Obama's Meaningless War

True, he doesn't seem a bit like Lyndon
Johnson, but the way he's headed on Afghanistan, Barack Obama is
threatened with a quagmire that could bog down his presidency. LBJ also
had a progressive agenda in mind, beginning with his war on poverty,
but it was soon overwhelmed by the cost and divisiveness engendered by
a meaningless, and seemingly endless, war in Vietnam.

Meaningless is the right term for
the Afghanistan war, too, because our bloody attempt to conquer this
foreign land has nothing to do with its stated purpose of enhancing our
national security. Just as the government of Vietnam was never a puppet
of Communist China or the Soviet Union, the Taliban is not a surrogate
for al-Qaida. Involved in both instances was an American intrusion into
a civil war whose passions and parameters we never fully grasped and
could not control militarily.

The Vietnamese Communists were not an
extension of an inevitably hostile, unified international communist
enemy, as evidenced by the fact that Communist Vietnam and Communist
China are both our close trading partners today. Nor should the Taliban
be considered simply an extension of a Mideast-based al-Qaida movement,
whose operatives the U.S. recruited in the first place to go to
Afghanistan to fight the Soviets.

Those recruits included Khalid Sheikh
Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attack, and financier
Osama bin Laden, who met in Afghanistan as part of a force that Ronald
Reagan glorified as "freedom fighters." As blowback from that bizarre,
mismanaged CIA intervention, the Taliban came to power and formed a
temporary alliance with the better-financed foreign Arab fighters still
on the scene.

There is no serious evidence that the
Taliban instigated the 9/11 attacks or even knew about them in advance.
Taliban members were not agents of al-Qaida; on the contrary, the only
three governments that financed and diplomatically recognized the
Taliban-Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan-all were
targets of bin Laden's group.

To insist that the Taliban be vanquished
militarily as a prerequisite for thwarting al-Qaida is a denial of the
international fluidity of that terrorist movement. Al-Qaida, according
to U.S. intelligence sources, has operated effectively in countries as
disparate as Somalia, Indonesia, England and Pakistan, to name just a
few. What is required to stymie such a movement is effective police and
intelligence work, as opposed to deploying vast conventional military
forces in the hope of finding, or creating, a conventional war to win.
This last wan hope is what the effort in Afghanistan-in the last two
months at its most costly point in terms of American deaths-is all
about: marshaling massive firepower to fight shadows.

The Taliban is a traditional guerrilla
force that can easily elude conventional armies. Once again the
generals on the ground are insisting that a desperate situation can be
turned around if only more troops are committed, as Gen. Stanley A.
McChrystal did in a report leaked this week. Even with U.S. forces
being increased to 68,000 as part of an 110,000-strong allied army, the
general states, "The situation in Afghanistan is serious. ..." In the
same sentence he goes on to say "but success is achievable."

Fortunately, Defense Secretary Robert
Gates is given to some somber doubts on this point, arguing that the
size of the U.S. force breeds its own discontents: "I have expressed
some concerns in the past about the size of the American footprint, the
size of the foreign military footprint in Afghanistan," he said. "And,
clearly, I want to address those issues. And we will have to look at
the availability of forces, we'll have to look at costs."

I write the word fortunately
because just such wisdom on the part of Robert McNamara, another
defense secretary, during the buildup to Vietnam would have led him to
oppose rather than abet what he ruefully admitted decades after the
fact was a disastrous waste of life and treasure: 59,000 Americans
dead, along with 3.4 million Indochinese, mostly innocent civilians. I
was reporting from Vietnam when that buildup began, and then as now
there was an optimism not supported by the facts on the ground. Then as
now there were references to elections and supporting local politicians
to win the hearts and minds of people we were bombing. Then as now the
local leaders on our side turned out to be hopelessly corrupt, a
condition easily exploited by those we term the enemy.

Those who favor an escalation of the
Afghanistan war ought to own up to its likely costs. If 110,000 troops
have failed, will we need the half million committed at one point to
Vietnam, which had a far less intractable terrain? And can you have
that increase in forces without reinstituting the draft?

It is time for Democrats to remember that
it was their party that brought America its most disastrous overseas
adventure and to act forthrightly to pull their chosen president back
from the abyss before it is too late.

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