President Barack Obama has staked his presidency on winning his “necessary” war in Afghanistan. Coming into office, one of his first acts, on Feb. 18, was to boost US troop levels in that country by 17,000, bringing the total number of soldiers and Marines in the country to about 57,000, to which one must also add 74,000 private contractors, most of them in the rule normally handled by military personnel, and about 33,000 other soldiers from NATO countries and Australia. That’s 100,000 foreign soldiers fighting against Taliban fighters.
Ominously, even with the new US troops, US military commander Admiral Mike Mullen this month has described the situation in Afghanistan as being “serious and deteriorating.” The Afghani national government—if an organization that is basically confined to the capital city of Kabul and a few other cities can be called a national government, is hopelessly corrupt and ineffective, and a current national election, which US forces sought to “protect” by sending troops to election districts, appears to have been a disaster, plagued by vote rigging and with low turnout.
The US war in Afghanistan, billed as part of a war on terror begun by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney in September 2001, is now eight years old, and while the Taliban government that ruled Afghanistan at that time has been ousted from Kabul, its insurgency grows by the day in strength and popular support.
The US, meanwhile, is identified as an occupier and as the sole support of a corrupt regime of drug lords, thieves and charlatans.
Does this sound familiar? It should. It is a replay of what America did in Vietnam.
The roots of the current Afghanistan War lie in the period when the Soviet Union was occupying the country and backing a Communist-led government in the 1970s, and the US was conducting a proxy war against the Soviets, with the CIA training and funding both the Taliban and foreign fighters, mostly Arab, led by the likes of Osama Bin Laden. In the end, the Taliban, with the help of groups like Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda, triumphed, pushing the Russians out. But over time, as the Soviet Union crumbled and the US became more focused on the Middle East, successive US administrations became less and less happy with the power arrangement in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, following the US Gulf War in 1990-91, Bin Laden and other Arab fighters in Afghanistan and elsewhere began to see the US as an enemy, and the US began to shift its military focus from being based upon anti-Communism to being anti-Arab, or at least anti Arabist, as defined as being opposed to those Arabs who wanted to overthrow the corrupt dictatorial leaderships in the oil states of the Middle East.
When the World Trade Center and Pentagon were attacked in 2001, the Bush/Cheney administration, which had already planned to overthrow the government in Iraq, launched an attack on Afghanistan, claiming that its Taliban government was harboring Al Qaeda, which was blamed for the attacks. The Afghanistan War was on. The Taliban was quickly ousted from Kabul, and Al Qaeda was largely driven into the remote tribal areas of Pakistan, but the war was not won. Indeed, since then, it has gone from bad to worse for the US, as the Taliban has clawed back territory and recovered much of its prior power.
The background of the war in Vietnam dates from 1954, when Vietnam, after a long struggle, won its independence from its colonial ruler, France. Two years later, the US blocked a UN-supervised national referendum, effectively splitting the country into two parts, a Communist north led by the hero of Vietnam’s independence struggle, Ho Chi Minh, and the south, led by the corrupt former French colonial stooge Ngo Dinh Diem.
With elections off, a small group of partisans, the Viet Cong, began an insurrection against the government in the South in early 1959, which the US became committed to opposing, initially sending in “advisers” to train and direct the South Vietnamese army. That war went from bad to worse, and when, in 1964, it became clear to US police-makers, that the Viet Cong were likely to win, President Lyndon Johnson made a decision to send in massive numbers of US troops and to begin a major bombing campaign against the North Vietnam. From 2000 US troops in Vietnam in 1961, there were 16,500 in 1964, and by mid 1965, 100,000. That number continued to rise, reaching 200,000 by 1966, and ultimately, at the height of the war, over 500,000. But the Viet Cong, and later, the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese troops sent down from the north, were never defeated. Indeed, they continued to grow in number and in their control of the countryside. While they suffered horrific losses because of the superior firepower of US forces, and an American scorched-earth policy in the countryside, the Vietnamese forces continued to gain more and more support from the Vietnamese people. In the end, after suffering over 58,000 dead, the US cried uncle and left Vietnam. By 1975, the puppet regime in Saigon fell, and Vietnam was finally unified again, under Communist rule.
From the beginning of America’s involvement in Vietnam, the country, a poor nation of peasant farmers, was presented to the American public as a critical threat to the security of the United States. If Vietnam were to “fall,” Americans were told, the rest of Southeast Asia, like a chain of dominos, would fall—first Cambodia and Laos, then Thailand and Malaysia, then Indonesia, and finally, even Australia would be at risk. Of course, no such thing happened. The Vietnamese Communists were always, and remained, a nationalist movement, and after winning their multi-generational struggle for independence, focused on developing their country (though they did step in and overthrow a genocidal Communist regime that had taken over in Cambodia, installing a saner government).
It had been a giant scam on the American people from the beginning, and it ended up costing several million Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian lives, and 58,000 American lives, though that scarcely tells the toll, in terms of those crippled mentally and physically, those poisoned by the widespread spraying of toxic defoliants, and the laying of millions of anti-personnel mines that are still killing and maiming people in Indochina today.
Now a new president, Obama, like Johnson before him, is telling Americans that a war half a world away is “necessary for American security.” This is a ludicrous assertion on its face. If Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries in the world, and really hardly a country at all, is a threat to US national security, so is Malawi, Burundi and Fiji.
Let’s be rational for a moment. The Taliban, whatever their irrational Islamic fanaticism and their misogyny, have no interest in America, other than to drive our troops out of their country. When they were in charge in Kabul back in 2001, they had their hands full just trying to hang on in the face of the war lords and drug kingpins who held (and still hold) sway in various parts of the country, and when they eventually win and drive the US and its NATO allies out of Afghanistan, they will have their hands full again, just clinging to power.
American national security is not to the slightest degree threatened by the Taliban.
Okay, so back in 2001 there was a gang of Arabs in Afghanistan which had since 1990, at least, expressed some hostility towards the US, but that crew, after all, had been set up by the CIA in the first place, and anyway, by 2002 it had been largely shattered and driven out of Afghanistan, and into Pakistan and parts unknown.
The current Afghanistan War, which President Obama claims is so necessary to American security, is not against Al Qaeda though; it is against the Taliban, and it simply cannot be won, anymore than the US war against the Vietnamese could be won.
Today, as in the late 1960s, the Pentagon is telling the president that it needs more troops. There is a military imperative not to lose a war. No general or admiral wants to be the guy in charge when the jig is declared up, and the troops have to be brought home as losers. And so they are asking for more and more troops and weapons, in hopes of hanging on until they get get cashiered out.
Obama, like Johnson before him, will buy into this criminal policy, because he too doesn’t want to “lose” a war before he leaves office.
That should be pretty scary, since I’m sure Obama is hoping that he will be in office not just through 2012, but through 2016. That’s a long time to keep escalating a hopeless and pointless conflict, just to avoid having to say it was a mistake in the first place.
But lest you say that it cannot happen, recall that the first US advisers went to Vietnam in 1959, the big escalation began in 1964, and the US didn’t leave until 1974. That’s 15 years of war and ten years of major warfare.
Because the Bush/Cheney administration was always more interested in invading Iraq than in invading Afghanistan, and pulled out many troops from the latter country in late 2002 to ship them to Iraq, the Afghan War has escalated more slowly than the Vietnam War did. But I’d say that today we are about where we were in Vietnam at the start of 1965. That is, the big lie, and the big escalation in the fighting, are both just getting going.
If the American people don’t rise up and demand an end to this thing right now, we could be in for another 8-10 years of brutal and bloody warfare, and in the end, the United States is, once again, going to lose.
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org