Last week, I saw a headline in passing that pulled me in: “The US and Afghanistan: can’t win the war, can’t stop it, can’t leave.” It was in The Guardian. Yes, that Guardian. They quickly got to a bit that captured my attention:
Trump is now reportedly reverting to his previous sceptical stance on the Afghan imbroglio. Rand Paul, a Republican senator known for isolationist views, said Trump agreed the US should forget “fight to win” and cut and run instead. “The president told me over and over again in general we’re getting the hell out of there,” Paul told the Washington Post this week. Trump’s apparent volte-face, channelling the Grand Old Duke of York, mirrors his recent, impulsive decision to pull US troops out of Syria. More serious students of America’s Afghan dilemma believe that whatever Trump may say, the US is stuck there indefinitely.
They concluded with this:
“A simple win-loss dynamic is the wrong way to think about the war. America’s not in Afghanistan to win. It’s there to hold the line,” said Nicholas Grossman, professor of political science at the University of Illinois, writing in National Review. America’s aim was no longer democratic nation-building, as in the era of George W Bush, Grossman said. There was no ideal end state in view. But the US had no choice but to stay in order to prevent jihadist groups filling any future vacuum, as happened in Iraq; to keep the Iranians and Russians out; and to keep Pakistan honest, stable, and in the US column. As the death toll mounts and the elected government weakens, the sum of America’s shrunken Afghan ambition appears to be: hang on in there – and fingers crossed.
Which prompted me to go find Professor Grossman’s article at National Review. I had never heard of him before. He is with the University of Iowa (evidently he also lectures at the Univ. of Illinois), and his blog is “Arc Digital.” The article is billed as “rethinking America’s strategic goals” in Afghanistan.
I am generally in agreement with the conclusion reached by Professor Grossman, which is that America needs to stay in Afghanistan long term in order to maintain stability and continue to fight the Taliban. But I was irked to see the ignorant remarks that this article included, in a passage that compared the conflict in Afghanistan to the Vietnam War.
It’s important to learn lessons from the past, but every war is different, and Afghanistan is not Vietnam. From a humanitarian perspective, the Taliban are worse than the North Vietnamese, especially regarding treatment of women. And the Taliban’s religious fundamentalism is less popular in Afghanistan than communism was in 1960s and ‘70s Vietnam.
However, using force abroad requires a compelling national interest. Vietnam did not threaten American security and, though it may not have been easy to see at the time, withdrawing did not put American interests in danger. The theory that communism would sweep across southeast Asia proved incorrect. Though the communist party remains in power, Vietnam evolved with China into a sort of state managed capitalism, rather than revolution-exporting communism. And Vietnam is now one of the world’s most pro-American countries, with over 75% holding a favorable opinion of the United States.
The part I highlighted in bold is nonvalid thinking, because it considers the conflict in Vietnam as if it were isolated, and not a part of the Cold War. The Communist aggression in Vietnam was a threat to American interests and to America’s friends. Withdrawing from Vietnam put the entire free world in danger.
The result of our abandonment of South Vietnam was a more aggressive Soviet support for proxy wars in Central America, South America and Africa, and then in Afghanistan. I think “the theory that communism would sweep across southeast Asia proved incorrect” is one of the most ignorant statements I have seen on this topic. Nearly five million people were murdered by the Communist regimes that seized power in South Vietnam, and then Cambodia and Laos. Over half a million Cambodians fled the Killing Fields as refugees. A quarter of a million Vietnamese refugees became “Boat People,” with unknown numbers who disappeared at sea.
Yes, Vietnam evolved into a “sort of state-managed capitalism,” a process that took over three decades. And, yes, Vietnam did not continue to export Communist revolutionaries (after Cambodia and Laos). The exportation of Communist revolutionaries was done by the Soviets (later also the Chinese), in Nicaragua, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Columbia, Ecuador, Angola, Eritrea, Namibia, South Africa, Malaysia, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Chad, Sri Lanka, and of course Afghanistan. All of those “proxy wars” saw emboldened Soviet agitation due to America’s betrayal of our friends and allies in South Vietnam. Many of those “dominoes” fell, and the ones that avoided Communism only did so with American aid. The global death and misery that resulted from our withdrawal from South Vietnam is uncalculable.
I am really disappointed to see that editors who prize their magazine as being a voice of conservativism can select such material, even if they agree, as I do, with the conclusion. It tacitly accepts the Leftist spin on the Vietnam War. These people are to be avoided.