I have disagreed vehemently with Patrick Buchanan on almost every issue over the years, but he is right on the money when he says that Barack Obama's Afghanistan strategy is an eerie replication of Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam strategy, and will almost certainly have the same result: years and years of death and ruin, ending in defeat. Buchanan charts it out:
...[W]ithout any visible strategy for victory, Barack is recommending the same course LBJ took after the death of JFK. Johnson bombed North Vietnam in 1964, landed Marines in 1965 and built U.S. forces from 16,000 advisers on Nov. 22, 1963, to 525,000 troops in January of 1969. Gradual escalation, which is exactly what Barack is recommending....
If the old rule applies – the guerrilla wins if he does not lose – the United States, about to enter its eighth year of combat, is losing. And, using the old 10-to-one ratio of regular troops needed to defeat guerrillas, if the Taliban can recruit 1,000 new fighters, they can see Obama's two-brigade bet, and raise him. Just as Uncle Ho raised LBJ again and again.
What does President Obama do then? Send in 10,000 more?
The Soviet Union, whose 115,000-man army in Afghanistan reached more than twice the size of U.S.-NATO forces, even with the Obama surge, went home defeated in 1988. The Soviet Empire did not survive that humiliation....
[Actually, the Soviet Empire did survive that humiliation; it ultimately collapsed because the many internal contradictions of the system finally reached critical mass. These pent-up stresses and energies then found release through Gorbachev's policy of glasnost, and by his unwillingness to use the state's massive machinery of repression to contain the upheaval. Certainly the defeat in Afghanistan didn't help matters, but its direct fallout was largely confined to Kremlin insider politics.]
But I digress. Buchanan's essential point here is sound: the Soviets, with a much larger force -- and even fiercer "rules of engagement" -- could not subdue the Afghans to their will. [Nor could the British before them.] He goes on:
For as of today, the Afghan war resembles Vietnam far more than Iraq ever did.
Consider. Taliban attacks are up 40 percent this year. U.S. casualties in May and June exceeded those in Iraq. Gen. Petraeus says al-Qaeda is moving assets from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan. President Karzai's writ still does not extend beyond the capital. He is mocked as the "Mayor of Kabul." Security in the capital is deteriorating.
For the sixth straight year, the poppy crop, primary source of the world's heroin, has set a new record. The Taliban eradicated the crop when in power, but are now collaborating with farmers to extort cash to keep fighting.
Most critically, Pakistan has become for the Taliban, Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda the same sanctuary that North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia provided for the Viet Cong and NVA, with this critical difference: We cannot bomb or invade Pakistan.
[Of course, our bombing and invading of Cambodia and North Vietnam did not weaken the Viet Cong or the NVA -- although the genocidal fury of Richard Nixon's destruction of Cambodia (send "anything that flies against anything that moves!" he commanded) did pave the way for the genocidal fury of the Khmer Rouge, whose ranks were swelled by radicalized victims of the U.S. bombing, and who went on to carry out an horrific genocide of their own. And I'll have to disagree with Buchanan on that last point: it is entirely possible for the United States to bomb or invade Pakistan. Indeed, if Obama's Afghanistan strategy is pursued in earnest, some kind of large-scale action in Pakistan is inevitable.]
Under the (Colin) Powell Doctrine for fighting wars, questions must be asked and answered affirmatively before committing U.S. troops:
Is a vital U.S. interest imperiled here? Do we have a defined and attainable objective? Have the risks and costs been fully weighed? Is there an exit strategy? Is the war supported by a united nation?
How many of these questions did Obama ask himself before pledging 10,000 more U.S combat troops to what will surely become, should he win, "Obama's war" even as Iraq has become "Bush's war"?
This is certainly a key point, and one that is being largely ignored in the presidential campaign. For years now, "serious" liberals have repeated the mantra that Bush "took his eye off the ball" in the War on Terror by fighting in Iraq instead of focusing on Afghanistan, the "good war," the "right war." Now Obama looks set to call their bluff: "You wanted a big war in Afghanistan? Here it is. Now what?"
Now what indeed. No doubt we will soon be treated to the spectacle of many staunchly "anti-war" leopards changing their spots. We will hear them supporting the same kind of "counter-insurgency tactics" in Afghanistan that they now decry in Iraq. We will hear the same justifications for "collateral damage" in Afghanistan that we now hear from rightwingers defending atrocities in Iraq. We will hear them advancing the same arguments for a continuing (and growing) American military presence in a volatile Muslim land that we have heard for years from Iraq hawks. And we will hear the same excuses for not joining the combat in a war they support that we have heard from the vast Chickenhawk Army of rightwing warmongers concerning Iraq.
But the stances, dances and petty squabbles of the chattering classes (yes, I'm a chatterer too) are unimportant. What matters is that the United States government is about to launch a substantial escalation of an already unjust and unproductive war, pursuing a strategy -- embraced by both presidential candidates and the leading lights of their respective parties (and the overwhelming majority of the media establishment as well) -- which will inflict death and suffering on tens of thousands of innocent human beings (at a minimum), while further spreading the brutalization, corruption and destabilization that are inherent in war. It is entirely possible that the multi-sided conflict in Afghanistan -- warlords, tribes, state armies, narco-gangs, foreign interventionists, covert operators, religious zealots, all in various, ever-shifting, ever-breaking alliances -- could go on for decades, especially if the flames are continually fed with blood and treasure from the American war machine.
Whether Obama's highly-hyped regime of change comes to the White House or we end up with a third Bush term under the doddering figurehead of McCain, this is the future being offered by America's leaders: endless war, endless suffering, a darker, more dangerous world.
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This story was published on July 30, 2008.