Sunday, November 1, 2009

Could Afghanistan Become Obama’s Vietnam?

A recent documentary and book by Daniel Ellsberg, a Defense
Department analyst in the Nixon Administration turned Vietnam era whistle-blower, who is most famous for revealing what is known as the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and Washington Post has written a new book, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers. As a consequence of the book, Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith, co-produced and directed a documentary, The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, based on the escapades of Daniel Ellsberg.

Daniel Ellsberg CSpan-video interview

Martin Knelman, entertainment columnist for, asked Dr. Ellsberg -- Why now? After all, the Pentagon Papers saga has all the ingredients of a great documentary, and it benefits hugely from Ellsberg's own charismatic personality as he narrates the story. But surely the film could have been made long ago.

Dr. Ellsberg responded by saying, … a more important one [among many reasons] is the striking correspondence between what happened in Vietnam back then and what is happening with Afghanistan right now. Ellsberg says that he has no doubt there are other people in high places sitting on the kind of explosive information about Afghanistan that was leaked about Vietnam.

Low and behold, along comes Matthew P. Hoh’s resignation, Political Officer in the Foreign Service and Senior Civilian Representative for the US Government in Zabul Province, Afghanistan, and a former Marine captain with combat experience in Iraq, who said in his letter of resignation: Our support for this kind of government, coupled with a misunderstanding of the insurgency’s true nature, reminds me horribly of our involvement with South Vietnam; an unpopular and corrupt government we backed at the expense of our Nation’s own internal peace, against an insurgency whose nationalism we arrogantly and ignorantly mistook as a rival to our own Cold War ideology.

As Dr. Ellsberg has posited, is it possible that other people in high places are sitting on the kind of explosive information about Afghanistan as was leaked about Vietnam? Why has Obama seemingly put off a decision on Afghanistan? (although I do agree it should not be a hasty decision, and President Obama should obtain all the facts and alternatives before making a decision, it, never-the-less, does seem clear to me he is sitting on it for some unknown reason) Why was Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's assessment of the war in Afghanistan prematurely leaked (for most all leaks are purposeful) by the Department of Defense? Could there be a house of cards that may be ready to tumble?

From people whose opinions I value, they say we are headed for another Vietnam. Particularly if we intensify the war by sending more troops, and militarily take on Pakistan as we did with Laos and Cambodia during the Vietnam War.

Andrew J. Bacevich, a West Point graduate who served in Vietnam, whose son was killed in action in Iraq, and who is at present professor of international relations at Boston University, gave strong Senate testimony on Afghanistan, comparing it with Vietnam as the Long War. In quoting Gen. Bruce Palmer from his book, The Twenty-Five Year War, he said: With respect to Vietnam, our leaders should have known that the American people would not stand still for a protracted war of an indeterminate nature with no foreseeable end to the U.S. commitment. To Die For a Mystique: The lessons our leaders didn’t learn from the Vietnam War

Scott Ritter, former chief United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998, said writing in a post for titled, McChrystal Doesn’t Get It—Does Obama?: Clearly Gen. Stanley McChrystal is not the man for this task. He should be replaced by someone within the ranks of the U.S. military who shares Obama’s vision of peace, and with it the need to redefine the mission in South Asia. The legitimate requirements of American national security will not be satisfied by any massive military commitment to the region. Hopefully, President Obama will recognize this fact and get out. That would be a sign of greatness, and present to the American people and the rest of the world a leader worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Although at first thought I thought the change in command in Afghanistan as positive, I have since had some reservations. I have a level of mistrust in Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal. I have a concern that he is not being honest in his COMISAF Initial Assessment when he has seemingly emphasized a New Strategy: Focus on the Population, which, if President Obama decides to stay in Afghanistan must be our focus as opposed to a military objective. McChrystal is at heart a warrior. His basic instinct is to kill. That was his mission as Commander, Joint Special Operations Command. His involvement in the Pat Tillman friendly fire incident investigation and cover-up was not honorable.

So, Could Afghanistan Become Obama’s Vietnam?

I believe it certainly will if we continue with our current military mindset in Afghanistan. As Dennis Kucinich has said:

It is not simply combat troops that present a problem, but our entire military presence is counterproductive to our security. Sending additional military personnel indicates that we are deepening our military involvement in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is a nation of independent tribes that is rife with corruption. Nation building cannot come from the barrel of a gun. Instead the United States should work with Afghanistan’s neighbors to help provide regional security to allow the Afghan people to rebuild their nation. It is time that Congress takes control of this war by eliminating its funding and bringing our troops home.

If the Obama administration is determined to ‘win the war' in Afghanistan, then we should be prepared for another Vietnam. An unending military commitment is unacceptable to the American people and it should be unacceptable to Congress. If the Obama administration refuses
to bring this war to an end, then Congress should use the power of the purse, granted by the Constitution, to end the war and bring our troops home. Many objective analyses indicate that the U.S. should withdraw from Afghanistan. If the Obama administration can't do it, then Congress must.

Terrorism, international and national, is a systemic, existential threat. It is now as it has always been. Terrorism is as old as prostitution. The world will never be able to completely prevent it, at least within our current knowledge, but it can be marginalized. The only way to successfully combat terrorism is with corporative, well funded and trained multinational police forces.

Further reading:
A War of Necessity Turns Out Not So Necessary
General Stanley A. McChrystal's call for a new Afghanistan strategy
McChrystal’s War
Stanley McChrystal’s Long War