Learning the Lessons of Vietnam in Afghanistan

It’s become clear that the Obama administration has learned the lessons of Vietnam in its policy on Afghanistan.  From Martha Raddatz:

Maj. Gen. Robert B. Abrams, the top U.S. and NATO commander in southern Afghanistan, is confident the country won’t fall back into the grips of the Taliban and other extremists when international forces pull out in two years—pointing to what he calls a “homegrown” rejection of the Taliban and the readiness of the Afghan security forces.

It’s great that General Abrams thinks his policy is working.  Compare this to another article about the CIA bribing it’s way through the Karzai regime to keep it in power — which has only resulted in increasing the corruption and weakness of the central government.  The CIA bribery was designed to replace Iran’s bribery to buy influence with the Afghanistan government (the CIA has more dough than the Iranian government).  But it doesn’t seem that most Afghani politicians care about anything other than money — their loyalty is based on their tribe and their own personal interests, not the country’s.  If people don’t care about their country — Afghanistan, South Vietnam, whatever — we can’t make them patriotic.

Both articles linked to are very reminiscent of Nixon’s Vietnam policy of “Vietnamization.” Nixon’s stated goal was to have the South Vietnamese be able to prosecute the war without US troops.  Vietnamization and the peace agreement we had with North Vietnam provided the crucial fig leaf that enabled the US to get out without be left holding the bag.  Our client states can lose wars, but we can’t.

This is the lesson of Vietnam the Obama administration has applied to Iraq and now Afghanistan.  Iraq is on the verge of falling back into sectarian war.   With the Sunnis organizing and arming, and the Iraqi government has become more and more a front for Shia interests, the country is ready to explode again.   However, our hands are clean, since we are no longer occupying the country.  The Surge and the Sunni Awakening gave us just the breather we needed to get out of Baghdad. Whatever happens, it’s on Maliki’s head.

The same process is happening in Afghanistan.  I find it hard to imagine that anyone seriously thinks the Karzai government will last more than a year or two after the US army leaves, but that’s all we need to be able to get out of town and blame Karzai for not holding the country together.

It’s face-saving at its cynical worst, and it’s the basis of US foreign policy.  Welcome to it.

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