Vietnam: Mistake. Iraq: Mistake. Afghanistan: I fear yet another. Frank Rich and many others have recently pointed out clearly the Vietnam parallels: an unwinable war and a long history of invaders defeated by the impossible obstacles of tribalism and terrain. As yet again we see the arguments for 20,000 more troops, for 40,000 more troops… The same arguments that took American involvement in Vietnam up to 535,000 troops. 535,000! And still, we were defeated with the last remaining troops sent to the rooftops of Saigon to escape.
So why on earth if Joe Biden, Frank Rich, Colin Powell, et al. can see this morass, why cannot the President? And, of course, he can. He is an extremely intelligent man. But in all the press accounts of the issues he faces – i.e. how to prevent Al Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a base – I believe there is a key issue that is not fully acknowledged. It is the elephant in the tea parlor. It is the political dilemma President Obama faces.
If he pulls out of Afghanistan, as I and others believe he should, he faces an inevitable barrage of right wing criticism, a barrage of the kind that seemingly still influences Americans and determines elections. If Obama pulls out he is a coward, a traitor, a cut and run liberal panty waist, an unpatriotic comsymp, a fill-in-the-blank. Never mind that even conservatives such as George Will believe the war in Afghanistan is hopeless. If President Obama, a Democrat, pulls out, he will be castigated by the far right in an organized, vicious attack, and all his dreams for social and international amelioration and for a second term will be jeopardized.
This, I believe, is the elephant and this political issue, I fear, is what the administration is wrestling with. Of course, as a friend of mine suggests, there is a simple solution to the dilemma: restore a bona fide military draft, and all the war lovers who don’t mind sending other people’s sons and daughters to die overseas will think twice when their children are at risk.
Is it cynical to believe that political considerations are at the root of military decisions? I think not. It is clear now that Lyndon Johnson knew the Vietnam war was a disaster, but he could not face the politically and personally humiliating consequences of admitting defeat and pulling out, so instead, he pulled out of politics and refused to run for a second term and – and the war dragged on, and more people died
I don’t envy President Obama and his folks. They have a terrible dilemma: Do the right thing and be branded as losers and, perhaps, lose the next congressional and presidential elections. Stay and escalate and thereby condemn more American soldiers to horrible deaths in yet another unwinable war.
Perhaps, however, there is a win-win decision. Trust the American people, tell them in the most forceful ways possible about the Afghanistan realities, anticipate and fight the right wing’s inevitable attacks and stand up for peace and wisdom. The financial benefits accruing to our domestic economy from decreasing funds going into the war-making sump hole may well help put people to work, improve health care and education, and, in short, may outweigh right wing slander. Furthermore, one might argue that doing the right thing is the right thing to do!
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