Tuesday, December 1, 2009

If Only Afghanistan Were Vietnam

From Obama's Afghanistan speech:
First, there are those who suggest that Afghanistan is another Vietnam. They argue that it cannot be stabilized, and we're better off cutting our losses and rapidly withdrawing. I believe this argument depends on a false reading of history. Unlike Vietnam, we are joined by a broad coalition of 43 nations that recognizes the legitimacy of our action. Unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a broad-based popular insurgency. And most importantly, unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan, and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border. To abandon this area now -- and to rely only on efforts against al Qaeda from a distance -- would significantly hamper our ability to keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and create an unacceptable risk of additional attacks on our homeland and our allies.
Yet it would be great if Afghanistan were another Vietnam. In the popular imagination, there is a straight line from the Tet Offensive to US withdrawal from Saigon. Yet seven years separated those two events. In between, American and Vietnamese forces virtually eradicated the Viet Cong resistance within South Vietnam. There's really no dispute about this point.

The so-called "revisionists" think that South Vietnam could still have held after that point had US support continued against North Vietnamese (backed by the Soviet bloc) attacks. Whatever you think of this view, it's undoubtedly true that what ultimately ended the Vietnam war was the invasion of another sovereign country. The insurgency--while potent--was ended through exactly the sort of counter-insurgency tactics rediscovered in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obviously, this need not imply that those same tactics work in Afghanistan. But that's exactly my point. It would be great if Afghanistan were more like Vietnam, where counter-insurgency worked. It's the fact that it isn't like Vietnam that's causing all the trouble.

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