Afghanistan: Worse than Vietnam?

Why are we there? Ostensibly to prevent the Taliban/Al Qaida from training terrorists to attack us. Other unspoken reason 1: To try to prop up the nuclear armed government of Pakistan by denying those same groups bases to attack Paki from.Other possible reason: Have a nearby base from which we can launch a mission to secure said nukes if/when Paki gov’t falls apart.

quicksand What is the solution currently offered? Increase the number of troops on the ground to establish a safe zone within Afghanistan so Afghanis can set up a functioning government with hope that this will extend out into all of Afghanistan.

Problems:

  1. This solution achieves neither of the first two objectives.
  2. There is no objective criteria for success.
  3. Like Vietnam there is no direct US interest in the outcome of this war. Denying bases to terrorists is close to the same thing as the old domino theory that was used to rationalize Vietnam. Look at US history: We win wars that are either important to the national interests or in which we are so much larger than the opposition that a small portion of our military can overwhelm them. (See Grenada and Panama, Invasions of)
  4. We are running a military operation literally on the opposite side of the world. Supply lines are much more of a problem than even in Vietnam. Afghanistan is the nation that the Soviet Union – which shared a common border and had far fewer scruples about inflicting disproportionate damage – could not win. The Russians could not have been happier than the day we asked if we could run our supplies through their nation. They just followed Napoleon’s advice to "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake." They probably view it as payback. We bankrupted them to win the Cold War, so they’ll help us bankrupt ourselves.
  5. Because there is no objective criteria for success no one has any idea how long even the proposed solution will take to implement.
  6. It will damage NATO permanently. Either the member nations will continue to commit token amounts of troops and poison the water for any future necessary deployments as casualties turn the public further against joint operations with the US; or the other nations will cease to deploy troops and NATO will be turned into a shell of itself. NATO has a very clear reason to exist: To protect member states from attack by another government. That clear reason is why NATO has survived even the end of the threat is originally designed for. Using NATO to respond to and suppress insurgent, non-government actors is a very dangerous dilution of that mission. Mission creep will make NATO useless.
  7. We can’t afford the current size of the wars we’re already in — in either money or manpower. Afghanistan and the George Bush Desert Classic together have come close to breaking our ground forces. They are being worn out by too many deployments. Too many of them are being regularly asked to do missions that they are ill-trained to do. I have an incredibly high opinion of the American soldier. I have met many and am related to one. No military can take this kind of long-term open-ended deployments. And that is without even going in to the cost in terms of arms and armor. As a nation the US is effectively broke. We are funding the government on debt piled on top of debt piled on top of debt. Our banking system is the dead mouse on the kitchen floor of the US economy.* Both the bankers and the government are terrified of what will happen when/if the banks state the size of their losses. WE HAVE NO MONEY! This is my real problem with the entire health care debate. I am all in favor of national health care. I think this will save the nation a considerable amount of money in the end and extend the length and quality of its citizens’ lives. One problem: WE HAVE NO MONEY! How many wars have we paid for while not addressing this basic need? Just since the start of the New Deal there have been five major conflicts, the Cold War and I have no idea how many minor wars. We will spend billions on the military at the drop of a hat even when there is no actual threat to the safety and well-being of our nation. But some sort of national health insurance – which would cost far less than any of the major wars — has been blocked for more than 50 years.
  8. The Afghani government (and I use term liberally) remains in place because of corruption and rigged elections. You can’t win the hearts and minds battle with a government that looks like every other corrupt national government the Afghanis have ever had. Yeah the Taliban are murderous thugs but you have to make an argument to the people that more than “We’re less capricious than they are.”

If I were Hamad Kharzai I wouldn’t be buying any green bananas right now. The US has a long record of replacing its hand-picked leaders with extreme prejudice at times like this. (See Vietnam war, changes of government during for examples.)

Which brings me to my final point: If this isn’t another Vietnam, it will do until the real thing comes along. It is far too easy to imagine someone saying about an Afghani town: “We must destroy the village in order to save it.” That is not a slap at our military. It is meant to point out that under these extreme circumstances humans are likely to react in extreme ways. What seems like crazy on a normal day …

Unfortunately we do not have the option we should have used in Vietnam, declaring victory and go home. To do so almost certainly would make matters worse. We have added to the mess in an incredibly dangerous part of the world. This is the 21st century’s Balkans not because it may spark another world war but because it could involve the world in a cataclysmic war. I do hope Archduke Ferdinand is not already on his way.

 

 

*This sentence is a rip off of something Collateral Damage Sr. originally said about Nixon.

The Iraq War: 10 Lessons Learned During My Brother’s Deployment

1: I can hold my breath for six months. It’s not that hard, really. I just inhaled when my brother shipped out and exhaled again when he returned for R&R. I did it again when he went back until he returned from his tour. This is a convenient literary description of what it felt like – but in my memory it is the literal truth. I know people who’ve done it for 15 months, several times.

2: How to listen to the news. A mental flow chart I followed whenever I encountered any reports about Iraq. An answer of “that’s not my brother” at any step allowed me to return to my daily life.

  • Has somebody died?
  • Iraqi or American?
  • Civilian or military?
  • Was it someone in the Army?
  • What part of the country?
  • Is this near Fallujah?
  • Is it my brother?

When I reached that final question, I felt relieved and then horrible. I knew my reprieve was someone else’s loss.

3: What to send. Batteries. Hot sauce – MRE’s are bland. Hard candy. Chewing tobacco – it’s a form of currency. DVDs. Baby wipes – help people clean off when they’re in the field. My son sent some of his toys and stuffed animals to give to Iraqi kids.

4: What not to send. Don’t send chocolate. It will likely melt during shipping because of the temperatures in Iraq. There have been many reports that the military is trying to develop a chocolate with a higher melting point. Officially you’re not supposed to ship porn, alcohol, and/or anything with pork in it. While there are serious doubts as to whether or not anyone actually checks for these things, people at home disguise them anyway. A friend of my brother’s got some mouthwash in a box from home, screwed the top off and took a swig out of it. He spit it out and said in total surprise, “It’s mouthwash!”

5: Nothing bigger than a shoe box. That’s the optimum size for shipping. Anything bigger than that will take forever to get there. For some reason speed of delivery mattered even when he was going to be there for a year.*

6: The USPS is very helpful. When shipping overseas you have to fill out one of two different customs forms depending on the weight of the package. I was always filling out the wrong one. No matter how long the line behind me, when the clerk saw the address on the package he or she invariably said something kind and didn’t mind waiting while I filled out the right one.

7: People are very kind. You send things because there’s nothing else you can do. I asked other people to send things, too. And they did. Lots of things: packages and dozens of birthday and Christmas cards and prayers. Always prayers. You send those, too, because there’s nothing else you can do.

8: I don’t care what you think about the war. Before you tell me that, tell me if you’ve had someone over there. If you know what that constant dread is like or what it’s like to be terrified when the phone rings late at night, then I’ll listen to what you have to say. I’ve disagreed with people who’ve been through this, but I’ve never argued. We have too much in common. It’s irrational, but I think we are the only people who should get to discuss the topic. Anyone else – even the ones who agree with me – I tend to view as a clueless fool.

9: Many people have it worse. And it’s not just the families that have had someone killed or injured. He is my brother but he is Stacy’s husband and my parent’s child. The times they were awake at 3 AM were much darker than the times I was.

10: I am a hypocrite. If truth is the first casualty of war, then the first truth to die is the fact that your opponent is human, too. I passionately believe that all human lives are equal. For the entire year my brother was over there I didn’t care how many Iraqis died or what else happened to them. Now that he is back, I am compassionate again.

 

*This was written in 2005. This size restriction is no longer accurate.