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Stephen Herrington

Stephen Herrington

Posted March 30, 2009 | 12:22 PM (EST)

No Vietnam is This


I got a high number in the first draft lottery and was not required to go and did not go to Vietnam. Whatever reasons I had for not volunteering would seem obsequious. But, to compare our current Afghanistan involvement with Vietnam or even the Soviet experience there, as some in the more yellow of presses have been doing, is disingenuous.

Jon Soltz does a very good job of deconstructing the Obama plan for dealing with the current situation in Afghanistan. I would simply add a more abstract view, if you will read on.

This is not the Afghanistan that defeated the British Empire or the Soviet Union. This is not Vietnam and is in no danger of becoming a Vietnam. This is a lousy situation, purposely allowed to fester by a Republican Administration and Congress that lacked the philosophical inclination to deal with by any method other than force. It is a neo-con creation and, simply, requires an anti neo-con solution, which has been proposed by Obama.

What Afghanistan and Vietnam have historically had in common is Russia, either as a tsarist or communist hegemony. The Afghans were Russian proxies fighting the British in three wars from the mid 1800s to 1919, over the trade route of the Khyber Pass. The Soviet Union fought Afghans, Afghans as proxies for the West, in the 1980s. The USA fought the North Vietnamese, Vietnamese as proxies for Russia, in our Vietnam war. We now fight, ostensibly, only Afghans and few thousands of Arab expatriates.

There is a big difference. Afghanistan today is not a proxy fight between superpowers. In Vietnam it was not only a war of attrition for servicemen's lives, it was a war of economic attrition. Each side calculated the escalation of the war to match the other side against a backdrop of the unthinkable Mutual Assured Destruction. In the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, a similar game was played. We gave arms and technology to the Mujahedeen in as much as we could and still avoid direct confrontation with the USSR. In these cases and in the British experience, none were fighting the Afghans, they were fighting an antagonist superpower by proxy.

The Afghan conflict, in which we find ourselves, is a war simply neglected, materially and strategically. The strategy that is now moving into place was always available and just not tried, for whatever reason. In the nation of Pakistan we have had an ally in some kind of fallacious marketing sense. They have taken our money to support a government that did only dog and pony shows in lieu of containing the Taliban and Al Qaeda. If and when the Pakistani government can be brought to bear on a mission to actually attack and destroy militant elements in their northern provinces, the war will end.

With Pakistani participation, the Taliban will be caught between two forces, and will not have the luxury of a safe haven like the Viet Cong, the Mujahedeen, or even Robin Hood had. They will not have funding, technology, arms and ammunition delivered through a friendly, or at least not hostile, route, and the arms and ammunition will dry up. An army isolated from armament supply is an army defeated. Defeating the social motives, which power the insurrection, is then a matter of charity.

Modern military doctrine on fighting an insurrection is premised on cold war assumptions. And cold war assumptions are an uninterrupted flow of support for insurgents from local, regional and international interests. They are worst case scenarios because the cold war saw the worst cases possible. Afghanistan is, by far, not the worst case, it is the neglected case.

As the noose is tightened on the Taliban and Al Qaeda, the Taliban will go underground and Al Qaeda will flee to other nations. Diplomacy and reconstruction efforts will eventually mollify the Taliban. Al Qaeda will find a place to fight us where we are not. That, after all, is the first principle of guerrilla war. That new venue for Al Qaeda is likely to be Iraq. As the U.S. pulls out, Al Qaeda will move in and disrupt the fragile peace between Sunni and Shia like they did in 2005. We will be playing an international game of Whack a Mole for quite some time.

In case you are wondering why the Iraq insurgency has lasted so long, it is the fault of Rumsfeld's Pentagon. On overrunning the weapons stores of Saddam's army, the third largest army in the world, Rumsfeld ordered our troops not to secure them. The stores were looted and those armaments are what still fuels the Iraqi insurgency. A more significant deed of military incompetence has not been accomplished, not since the charge of The Light Brigade.

The Bush Administration built the set for an "international war on terror", enlisted the players and opened this play on the international Broadway of conflicts. In some sense it only continues to play because we keep buying tickets. At the root core of our strategy, then, must be a careful examination of what our real motives are in paying to keep this show running.