Saturday, December 5, 2009

Why John Mearsheimer and I agree about Obama's Tragic Escalation in Afghanistan

            About the war in Iraq, the old Cold War divisions  among left, center and right in academic discourse largely vanished.  Radicals like myself and Chomsky, mainstream to conservative neo-realists like John Mearsheimer, and rightwingers  like Robert W. Tucker all agree that the war itself, the trashing of international law, and the practice of  torture were wrong and counterproductive (Chomsky and I obviously view these as more serious crimes and expect little decency in American foreign  policy, though I was hoping, following  Obama’s new formulations about mutual respect and less aggression, for something less  indecent).  For instance, in "The Sources of American Legitimacy" in  Foreign Policy in 2004 here, Robert W. Tucker and David Henrickson indicted Bush’s wars as well as Clinton’s intervention in Kosovo.  Because of practicing torture, they said it would take generations for the United States to recover its prestige – a better word is decency – in terms of international law.  Tucker proved himself someone with wisdom and affection for law.* 

         In academia, the defense of the war was left to a handful of humanitarian interventionists including Robert Keohane who thought Saddam so awful that American war to depose him might be justified on moral grounds.  They avoided the thought emphasized my friend, the philosopher Hilary Putnam, that to be just, a war, which always involves large scale maiming and killing,  must not only be directed at a great evil, but not produce something as bad or worse in its stead.  As Tucker stresses, the widely known international gulag of American torture prisons has disfigured the United States at least until the almost miracle election of Obama.  But much of the recovery has been frivolously thrown away by Obama in escalating the occupation of Afghanistan this week. 

         Interestingly, Samantha Power who wrote A Problem from Hell about genocide in Iraq, enormously influencing some  who supported humanitarian intervention, wisely opposed the war.  Her account leaves out America’s arming of and passion for Saddam (a major flaw in the book: Reagan’s emissary, Rumsfeld shook hands with Saddam in 1983  and blamed Saddam’s gassing of the Kurds on Iranian “mustard gas”; a United Nations report some months later made the case clear, but of course went unreported in the American press).  Nonetheless, she too understood that this aggression had no good motivation and would lead to evil results.  It is a tragedy that Powers, close to Obama, was too outspoken about Hilary Clinton, and had to resign.  Obama seems to be surrounded by conventional if intelligent warmongers as advisors.

       At the 1993 American Political Science Association, John Mearsheimer, Stephen Krasner, Michael Doyle and I participated on a panel named realism and democracy.  One focus was my internal critique of realism and neo-realism in an initial article “Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?” which suggests that a well stated realist argument, contradictory to its self-description as a clear eyed or hard headed appraisal of power-relations  and thus somehow devoid of morality, was, in fact, a moral critique of moralisms.  With a cautious specification of the national interest as a common good, for instance preserving the lives of Americans and others rather than wantonly wasting and maiming, the realist case against war  in Vietnam and Iraq is clear.  Two days ago, John sent me his excellent piece from his Foreign Policy blog below.   

         Sometimes, one  needs to defend oneself against aggression - a just cause for a realist (in this sense, Michael Walzer's Just and Unjust Wars was a moral defense of a reasonable version of realism) -  but should find,  and this is true especially of the unipower, initiating aggression abhorrent.  Realism is thus – and was in Vietnam – opposed to the strident influence of the war complex (shorthand for the military-industrial-political-think tank “expert” – media complex).   If one wants a spellbindingly foolish in formulation and evil in practice view, neoconservatism – the idea that the US will remodel the Middle East by force and make a home for a reactionary "greater" Israel (of course, Israel might do some bombing, say against Iran, itself) – is a paradigm.  It is particularly sad that the organizers of the Foreign Policy Initiative, the same ones who organized the infamous Project for a New American Century, William Kristol, Robert Kagan and Dan Senor, a Bush advisor who substitutes for Gary Schmitt in the current trio, are electrified by Obama's decision.  See Eli Clifton, Neo-Cons get warm and fuzzy over 'war president' here. The evil of this macho windbaggery – the ruins of American occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan and the revulsion of decent people worldwide including here – is now plain to many (it was already plain to many in the vast anti-War movement in 2003).  Obama has not endorsed the rhetoric, but he has caved to the war complex's policy.

         In Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, starting from a notion that realism is actually a moral critique of moralisms, I do an internal critique of three major neorealists, Steve Krasner, Bob Gilpin and Bob Keohane (Keohane has a more clearly morally stated and cooperative argument but nonetheless adheres to a certain kind of social science, one which starts from a redescription of realist competition of powers – neo-realism - but looks for non-harmful forms of cooperation or, as he names them,  regimes).  On the panel, the argument was not much joined.  But at the beginning of his talk on why I am a realist, John pointedly articulated the moral basis for realism.  What he said roughly was “What did Jews in Germany lack?  What do Moslems in Bosnia lack?  A state.  And for that reason, genocide was committed against them.”

        In response, I pointed out that his realism was in fact passionately moral.  If you want to stop genocide against a people, get a state.  There is, on his view, no other way.  If so, a decent state protects the lives of a people; realism recognizes that genocide and aggression are quite common crimes, and seeks to forefend against them.  That is one of the things I mean by emphasizing a spelled out common good, focused on the preservation of the lives of citizens of one’s own state, but others as well, as the root of realism.   If the national interest must involve such a good, then Morgenthau’s vagueness (in 1953, he wrote a book on the national interest in Latin America which never says what a national interest is) or Krasner’s ambiguity (it is either the state’s interest or something in common for citizens but not spelled out), is misguided.   As  more advanced points, ones not discussed in that debate, I suggested that often citizens of one country have a common interest with those of others against the harmful or tyrannical policies of their own state and that such policies in a two party democracy are marked by tearing down rivals in the form of anti-radical ideology (rightwingers say: "my opponent is soft on communism or on Islam, a Frenchy or not American born, weak, vacillating" and so forth) or as I did not say as sharply “patriarchy” (Bush and Cheney are the prototype of poseur “tough guys”; see David Frum, The Right Man). 

       Since the assumption of realists is that your state, in foreign policy, represents you, realists tend, except in extreme cases like Vietnam, to say: "sure, policy-makers are making mistakes (why else would I be writing about them except to counsel something saner?)" but to leave out the people.  They see democracy as irrelevant to or as an obstacle to realism.  As George Kennan used to put it before Vietnam, one should substitute professional diplomacy for popular diplomacy (symbolized by Woodrow Wilson at Versailles,  with a focus on his notions of democratic collective security rather than his Ku Klux Klan-like racism (see here), and assaults on Haiti, Nicaragua, Mexico and the like.**  But in 1984,writing about Vietnam,  Kennan recognized America’s "military-industrial addiction" and the role of the two parties in often pushing executive options  to the right (what I have called the reactionary two step here).

         John has become a telling spokesperson for realism (or neo-realism).  As he reports in the article below, he served for 10 years, between 1965 and 1975, in Vietnam.  He says how much it pains him to admit that the anti-War movement was right about the war.   It is a heavy price to have paid, an honorable admission (what it means for any of us to get beyond initial ideologies and begin to think is to be willing to face such things in ourselves and get beyond them). After the same debate, Steve Krasner said to me: "well, I guess in the Vietnam war, the anti-War movement represented the national interest" (this follows from my view that a national interest is a common good for one's own people and sometimes internationally which tyrannical states often abridge; such a good contradicts Steve’s view that the national interest is the state’s interest, where the policies are bipartisan and long-lasting – see Defending the National Interest). 

           John’s view about Vietnam as well as Steve’s reflect an ordinary soldier’s or citizen’s perspective on state policy.  As personal views, they are not unusual.  They are, however, very unusual in the study of international relations in  which realism sought to distinguish international politics dramatically from domestic politics (Kennan again trying to secure the sphere of diplomacy from "nasty" democratic passions from below).  Similarly, in neo-realism, for pseudoscientific reasons in a putative methodological separation of "levels of analysis," the international sphere is supposedly wholly discrete from the sphere of comparative politics or the domestic sphere.  This misguided split makes realist views about foreign policy too-centered on advice to leaders, talk with diplomats and professionals and expert scholars, coupled with disinterest in or contempt for popular organizations.  But for Vietam and Iraq, those organizations from below had a far more intelligent view than the others,  and often discussed issues and arguments which would have strengthened a realist case; realist academics trailed behind citizen activists…

         War is about you and me.  Citizens cannot be separated from it.  In the aggression of 2003, the United States ate Iraq.  If one can discuss or compare the regime there, or the puppet Karzai in Afghanistan without adverting to war as their creator, the United States, and in the case of Afghanistan, NATO, one would be writing mere apology, scarcely veiled by in this case foolish political “science” jargon.  One of John’s quite lovely characteristics as a soldier-citizen-political scientist is that he has an intense feeling for why he argues as he does.  He comes to the moral point, straight up. 

        Vietnam, John notes, was wrong from the beginning.  It did not strengthen the US against the Soviet Union.  It weakened the US as a power.  Worse yet, the War cost many lives – and obviously, took a decade of John’s.  In contrast, he says,  getting out was sheer gain. In fact, he says rightly, the US should never have gone in (it should also never have bankrolled French colonialism's belligerence there).  The US lost much in legitimacy and power through the war.  Yet the USSR still imploded, given its intervention in Afghanistan, and the US was the “victor,” so to speak in the Cold War.  But the great Reagan victory and triumphalism has led to ever more war, the prominence of neoconservative fantasy among “experts” and ideologues in both parties, pressure to adopt this (minus the civilizational or democratizing mission) on Obama, and disaster.   Here, as Chalmers Johnson has underlined. is a real parallel of the fall of the USSR  with the United States, in Vietnam and more recently, Iraq and Afghanistan – Nemesis in his words is upon us).

       As a pivotal point, John stresses that the South Vietnamese army could not and would not fight.  Here he does not see or chooses not to mention a crucial point.  "Hanoi" was the outcome of a peasant nationalist resistance movement, led by Communists, against French colonialism, Japanese imperialism (FDR argued for the end of colonialism in Indochina), renewed French colonialism with American funding from Truman and Eisenhower (80% of the French military budget for Indochina by 1954) and American imperialism. Violating the Geneva Accords which mandated elections in 1956, the US created a puppet government (elections could not happen, Eisenhower said, because Ho Chi Minh would have won).  That government was drawn from a minority, Catholics, and from exiles like Diem (Ky, who replaced Diem after the US government allowed him to be murdered, had been a flier for the French occupying army...).  The US was trying to reverse an already existing land reform to restore the landlords; to fight a mobilized peasant resistance, it sought to recruit whatever others it could find and use its firepower to hang on.  Such constricted circumstances do make it hard to build a strong army on behalf of a shadowy, oppressive puppet.  In Afghanistan, the US faces, as Obama said in his speech, less forbidding circumstances .  But it is still the occupier (it has all the popularity that the British used to have here in America, with much less ties of law, culture, religion to bind...). 

      As John rightly points out, there is also nothing in Afghanistan for the US to “win.”  The current surge will not stop Al-Qaida or the Taliban in Pakistan, and the Pakistani government will not stamp them out.  He does not comment on the second part of the “strategy” – firing drones from Langley in an attempt – perhaps it will even be successful,  – to kill Osama Bin Laden.  This would be a victory for Obama in domestic politics, but would not strengthen parliamentary democracy in Pakistan.  Instead, through murdering civilians and showing that the government in Pakistan is the shadow of a distant Empire which sends not soldiers but missiles (the US toys are the weapons of cowards), these policies may contribute to its collapse in the near-term.     Obama's current policy  could very likely both take out Bin Laden and provoke the triumph of anti-Western fanaticism in Pakistan.  That seems too high a price, especially since the purported goal of continuing US aggression and occupation was to – prevent nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists.  Putting it this way, it should be pretty obvious that too much is made of Obama’s intelligence, as well as that of his advisors (they are vastly smarter than the Bush crowd, but starting from the premises of the war complex, see Corrupt here – that is, ones lacking common sense or intelligence or decency– touting up a cleverer façade for counterproductive belligerence is little improvement.***

        In fact,  John emphasizes – though without naming it – the patriarchy and anti-communist or anti-radical ideology characteristic of American domestic debate.  Anybody who has an idea in their head, like Kerry in 2004 that Cheney and Bush let Osama escape from Tora Bora through war on the cheap, can be baited as an outsider.  The phony Texan and evader of military service Bush was depicted by the elite-owned mainstream media as a real man; Kerry a “Frenchy” (guess he didn't eat freedom fries).  Kerry  was weak and effeminate to boot, the poseur Bush manly (Bush used to smirk because he knew that he was a fake; he delightedly named himself “the decider,” the man so powerful he didn’t have to explain himself to anyone because they all had to truckle to him.  God better be on his side, he assured himself,  because otherwise there was no one home). 

          Empiricist American political science became strong during the Cold War.  At that time, any idea which might be true about American policy but was not the leader's preference could easily be discredited by anti-radicalism.  Only outliers politically, even after Vietnam, could begin to raise the idea that this poisonous view actually prevented scholars from seeing the nature of American politics clearly (Michael Rogin wrote on this in Ronald Reagan the Moview and other Studies in American Political Demonology and I in Democratic Individuality and Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?  Otherwise there was silence).

        Anti-radicalism is the ideology that foreign radicals, speaking a strange language full of rhetoric or foreign words, manipulate ordinary, otherwise supposedly content Americans to follow them.  How these agitators do it, given their foreign tongue and hidden interest, is rather unclear.  But proponents of this view sneer anti-democratically and incoherently that ordinary people are dupes and fools.  Thus the Truman Democrats, soft, weak, and infested with "commies," as John underlines below, “lost China”; though Vietnam was Kennedy and Johnson’s War, the McGovern Democrats, as John also recalls, weak and unmanly, “lost” Vietnam.  John takes apart the arrant stupidity of the Republican/neocon fantasy about victory, through further escalation in, Vietnam.  If Obama had done the sensible thing about Afghanistan, suggesting that the US invasion and occupation could not accomplish anything positive and was day by day making new and harsher enemies for America, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the US should remove an occupation which inspires widespread hatred for America and strengthens  Al-Qaida, the Republicans would have crucified him.    

          As Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? indicates, these themes are the center of our electoral politics; the Republican right, a now confused but authoritarian movement, does not know if Obama is a “National Socialist” or a “Socialist” (though he is neither); it "knows" that he is un-American (not born here), other (as the drunken gunslinger says hazily to sheriff Bart in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, “are we…black?”), weak (this guy is a lethal president, as taking out the three pirate-kidnappers shows), etc., etc.   Already, as I have underlined in The Times on ‘socialism’ here, the authoritarian movement which the Republican Party is vanishing into, speaks of Obama as an other, a foreigner (“the birthers”), a man of secret (socialist or National Socialist or extraterrestrial – to say these people are fools, given a megaphone by the corporate media, is to be unkind to fools) – this is nothing but anti-radical ideology.

      The reactionary two-step of two party competition in an oligarchy run, as we have seen in the crisis, by the richest  banks –   a kind of speculative, casino capitalism which just brought the world economy down – is driven, as Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?  makes clear, by this ideology.  It is not just a Republican ideology.  John F. Kenenedy, the Democrat, beat Richard Nixon in 1960 with the false allegation that President Eisenhower had allowed a missile gap to open up with the USSR.  Ironically, the red-baiter par excellence, who had defeated that "commie-lover" Helen Gehagen Douglas in California for the Senate, was soft on communism, the truculent Nixon effeminate (lacking, one might say, that most phallic commodity, suffering a missile “gap”).  Despite his astuteness and decency – Kennedy avoided nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis, and few other American Presidents in this period of time, would have done so – Kennedy launched the counterproductive Bay of Pigs invasion and escalated in Vietnam.

       In the "best" case scenario, Obama is a cool customer, and might, if they ever get any decent intelligence, kill Osama Bin Laden in addition to slaughtering innocents.  Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck would still try to redbait, or feminine-bait him, but it wouldn’t play.  In any case, he has escalated.  If, as is probable, the escalation does not breathe integrity into the Karzai regime or competence against the Taliban (they are also all Afghanis) into the military, their attempts to attack Obama for drawing down the troops in 2011 will very likely not be successful.  Sadly, a sick two step to the Right has possessed  Obama.  He has, as John says, sacrificed wantonly the lives of American soldiers for domestic political advantage (See also David Sirota’s column yesterday here).   It is particularly sad that he spent so much time in Arlington with the dead from Afghanistan and Iraq - as if to persuade himself that he kept them in mind, kept faith.  Unlike the other fools devoted to seeking prominence in American politics like McCain or Palin or Hillary Clinton, he has some deep sense of the waste (see Corrupt here).

     An irony in John's position.  Realism and neo-realism assert that international and domestic politics are or, more accurately, should be absolutely separate.  But if one want's to explain why a policy is stupid and corrupt, one often needs, as John does, to invoke domestic factors.  My view, that democracy is often  undermined by international politics, and sometimes undermines common sense in it - that the dialectic of international and democratic politics is inextricable - accounts more easily for the truth in John's analysis than the amusing  neo-realist "utopian" efforts at separation.

          Increasingly and from diverse perspectives, people in international relations can name what is going on (my student John McMahon just wrote a brilliant postmodern thesis on the role of patriarchy in self-destructive American belligerence).  But the debate is not between neo-realism and postmodernism or constructivism and democratic internationalism; the question is which view or combination of views can put together the most coherent account – largely a common account I think – of how American foreign policy is driving itself - and the American economy - off a cliff for domestic political reasons.  We live in the era of the Obama miracle.  The near tyranny of Bush and Cheney with two stolen elections (there is no “banana republic” in the Americas that rivals the United States for degradation in 2000 and 2004) was actually replaced, in the country of slavery and segregation,  by the election, through a mass movement, of the smartest and most decent politician, an eloquent black (biracial) man who had lived in Indonesia, an immediate and genuine international star.  Contrary to Robert W. Tucker’s reasonable thought that it would take generations to repair the crimes and madness of Bush-Cheney, Obama was given the Nobel Peace Prize, on hope and promise, less than a year in office.  But with his truckling to the war complex and the two step of reactionary domestic politics, Obama just threw away many of those good things.

         The implication of John’s article is that we all have to fight for democracy and peace, that sensible policies will not emerge out of this political establishment without extreme pressure below.  I used the phrase during the campaign that a mass movement would be necessary “to make Obama be Obama.”  Barack may earn that accolade back some years hence, but it is now a long way up from here. I would now just speak of a mass anti-War movement, one willing to engage in civil disobedience against the war complex here and internationally, to force the United States to be sane and decent.  Obama admires Gandhi and turns phrases modeled on King (“this is not the victory of the white man or the black man,  It is the victory of man as man.”  “We are not red states or blue states.  We are the United States”).  Now we need ourselves to act with King and Gandhi.

A further note:

       John and Steve Walt have spoken out on the Israel lobby and the plight of the Palestinians.  Alan Dershowitz and other insecure defenders of Israel's most self-destructive policies tried to shut them up with vicious accusations of anti-semitism.  Now John and Steve argued, quite well, that AIPAC exerts too great an influence in American politics.  This is also a common view in the CIA.  How has America gotten itself into two failing wars, the second of which, Iraq, the one Bush was most intent on, not just optional  but having no sane relation to opposing terrorism? (Bush’s harassing of Richard Clarke on Sept 12 –  "Saddam did this."  "No, Mr President  we have studied it and Al-Qaida did this."  “Find out about Saddam” illustrates the goal of the Bush administration from the moment it was elected, to invade Iraq).  Not only the great weapons-provider of Israel, America is fighting Israel's (also unwise) wars.  

          But the view taken in John and Steve’s article is not quite right.  The tail does not wag the dog.  The United States has also used Israel as a central outpost in dominating the Middle East for the whole period of the Cold War.  Through neo-conservative fantasies about gaining oil and military bases and "democracy" at the point of a gun, misguided and losing wars and economic collapse, however, that domination has now been shaken.…

         Mearsheimer and Walt sought to preserve Israeli democracy and to recognize and treat as human Palestinians.  This is a good and decent goal, one that everyone who cares about the Israelis and the Palestinians should share.  The harms of two American aggressions in the Middle East, and economic collapse – motivated by a colonialist ideology ("we the Empire can reshape those foolish Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq – and Iran, too").  The ugly project of “greater Israel” is something that reactionary Israeli governments might pursue with illegal settlements, the chorus of paranoid sycophants - king's men like Amaziah - in the US silence any criticism of.   See here.  But the slaughter in Gaza altered this.  The European Union is about to denounce the settlements, recognizing East Jerusalem as the capital of a new Palestine. With regard to their colonialism toward dispossessed Palestinians, arguments for supporting the policies of the Israeli government here may now have to become decent.

*Tucker was not always so; against OPEC price-manipulations in 1973, he suggested seizing the oil wells of Saudi Arabia.  

**Realists have no more reason to like these interventions, if they notice them than I do.  This example suggests  another way in which democratic internationalism is a better way of arguing for what realists want to say.

***Peter Baker has a particularly breathless story about Obama's decision-making process this morning on the front page of the New York Times with the neocon title: "How Obama Came to Plan for a 'Surge" in Afghanistan."

Hollow Victory

According to the Republicans, the United States is once again at the crossroads of losing another critical war because of feckless Democrats. Only this time it's Afghanistan.



The conventional wisdom among most Republicans is that while the United States had serious difficulty in Vietnam during the early years, by the early 1970s things were turning around, and victory was on the verge. Unfortunately, the craven Democrats in Congress bowed to widespread anti-war sentiment and forced the Ford administration to end almost all support to South Vietnam, allowing the North Vietnamese to win the war in 1975. In the GOP version of the story, this decision was a disastrous mistake. 

There has been a lot of talk lately about what the Vietnam War tells us about Afghanistan.  According to the Republicans, the United States is once again at the crossroads of losing another critical war because of feckless Democrats, only this time in Afghanistan. They contend that while, yes, the United States has mismanaged the war over the past eight years, Washington has now found a formidable military leader in General Stanley McChrystal. He knows how to defeat the Taliban and keep al Qaeda out of Afghanistan. However, the major obstacle he faces isn't in Afghanistan, it's here at home: the American public is war-weary and the Democrats -- who control both Congress and the White House -- have no enthusiasm for the greater sacrifices that General McChrystal recommends. 

This narrative is unconvincing for at least two reasons.  First, the United States was not close to victory in Vietnam by the early 1970s, because the South Vietnamese army could not stand on its own. This was manifestly apparent in 1971 when that army invaded Laos and was badly chewed up by North Vietnamese ground forces. To stand any chance of holding off Hanoi's offensives, the South Vietnamese army needed massive amounts of American airpower, which effectively meant that the U.S. military would have to continue fighting in Vietnam indefinitely just to maintain a stalemate. That hardly qualifies as being on "the brink" of victory.

In Afghanistan, there is little reason to think that the United States can decisively defeat the Taliban, mainly because they can melt into the countryside or go to Pakistan whenever they are outgunned, returning to fight another day (just as they did after the initial U.S. victory in 2001). Furthermore, the Karzai regime, corrupt and incompetent, stands little chance of ever truly being able to rule the country and keep the Taliban at bay, which means that the American military will have to stay there to do the job for many years to come.

But even if success was at hand in Vietnam and the United States could in the near future win quickly in Afghanistan, there is a second and more important flaw in the Republican narrative: Victory is inconsequential.

The United States suffered a clear defeat when South Vietnam collapsed in 1975, but it hardly affected America's position in the global balance of power. The domino theory proved unfounded; instead, communist Vietnam invaded communist Cambodia in 1978 and one year later Hanoi was at war with communist China. More importantly, losing in Vietnam had no adverse effects on America's competition with the Soviet Union. Indeed, 14 years after Saigon fell, the Cold War ended and the United States emerged as the most powerful state on the planet.

The real tragedy of Vietnam is not that the United States lost, but that it became involved in the first place. It pains me to say this as someone who served in the American military from 1965 to 1975, but the anti-war movement was right: It did not matter to U.S. security whether North Vietnam conquered the south and unified that country under communist rule. More than 58,000 American soldiers and more than 2 million Vietnamese died in an unnecessary and foolish war.

A similar logic applies today with regard to Afghanistan. The Republicans and General McChrystal claim that it is absolutely necessary to win the war in Afghanistan for the simple reason that a Taliban victory will allow al Qaeda to re-establish a sanctuary in Afghanistan. And we all know what happened the last time Osama bin Laden was free to scheme and plot against the United States from Afghanistan: September 11. The fatal flaw in this argument is that al Qaeda has a sanctuary next door in Pakistan from which it has been operating since it was driven out of Afghanistan in Dec. 2001. It does not need a sanctuary in Afghanistan. Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who helped General McChrystal formulate his strategy for Afghanistan, recently told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Pakistan is "superior in important ways to Afghanistan" because it is "richer and far better connected to the outside world than is primitive, land-locked Afghanistan with its minimal communications and transportation systems." 

But what if the Pakistani army eliminates al Qaeda's sanctuary in western Pakistan? Isn't its current offensive in South Waziristan a major step toward that end? Unfortunately, no. Pakistan has no intention of rolling up al Qaeda, in good part because it does not have the capability to police those areas where the terrorists are hiding.  The offensive in South Waziristan is not even aimed at the Afghan Taliban, much less at al Qaeda. This means that al Qaeda will have a sanctuary in Pakistan no matter what happens in Afghanistan, which means that the American military cannot win a meaningful victory there.

In Afghanistan, as in Vietnam, it simply does not matter whether the United States wins or loses. It makes no sense for the Obama administration to expend more blood and treasure to vanquish the Taliban. The United States should accept defeat and immediately begin to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan.

Of course, President Obama will never do such a thing. Instead, he will increase the American commitment to Afghanistan, just as Lyndon Johnson did in Vietnam in 1965. The driving force in both cases is domestic politics. Johnson felt that he had to escalate the fight in Vietnam because otherwise the Republicans would lambaste him for "losing Vietnam," the same way they accused President Harry Truman of "losing China" in the late 1940s.  

Obama and his fellow Democrats know full well that if the United States walks away from Afghanistan now, the Republicans will accuse them of capitulating to terrorism and undermining our security. And this charge will be leveled at them for decades to come, harming Democrats at the polls come election time. The Democrats have no intention of letting that happen.

The United States is in Afghanistan for the long haul. As was the case in Vietnam, more American soldiers and many more civilians are going to die in Afghanistan. And for no good reason.





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