...usually with an attempt at historical and economic context
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Afghanistan – Obama’s Vietnam?
Differences of Opinion on Strategy CBS News reports that President Obama is focused on al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, rather than the Taliban. Thus he is considered unlikely to fulfill General Stanley McChrystal’s request for up to 40,000 additional troops. 
There is a deep difference of opinion among U.S. officials, with Obama leaning toward a “limited war,” and a strategy of reaching out to “moderates” in the Taliban. 
As recently as August, before the Afghan elections, Obama was telling the Veterans of Foreign Wars that the Afghanistan war was a war of necessity and not a war of choice, and that it was very important to keep Afghanistan from again becoming a haven for al-Qaeda terrorists.
Is It Like Vietnam? It seems that the situation is looking too difficult and too complicated for Obama to want to get more involved. General McChrystal has said that without a substantial number of additional troops, we risk failure of the mission. But Obama is looking at the unpopularity of the war as recorded by the polls. So is Congress and they will decide on funding.
Obama’s advisers are downplaying the Taliban threat, according to a McClatchy article. “One phrase that always comes up in the administration's strategy sessions is ‘public opinion,’ one participant told McClatchy.”  This war has some characteristics seen during the Vietnam War:
1. Decreasing public support 2. Opinion widely split over strategy 3. Substantial danger of involvement by surrounding countries 4. Political leaders leaning toward “limited war” strategy, with no real plan for victory. 5. Political leaders would rather have an exit strategy than a victory.
Risks of Not Going for Victory 1. Steady, if slowed, progress by the Taliban in taking over Afghanistan 2. Anti-Taliban people who have supported America and NATO will likely be murdered. 3. Afghan civil war could reignite and draw in India and Pakistan, both with nuclear weapons, on opposite sides.
CBS News online reports: “‘A Taliban-ruled Afghanistan will be wide open for al Qaeda to expand its current sanctuaries and safe havens and I would argue al Qaeda's nothing without sanctuaries and safe havens,’ said Bruce Hoffman, a counterterrorism expert at Georgetown University.” 
The McClatchy article quotes a senior U.S. intelligence official as follows: “‘The region right now is as volatile as I have ever seen it. The tension is not waning; it is on the rise,’ another senior U.S. intelligence official said. ‘The Indo-Pakistan issue looms like a dark cloud on a horizon that might look clear blue, but it is actually a tidal wave that is rushing in.’
“Finally, failure in Afghanistan would deal a massive blow to U.S. international standing to the benefit of Iran, Russia and China , and undermine the NATO alliance, [other] U.S. officials said.” 
Difficult Choices So Obama faces a fateful decision. How much consideration should be given to the request of his top commander in Afghanistan? Obama has indicated that he’s uncomfortable with the idea of victory. I hope he won’t be unduly delayed further by concern over domestic matters. What needs to happen is this: Mr. Obama should show actual leadership by taking a firm decision and getting it carried out, and also explaining the realities of the matter to the American people. How will his decision affect our homeland security? How will it affect our relationships in NATO and our interests in the world?
Like Vietnam, we could, at substantial cost in lives and money, be fighting a “limited war” with no real goal of winning. Fortunately, we are not likely to lose as many lives in Afghanistan as in Vietnam, but each death is a tragic loss. Military personnel in Afghanistan, as in Iraq, and as our troops did in Vietnam, are courageously doing a great job in an environment most of us could hardly imagine, much less work effectively in. I think Obama should have victory as his goal. If it’s a “necessary war,” then it’s one that should end with America and NATO winning and the Taliban and al-Qaeda losing.
But it’s Obama’s call. Prayer and wisdom are needed.
 CBS News.com, “Obama Focusing on al Qaeda, not Taliban,” 10/08/2009, at http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/10/08/politics/main5371942.shtml?tag=stack.
 Jonathan S. Landay, John Walcott, and Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy Newspapers, “Officials: obama advisers are downplaying Afghan dangers,” 10/11/2009, at http://news.yahoo.com/s/mcclatchy/3330066.
I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.