Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Echoes of Vietnam?

By refusing to rush more troops into Afghanistan, President Obama shows the wisdom and discipline of asking vital questions missing when President Lyndon Johnson impetuously hurled United States forces full-bore into the Vietnam War.

Why are we in Afghanistan, Obama is asking the Pentagon, and if we remain, what sort of military operations should be conducted and on what scale?

Answers are vital to Obama's decisions, but also to Americans who won't support a war with historical antecedents that are foreboding indicators of disaster. Public support now is below 50 percent.

The British couldn't tame Afghanistan in the 1800s and retreated. The Soviet Union gave up after 10 years and pulled out 118,000 troops in 1989 after suffering 14,553 dead.

Now, with fewer than 100,000 troops there and fewer than 1,000 killed, U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal is asking the president for more troops for a new mission—abandoning rural areas where counterinsurgency tactics aren't working and instead protecting population centers.

This should sound alarms. It mimics LBJ's Vietnam strategy—throwing in more troops (from fewer than 100,000 in 1965 to 537,000 by the end of 1968) and concentrating on protecting "enclaves" from North Vietnamese and Vietcong attacks.

One further eerie parallel: LBJ insisted he could provide a "guns and butter" economy—fighting in Vietnam and launching the Great Society at home. He failed.

Before the U.S. commits more lives and treasure to Afghanistan, Americans must understand why it's important to remain there—or why we should get out.

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