Is Afghanistan the Next Viet Nam?

After my recent column in the Globe, at least one blogger has labeled me an “isolationist.”

There is a big difference between isolationism and non-intervention. In eight years of “war,” intervention has only made the problem worse. The global economy is a reality to which we are committed.

We need to work with and even expand trade with other nations. But now that the Cold War is over, why does America still have bases overseas to defend Europe, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and the Arabian Gulf monarchies? Consider this: Japan’s economic powerhouse since World War II was principally fueled by the United States assuming the enormous cost of its defense burden. Our success in trading with China is an example of non-intervention worth considering. China is increasingly embracing capitalism and becoming more open without any shots being fired.

I am all for a strong military defense. I personally devoted 22 years of my life to that. But our blood and treasure should be reserved for actual national peril, not nation-building.

Max Cleland, Jimmy Carter

No, the problem with Afghanistan is that the new strategy depends on transferring combat responsibilities in two years to the government of Afghanistan.

Here are some facts about Afghanistan. Its government is corrupt and ineffective. It attempts and largely fails to govern more than seven desperate ethnic groups that in turn have more than seven different languages. Only 42 percent speak Pashtun, the principal language. The whole country is 64 percent illiterate; life expectancy is 43 years. Its 99 percent Muslim population discourages freedom as we know it and regards women pretty much as property. After decades of war, Afghanistan has about 1 million citizens with handicaps, among the highest percentage in the world. There is little civilized infrastructure such as roads and bridges except for what we have built, no medical system, and education, despite some small gains, is still a joke.

In a very recent interview in Ireland, our chairman of the joint chiefs, loyal appointee that he is, denied that the new strategy is nation building.

The improved security forces, he said, will be built by the government of Afghanistan, with our help of course (read, “money”), and our troops will begin leaving by July 2011. Good luck with that.

Politically, President Obama is constrained by his pre-election statements and numerous treaty commitment with allies. If he pulled out of Afghanistan abruptly, he would be accused by the GOP of cutting and running, and that would resonate with the electorate. So once again we are headed for a quagmire. Our new president has committed us to a course of action in Afghanistan. I pray that he succeeds, but I just can’t picture it.

About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
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4 Responses to Is Afghanistan the Next Viet Nam?

  1. Jim says:

    Some Liberals are agitated about the Obama administration’s lengthened schedule for exiting Iraq and Afghanistan. They have a tendency, comparable to that of flag-wavers on the Right, to refuse to consider the immense complications of the situation. It appears that Obama and his advisors clearly understand the realities as much as they are constrained by them. We can hope that the administration (with the public’s help) maintains a resolve to exit the region as expeditiously as possible.

    BTW, another worthwhile blog on this subject is [].


  2. Pingback: Way, Way Too Much « Still Skeptical After All These Years

  3. Jim Wheeler says:


    Tonight, 11/28/10, the CBS program 60 Minutes aired a segment about the Afghan Police Force. After more than 9 years and a $7 Billion effort showed virtually no, that is zero, results, we have put a General in charge of the effort to build a police force in that sad, shattered country. The coverage showed a vast field of Afghani’s striving, and utterly failing, to do calisthenics. They looked like the Keystone Kops. They are still 80% illiterate and corrupt to the core. One cop demanded cash from a diplomat to be allowed access to the U.S. embassy. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

    A British official stationed there formerly but now removed opined for the camera that training an Western-style police force there in a short time is “impossible”. He said it might be done in 100 years.

    Suspicions confirmed. When you have dug yourself into a hole, the first thing you should do is stop digging.


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