Monday, January 10, 2011

Exiting Afghanistan

By Alan Caruba

Like others of my generation who lived through the Vietnam War, it was at the time the longest war that America ever fought. Now the longest war is the one in Afghanistan that began on October 7, 2001.

The Vietnam War began for the U.S. in 1963 when 2,000 military “advisors” were sent to aid the South Vietnamese government that had been established when the North and South was divided. In 1956, with U.S. support the South refused to hold reunification elections and a civil war ensued with the Communist North, beginning in 1958.

Suffice to say the South Vietnamese government was corrupt. It was a civil war and Lyndon B. Johnson’s intervention vastly expanded it in 1965. Along with the war, he launched his “War on Poverty” that would cost billions and achieve little except to expand the welfare state..

The public outcry against the war increased along with the casualties. It forced LBJ to forego running for a second term. From 1968 to 1973, efforts were made to end the war through diplomacy until in January 1973, during the Nixon administration, an agreement was reached. In April 1975, South Vietnam surrendered, thus uniting the North and South.

For ten years it seemed as if the war would never end. It tore the nation apart. Along with a lot of Americans I opposed the war. From the standpoint of the White House the war was seen as part of the larger Cold War but internally they were loath to admit that the U.S. military was not winning the war. These days the U.S. enjoys a robust diplomatic and economic relationship with Vietnam.

Following 9/11, the U.S. sent troops to Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. We are still there and the war, as noted, has become the longest in our nation’s history. After driving out the Taliban, we should have left, but we stayed on, supporting a corrupt government that Afghans do not trust. Presently, there are about 100,000 U.S. troops there, a significant military commitment.

The war in Afghanistan, according to Richard N. Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Affairs, is costing U.S. taxpayers between $100 billion and $125 billion a year. In 2010, the New York Times reports that U.S. troops experienced the highest combat casualties yet in the war; more than 430 service members died. Nearly 5,500 were wounded in action, more than double the total of 2,415 in 2009.

It is long past due for the U.S. to leave. It is a lesson the Russians learned after they invaded Afghanistan in 1979. It took ten years before they withdrew in defeat. The Afghans didn’t want them there and they do not want the U.S. there. We will leave and the only question is when.

The problem for America and the rest of the world is a Middle East in the grip of Islam, a religion that opposes Western values and modernization. It will remain in turmoil for the foreseeable future and it will have to be resolved by the people of its nations.

Isolating Islam from the governance of those nations and the maintenance of democratically elected governments must ultimately be secured by those in Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, and the most tribal of these nations, Afghanistan.

In Pakistan today there is a significant debate over whether a Western-style government can prevail in the face of the barbarism of the Taliban and the threat of al Qaeda whose way of governance is through murder and terror. The Pakistani middle class knows what is at stake.

The presence of American and allied troops in Afghanistan and Iraq only exacerbates the prospect of progress toward a stable Middle East, a process that may well take decades or longer. Meanwhile, we are draining the treasury of the United States and spilling the blood of our troops.

Leaving Afghanistan will change little in a nation that has successfully resisted invaders for centuries. Meanwhile, the U.S. is in the process of drawing down troops in Iraq where we have set in motion the first steps toward a modern nation freed of its demonic dictator, Saddam Hussein.

There is much to be done to save America from its present financial crisis. Not spending billions in far-off lands is a good step toward achieving that.

© Alan Caruba, 2011


Guy said...

I have to agree with you Alan. A war without a clearly defined purpose is not a war, it's a quagmire. Vietnam had all the same characteristics ...

In my opinion, you either go in with the purpose of crushing your opponent and WIN, or you just stay out. There is no way to go in and "help" fight a war, especially when you're not really welcomed by either side. I just can't imagine being sent into a theater of war not knowing who the enemy really is. It's an absolutely horrible thing to do to our soldiers...

In most cases, we would be a lot better off just assisting the "good" side with money or armaments, and hoping for the best, and even that can backfire. From what I understand, many of the armaments we gave Afghanistan when they were fighting the Soviet Union have been used against us in Iraq, and now in Afghanistan.

We should reserve military action for the defense of our homeland and direct support of our allies, and stay out of the peace keeping/police action/nation building business.

It seems like the vast majority of our military engagements of late have involved peace keeping and anti-terrorism activities in the middle east. Maybe I'm naive, but it seems to me that if we had seen the writing on the wall and developed our own energy resources after the first oil embargo, we could have stayed out of their economy, and let them sort out their own political problems.

But we didn't, and now we're paying the price. It will take years to reverse course now.

TexasFred said...

We seriously need to sweep our own doorstep before we sweep that of others, if we need to sweep others at all...

Untold billions have been spent in destroying Iraq and then rebuilding before the destruction is done...

How many billions, or MORE, will be wasted on Afghanistan? Not to mention the lost lives...

Lime Lite said...

Alan - I have to agree with you. The USA needs to retreat and stop fighting other people's wars for them. This never ends in peace and America is seen as the bad guy. Let these countries sort out their own problems. The one action America and other Western countries can take is to stop these people from coming to the USA as refugees etc. Let them stay and sort it out. So what if the corrupt Afghan government is in power - the people need to fight that battle. They will eventually see the light. The USA is supporting a corrupt Pakistan government and what has happened? Militant Islamists are in control and it's getting worse. Let them live under the Taliban and see what will happen down the line. The people will revolt and the revolution needs to happen within the country and NOT from outside. All good deeds go punished and this is the price America will continue to pay by interfering where they're not needed. How about they recall all their troops and put them on their south border to stop the Mexican problem? Now that I would support.

Lime Lite said...

Alan - another thing I forgot to mention was that America and other countries can withold any financial support to any governments they view as being corrupt/radical (as they should). Can you imagine what Pakistan and Afghanistan would be without the USA $? They would be a nothing. Instead, Pakistan is dictating to America how much money they need and then hand it over to your enemy at the end of the day. How stupid is that? Retreat, keep out of other countries' business and protest peacefully by giving them no financial support. That would accomplish more than invading and being seen as the enemy. At the end of the day, America is not only losing money, but they are also sacrificing so many lives for a useless cause. There is more anti-American sentiment today than there was before 9/11 and we all know why.

The Old Man said...


I must disagree with your post. Unlike you, I felt that the war in the RVN was necessary and part of the Cold War. I enlisted and did two tours in the Central Highlands, including the move into Cambodia.
That being said, I can see the present ROEs being as restrictive and counterproductive as the ones I was under in 1969-1971. Pardon my French, but THIS KILLS OUR PEOPLE!

In it to win it or you burn capital. (In this case, patriots).

Do love your site - you make me think.

Alan Caruba said...

@Old Man. We are not that far apart regarding Vietnam. In my view, the US did not fight to win it, though surely the troops tried.

LarryOldtimer said...

The Tet offensive was a disaster for the North Vietnamese, but played up in the mass media as a horrible loss for the US. Participating in a war where all US military movements had to be approved beforehand by the South Vietnam government was idiotic, as was the policy of gaining the friendship of North Vietnam civilians.

North Vietnamese spies were all over the place, including highest levels of politicians and generals in South Vietnam, and soldiers were allowed to fraternize with civilian women.

The military strategy was determined by Robert McNamara, and his middle name wasn't "Strange" for nothing.

That was a war (which should have been declared) which was needed, and needed to be won and won quickly. Our troops were very successful, but prevented from winning by idiotic strategic and political policy and undermined by the mass media.