Don’t let Afghanistan war turn into another Vietnam

October 10, 2017

We’ve been told that Donald Trump watches only Fox News and sometimes other cable news channels on television, but rarely anything else.

It’s really too bad that he’s probably not been watching Ken Burns’s and Lynn Novick’s brilliant documentary on the war in Vietnam.

Much of it is chilling on a number of levels, not least of which is that the United States made all the same mistakes that the French had made before them but plowed on and on nonetheless, ending in the killing of 58,000 Americans and more than 2 million Vietnamese. Now, we seem to be making the same mistakes in Afghanistan.

What both the French and the Americans found in Vietnam was that they, not the Vietnamese, were the intruders. They were the foreigners.

However long France or the United States chose to make war in Vietnam, the Vietnamese were not leaving. The same is true in Afghanistan. No matter how many years we stay, no matter how many bombs we drop, matter how much training we provide to Afghan troops, the population is going nowhere.

In Vietnam, we had an implausible fear of communism and the wrongheaded belief that countries would fall to communism like dominoes. We also believed that the United States would succeed where France had failed. Now we have an implausible fear of terrorism, a belief that if the Taliban returns to power in Afghanistan, they could somehow launch 9/11 size attacks on the United States. Once again, we believe the United States can do in Afghanistan what Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the Mughals of India, the Persian Empire, the British Empire (twice), the Sikh Empire, and the Soviet Union failed to do.

It’s time we took a realistic view of the dubious arguments concerning the danger posed by the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

In his book, “The Looming Tower,” author Lawrence Wright made clear that the Taliban was reluctant at best to have Al Qaeda in its midst in the 1990s and its leaders felt betrayed when Al Qaeda repeatedly violated its agreements to refrain from issuing inflammatory statements and fomenting violence abroad. And the Al-Qaeda-sponsored 9/11 attacks — in which the Taliban and had no hand, led to the toppling of its regime in Afghanistan. Bearing in mind that the Taliban has little interest in issues beyond the so-called “AfPak” region, it would seem unlikely that if they became to power again, they would play host to groups that export terror and thus invite another outside intervention. In any event, a group like Al Qaeda doesn’t need a geographic base to provoke terrorist operations. Indeed, today it uses the Internet and other means of communication to provoke terror activities in Europe and the West.

And despite dreadful terrorist acts in the United States such as the killings in San Bernardino and the mass killings at a nightclub in Orlando, neither perpetrator, though declaring allegiance to ISIS, was shown to have any connection with that or any other terrorist organization. Our nation has a sad history of overreacting to threats of terror.

We rounded up and bullied German-Americans in the wake of World War I, Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor, and Muslims after 9/11. In the years since 9/11, no serious terrorist cell in America has been identified, and no serious terrorist attack other than tragic and deadly lone wolf eruptions, such as in Las Vegas Sunday, have occurred in the United States.

It appears that once again we in the United States are overreacting to what appears to be international and domestic threats. This overreaction is costly in both money and lives. Remaining in Afghanistan and, as it appears, revving up our presence there appears to be needless and dangerous.

The result could well be yet another Vietnam. Let’s come on now.

Stephan Lesher, a Southbury resident, is a retired journalist and author.