Monday, January 10, 2011
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