallel is forced and phony. General Petraeus said it at an October 1st Washington, DC conference covered by CBS News:
...U.S. commander in the Middle East and Central Asia David Petraeus discussed why, in his mind, it is unwise to draw close comparisons between Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam or assume what worked in one conflict will work in another.