Sunday, June 28, 2009

Not Carter, but LBJ...

A lot of Republicans trotted out the idea (hopefully, I suspect) that in electing Barack Obama America was getting Jimmy Carter's second term.

I'm beginning to think that LBJ might be a more apt comparison (granted that JFK had been assassinated and Dubya only assassinated the legitimacy of his own presidency).

LBJ wanted the Great Society to be his legacy to the United States; instead, he is forever linked to quagmire and failure in Vietnam.

President Obama is today concentrating massive efforts on domestic politics as well (stimulus, cap and trade, health care); but he is also running a very real risk of being linked to a similar quagmire and failure in the Iran-Afghanistan-Pakistan theater.

Simon Jenkins of The Guardian:

If good intentions ever paved a road to hell, they are doing so in Afghanistan. History rarely declares when folly turns to disaster, but it does so now. Barack Obama and his amanuensis, Gordon Brown, are uncannily repeating the route taken by American leaders in Vietnam from 1963 to 1975. Galbraith once said that the best thing about the Great Depression was that it warned against another. Does the same apply to Vietnam?

Vietnam began with Kennedy's noble 1963 intervention, to keep the communist menace at bay and thus make the world safe for democracy. That is what George Bush and Tony Blair said of terrorism and Afghanistan. Vietnam escalated as the Diem regime in Saigon failed to contain Vietcong aggression and was deposed with American collusion. By 1965, despite Congress scepticism, American advisers, then planes, then ground forces were deployed. Allies were begged to join but few agreed – and not Britain.

The presence of Americans on Asian soil turned a local insurgency into a regional crusade. Foreign aid rallied to the Vietcong cause to resist what was seen as a neo-imperialist invasion. The hard-pressed Americans resorted to ever more extensive bombing, deep inside neighbouring countries, despite evidence that it was ineffective and politically counterproductive.

No amount of superior firepower could quell a peasant army that came and went by night and could terrorise or merge into the local population. Tales of American atrocities rolled in each month. The army counted success not in territory held but in enemy dead. A desperate attempt to "train and equip" a new Vietnamese army made it as corrupt as it was unreliable. Billions of dollars were wasted. A treaty with the Vietcong in 1973 did little to hide the humiliation of eventual defeat.

Every one of these steps is being re-enacted in Afghanistan. Every sane observer, even serving generals and diplomats, admit that "we are not winning" and show no sign of doing so. The head of the British army, Sir Richard Dannatt, remarked recently on the "mistakes" of Iraq as metaphor for Afghanistan. He has been supported by warnings from his officers on the ground.

It is not going to be sufficient in another year to suggest that President Obama inherited this mess. He campaigned on throwing more troops and more resources into the theater, and he has doubled down at every opportunity.

And what would victory look like, anyway? Al Qaeda and the Taliban have the ability--Long March style--to retreat into Kirghizistan or any of the other 'stans nearby if things get too difficult. Pakistan has all the internal stability of Cambodia in the 1970s, but with nuclear weapons thrown in for good measure if some new Pol Pot were to arise.

This, as events in the region continue to spin out of control, is the stuff that unravels Presidencies.

1 comment:

Miko said...

I think "Bush's Third Term" might catch on. Insanely broad state secrets privileges, infinite detention under the guise of preventing terrorism, massive domestic spying programs, massive corporate bailouts, unending wars with (intentionally) poorly defined objectives, etc. No shortage of commonalities.