A controversial edition of Newsweek hits newsstands this week, dubbing the war in Afghanistan "Obama's Vietnam." Here's the release with more details:
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WE FACE A DISTURBINGLY FAMILIAR DILEMMA IN AFGHANISTAN--WE MAY NOT BE ABLE TO WIN, BUT WE CAN'T AFFORD TO LOSE
JOHN BARRY AND EVAN THOMAS WRITE, "SOME PROBLEMS DO NOT HAVE A SOLUTION, OR ANY GOOD SOLUTION"
New York--In an essay opening the February 9 Newsweek cover package, "Obama's Vietnam", National Security Correspondent John Barry and Editor-at-Large Evan Thomas lay out the growing parallels between the war in Afghanistan and our long struggle in Vietnam. "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," Barry and Thomas write. "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."
"It's still too early to say exactly what President Obama will do in Afghanistan. But there are some signs--difficult to read with certainty, yet nonetheless suggestive--that reality is sinking in, at least in some important corners of the new administration," Barry and Thomas write. While Afghanistan has always been thought of as a "good war," especially contrasted to Iraq, the fact remains that we have made several strategic mistakes reminiscent of Vietnam that may prevent us from achieving a clean victory, no matter how many troops we send. "Some problems do not have a solution," Barry and Thomas write, "or any good solution."
In a companion piece, Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria offers a four-step plan to help fix the situation in Afghanistan. Zakaria argues that we need to rethink our military strategy--focusing more on securing the roads and major population centers--and help clean up the Kabul government. "Reduced to its simplest level, the goal of American policy in Afghanistan should be to stop creating accidental guerrillas," Zakaria writes. It should make villagers "see U.S. forces as acting in their interests." The most important departure from current thinking would be to make a distinction between Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Were elements of the Taliban to abandon Al Qaeda, we would not have a pressing national-security interest in waging war against them.
Afghanistan is a complex problem, and progress will be slow and limited, but Zakaria argues that it will help immeasurably if we keep in mind the basic objective of U.S. policy there, as outlined by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, "to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a base for terrorists and extremists to attack the United States and its allies." Staying focused on this core mission is the most realistic plan for success.