December 3, 2009

Is Afghanistan Another Vietnam?

I was born after the Vietnam War ended, but it's not like American involvement in foreign policy quagmires is a thing of the past. In his big speech Tuesday night, President Obama offered 3 reasons why the current war in Afghanistan is different from the Vietnam War:

1) "Unlike Vietnam, we are joined by a broad coalition of 43 nations that recognizes the legitimacy of our action.

2) Unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a broad-based popular

3) And most importantly, unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border."

Sitting in rush hour traffic yesterday, I heard an NPR interview with Gordon Goldstein, an international affairs scholar who acknowledged Mr. Obama's points as fair ones, but proceeded to list 4 key "strategic parallels" between Afghanistan and Vietnam:
1) "Both Afghanistan and Vietnam are small powers that have been historically extraordinarily resistant to the efforts of large powers to impose order.

2) Both Vietnam and Afghanistan had corrupt and ineffectual regimes.

3) Both Vietnam and Afghanistan have contiguous border countries, through which support and sanctuary for an insurgency flows and fortifies that insurgency.

4) But most importantly, the parallel, really, that drives Afghanistan and Vietnam is in the realm of military strategy. In Vietnam, it was a strategy of counterinsurgency and clear and hold. In Afghanistan, General McChrystal has called for a strategy of clear, hold and build. So there are some parallels that I do not think can be easily dismissed."
So now that we've established there are both similarities and differences between Afghanistan and Vietnam, what should we make of Mr. Obama's war plan? In his Washington Post column today, E. J. Dionne describes the President's attempt to find middle ground as a "Goldilocks strategy: neither too hawkish nor too dovish, but just right."

I'm not sure I like the taste of this porridge.

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