Monday, April 06, 2009

Afghanistan -- Another Vietnam?

Afghanistan is NOT Vietnam just as the US is not Sweden. Have I said anything meaningful?

Defenders of Obama's new "surge" in Afghanistan as well as defenders of Geithner's Xmas gift to Wall Street avoiding temporary "nationalization" of banks deliberately obfuscate the relevant issues by drawing seemingly nonsensical comparisons.

What are the relevant issues?

Let me just start with two such issues that should not be controversial irrespective of one's political sympathies.

1) During the Vietnam War, the US had to constantly confront the issue that their ally in the South Vietnam government could not motivate its troops. US had to inject training, manpower, battle field leadership, hardware and huge amounts of money into the S Vietnamese military to keep it fighting. In the end the US had to send in half a million of ground troops to fight the war on behalf of their ally against the enemy -- the Vietcong's and later the Vietnamese troops from the North.

While the enemy also received military aid from its allies -- China and the Soviet Union, they never seemed to have a morale issue! Quite the contrary despite the fact that the communist hardware was vastly inferior to what the US possessed. They lived in primitive conditions without the animal comfort US money bought for the South Vietnamese troops.

We are seeing history repeating itself, alas, in today's Afghanistan.

The Talibans, the tribes, Al Qaeda do not seem to have a morale problem among their fighting men. They live in primitive conditions. And their military hardware is hugely inferior to what their enemy (that's NATO) possesses.

In fact they seem to be holding pretty well against a technologically superior force. 17th century still enjoying a military edge against 21st century.

Let me declare myself.

I think the Taliban's attitude towards women, education, religion is despicable. I think Al Qaeda is evil. Al Qaeda needs to be defeated. Taliban's should be avoided like a plague.

I also think the "legitimate" Afghan government in Kabul is also despicable. It is the wrong ally for the civilized world. The Karzai government is spelled "disaster waiting to happen."

The brother of the president is a well-known drug lord and is perhaps the single largest supplier of opium to the world with the US as the largest consumer. Everyone in Afghanistan knows it and is therefore unimpressed by the democratic rhetoric coming out from any Western leader.

Back in the Vietnam war days the US government also helped the international opium trade to gain support of the hill tribes in the Golden Triangle to fight the Vietcongs. James Bondian airline: Air America, a CIA company, transported opium from inaccessbile hills in that Triangle to facilitate that trade.

The result? Massive influx of narcotics into the US. Did that help the war effort? Yes. But in favor of the wrong side!

2) The corruption in Kabul and those allied with the US is rampant and is fueling popular resentment agains the "legitimate" Afghan government.

No military surge can really eradicate that.

The more US invests in that government, the more it wants to avoid defeat and the more money it will pull into Afghanistan which will further worsen official corruption.

Just as in the case in S Vietnam, more money would disappear into corrupt Afghan officials. Incidentally that has happened in Iraq as well.

Yes, Afghanistan is not Vietnam. But there are some serious issues that are common to both wars that are extremely troublesome to the Nato effort there. Any wonder no countries other than the UK agreed to send combat troops to help out Uncle Sam?

Many non US military experts have written that the effort would be futile unless the government in Kabul is not what it is -- just as in the case of South Vietnam.

Replacing one by another is also tricky. In Vietnam JFK decided President Ngo, a corrupt Catholic leader in a Buddhist country, had to go. CIA assassinated him. Then came a serial change of unsavory and equally corrupt leaders in the capital of South Vietnam - Saigon. It is now renamed Ho Chi Minh City.

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