Obama wastes no time in finding his own war

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  Former presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson smile as they intensify the 1960’s war in Vietnam.

Did they know the cost of that war for the people of the United States of America (what to speak of the cost for Vietnamese people)? The cost, as always, a war demands, in the form of newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.  

by Gwynne Dyer

You aren’t really the United States president until you’ve ordered an air-strike on somebody, so Barack Obama is certainly president now, having ordered two in his first week in office. But now that he has been blooded, can we talk a little about this expanded war he’s planning to fight in Afghanistan?

Does that sound harsh? Well, so is killing people, and all the more so because Obama must know that these remote-controlled Predator strikes usually kill not just the “bad guy,” whoever he is, but also the entire family he has taken shelter with. It also annoys Pakistan, whose territory the United States violated in order to carry out the killings.

It’s not a question of whether the intelligence on which the attacks were based was accurate (although sometimes it isn’t). The question is: Do these killings actually serve any useful purpose? The same question applies to the entire U.S. war in Afghanistan.

President Obama may be planning to shut Guantanamo, but the broader concept of a “war on terror” is still alive and well in Washington. Most of the people he has appointed to run his defence and foreign policies believe in it, and there is no sign that he himself questions it. Yet even 15 years ago, the notion would have been treated with contempt in every military staff college in the country.

That generation of American officers learned two things from their miserable experience in Vietnam. One was that going halfway around the world to fight a conventional military campaign against an ideology (communism then, Islamism now) was a truly stupid idea. The other was that no matter how strenuously the other side insists it is motivated by a world-spanning ideology, its real motives are mostly political and quite local (Vietnamese nationalism then, Iraqi and Afghan nationalism now).

Alas, that generation of officers has now retired, and the new generation of strategists, civilian as well as military, has to learn these lessons all over again. They are proving to be slow students, and if Obama follows their advice then Afghanistan may well prove to be his Vietnam.

The parallel with Vietnam is not all that far-fetched. Modest numbers of American troops have now been in Afghanistan for seven years, mostly in training roles quite similar to those of the U.S. military “advisers” whom presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy sent to South Vietnam in 1956-1963. The political job of creating a pro-Western, anti-Communist state was entrusted to America’s man in Saigon, Ngo Dinh Diem, and the South Vietnamese army had the job of fighting the Communist rebels, the Viet Cong.

Unfortunately, neither Diem nor the South Vietnamese army had much success, and by the early 1960s the Viet Cong were clearly on the road to victory. So Kennedy authorized a group of South Vietnamese generals to overthrow Diem (although he seemed shocked when they killed him). Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy soon afterwards, authorized a rapid expansion of the American troop commitment in Vietnam, first to 200,000 by the end of 1965, ultimately to half a million by 1968. The United States took over the war. And then lost it.

If this sounds eerily familiar, it’s because we are now at a similar juncture in America’s war in Afghanistan. Washington’s man in Kabul, President Hamid Karzai, and the Afghan army he theoretically commands, have failed to quell the insurrection, and are visibly losing ground.

So the talk in Washington now is all of replacing Karzai (although it will probably be done via elections, which are easily manipulated in Afghanistan), and the American troop commitment in the country is going up to 60,000. Various American allies also have troops in Afghanistan, just as they did in Vietnam, but it is the United States that is taking over the war.

We already know how this story ends. There is not a lot in common between presidents John F. Kennedy and George W. Bush, but they were both ideological crusaders who got the United States mired in foreign wars it could not win and did not need to win.

They then bequeathed those wars to presidents who had ambitious reform agendas in domestic politics and little interest or experience in foreign affairs.

That bequest destroyed Lyndon Johnson, who took the rotten advice of the military and civilian advisers he inherited from Kennedy because there wasn’t much else on offer in Washington at the time. Obama is drifting into the same dangerous waters, and the rotten advice he is getting from strategists who believe in the “war on terror” could do the same for him.

He has figured out that Iraq was a foolish and unnecessary war, but he has not yet applied the same analysis to Afghanistan. The two questions he needs to ask himself are first: did Osama bin Laden want the United States to invade Afghanistan in response to 9/11? The answer to that one is: yes, of course he did.

And second: Of all the tens of thousands of people whom the United States has killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, would a single one have turned up in the United States to do harm if left unkilled? Answer: probably not. Other people might have turned up in the U.S. with evil intent, but not those guys.

So turning Afghanistan into a second Vietnam is probably the wrong strategy, isn’t it?

Courtesy: http://canadiandimension.com

Writer is a London based journalist. His new book, Climate Wars, has just been published in Canada by Random House.

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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] This cup of tea was served by: Wonders of Pakistan […]

  2. Apparently, President Obama is planning an exit-strategy for Afghanistan also, as I read in a news-paper report that can be accessed at http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/World/US/Barack-Obama-pledges-no-long-term-Afghan-designs/articleshow/4203715.cms . 🙂

    • It would be wise of Obama to evacuate from Afghanistan. The fallacies by governments of different countries to bleed each other, as they did in tribal life, ultimately result in colossal loss; of human lives and collateral. This happened in the two world wars.

      Europe learnt a good lesson from these two wars.
      Resultantly two arch enemies since centuries the Germans and the French decided to work together. This was a wise step and the fruits of this policy have been so great that other countries followed suit. Even traditionally neutral countries like Austria and Denmark also decided to join the EU.

      Unfortunately, the neocons in the United States do not seem to have learnt any lesson from previous wars. They wish the wars to go on. Their lust for oil has been so great that they don’t mind US, NATO and Pakistani soldiers, including innocent civilians, children & women paying the price. If Obama decides to evacuate from Afghanistan, sooner the better. The lessons from wars in Korea, Vietnam and lately Iraq should be good enough to move in that direction.

      This also holds good for India and Pakistan as well. War cries from people in both countries come from circles who never need to go to the battle fields. Sitting in their cozy houses, whether they are the weapons suppliers in the west, religious extremists in Pakistan and India or their establishments, they only know how to muster more money, more influence for certain elite, politico-religious groups and their cohorts . Unfortunately in India and Pakistan it is mainly the governments who own the war machinery and they can’t resist temptations from giant munitions suppliers in the west who are always eager to offer hefty kickbacks.

  3. health benefits of acai…

    an interesting take on a fun subject….

  4. A disease can be treated with several approaches.Some time surgery becomes inevitable and once it is commenced no one can leave it in the mid way. Application of total dose of antibiotics is a must so the wound may not ferment. The failure of a surgery do not negate its significance.So far the unfortunate loss of life occured in recent wars has established the fact that the hi-tech war can only be countered with hi-tech. Any attempt to resist it will result the unilateral loss of life so happen in Iraq and happening in Afghanistan.Those who think that without a qualitative change they can fix the crusaders merely by their number are in fact a day dreamer. .In short it can be said that if one wants to avoid surgery he has to come uder the ambit of BABA RAM DEV ie under the logical Indian thinkers otherwise the world peace will always remain on stake.

  5. […] Posts: 1. Obama’s Domino Theory 2. Obama wastes no time in finding his own war 3. Obama, the Democratic “War President” (updated) 4. Gorby smarter than […]

  6. […] Posts: 1. Obama’s Domino Theory 2. Obama wastes no time in finding his own war 3. Obama, the Democratic “War President” (updated) 4. Gorby smarter than […]


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