Columns, Opinion

SONI: Afghanistan and Vietnam: The case of the quagmires

We’ve been stuck in Afghanistan for about eight and a half years now, and it doesn’t look like there’s any hope of a clean break in sight. No one wants to say it, but perhaps we’re losing this one. As the conflict continues to drag on, the Vietnam comparison seems more and more apt.

It’s still not clear how we lost in Vietnam. Some say it was those Viet Cong &- ruthless animals with no regard for humanity. Others say it was domestic unrest &- a televised war combined with a civil rights and counterculture movement just didn’t mix too well with the draft. Whatever the reasons, there are some striking similarities between the quagmire that was Vietnam and the quagmire that is Afghanistan.

For starters, both wars have proven how military operations can severely tighten the budget. The Obama Administration stepped up its troop involvement this year after an intensive 2001 counterinsurgency mission. And while the United States Defense Appropriation Bill totals $637 billion this year alone, aid from the entire international community toward the reconstruction of Afghanistan has, by comparison, only been $30 billion.

It just doesn’t make any sense. How do we expect to win a war when we’re too fascinated by toys of destruction to care about the welfare of the people involved?

During the ’60s, President Lyndon Johnson dug his own grave when the ambitions of his domestic agenda conflicted with his foreign policy aims. As he poured money and men into the war, his plans for a Great Society fell to the wayside. He left the White House with his head hung low amid allegations that his spending abroad forced him to make sacrifices at home.

No doubt some of that $637 billion could be put to good use back in America.

Another similarity between the two quagmires is the insistence of our government to support ineffectual and corrupt puppet presidents. Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam was widely considered an authoritarian ruler with a penchant for nepotism. Along with Diem’s brother Ngo Dinh Nhu, the Catholic elitist government imposed harsh racial policies against their Buddhist inhabitants, fueling the fire that eventually led to their demise: South Vietnamese military generals planned a coup, under the auspices of the frustrated Kennedy Administration, killing the brothers as they tried to escape.

Perhaps the same fate awaits Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He electioneers and pockets aid money, his brother is considered a major player in the opium trade and he is widely unpopular within his own country. But hey, as FDR once said of Anastasio Somoza, “He’s a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of bitch.”

But when you pit military might and a puppet president against the fire of staunch idealism, the fight takes on a different tone. No form of war technology, no number of drone strikes, can compare to the tenacity of ideological fighters, whether they be Vietnamese nationalists or Islamic fundamentalists.

After a certain point, we get so fixated on winning, or at least not losing a war, that we forget why we started fighting in the first place. Who knows why we went into Vietnam? It’s still a mystery to most. Maybe to clean up the mess that was left by the French, maybe to secure the world from the evils of Communism.

Why we attacked Afghanistan is slightly clearer.

It was a war of ideology. They hated us for our freedoms, apparently, and felt that large-scale terrorism was the only way to temper the spread of insidious Western values.

I can see where they’re coming from on that one. Heck, if I thought my burqa-wearing daughters would soon be prancing around like Hannah Montana reading the “Twilight” series, I’d want to kill myself, too. Stephenie Meyers and Billie Ray Cyrus should be jailed for what they have unleashed onto the world.

But I digress. Let us never forget that when America was attacked on 9/11, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were the central targets. By aiming for the symbolic nexuses of finance and militarism, those terrorists were trying to tell us something.

Too bad we weren’t listening. Rather than reexamining our capital oligarchy and checking our jingoism, we turned around and started barking back like a pack of rabid dogs in heat.

At the end of “Team America: World Police,” the “South Park” creators’ satire on American foreign policy, puppet/protagonist Gary Johnston makes an impassioned speech about the merits of our influence abroad. “We’re dicks!” he yells, “We’re reckless, arrogant, stupid dicks.”

And if we’re the reckless American dicks, Afghanistan is our herpes-infested hook-up, After being drunk on money and power for so long, we’re sobering up and recognizing our mistakes.

We can do one of two things: We can pull out politely and skulk away -&- admit our blunders and call it quits, like Vietnam. Or, we keep pounding away under the precept that you can’t leave mid-thrust &-&- bang it out till the end. Maybe it’s time to choose the former.

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