I don't pretend to know enough about Afghanistan to have a confident view of what to do about it. Fred Kaplan, who knows a lot more than I do, says that he too is torn. But I have been very skeptical of increasing U.S. commitment there, for the reason that Barack Obama tonight identified as one of the sources of possible objection to his policy:
"First, there are those who suggest that Afghanistan is another Vietnam. They argue that it cannot be stabilized, and we're better off cutting our losses and rapidly withdrawing. I believe this argument depends on a false reading of history. Unlike Vietnam, we are joined by a broad coalition of 43 nations that recognizes the legitimacy of our action. Unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a broad-based popular insurgency. And most importantly, unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan, and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border."
"Another Vietnam"... well, not exactly. There are far more differences than similarities between the situations. (History of colonialism; effects of partition; charismatic nationalist leader; topography; scale; nature of combat; larger Cold War dynamic and spillover; and I could go on.) And even to say "another Vietnam" discredits opposition in suggesting that it's a reflexive and undiscriminating reaction to the traumas of another age.
The real question is whether another 30,000 troops and another year or two can make a difference -- whether this new commitment will meet the test that Obama announced a few minutes later in the speech: "As President, I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, or our interests." I have resisted this additional commitment, because I have felt that it went beyond our responsibility, our means, and our interests. Since this is the course we're now set on, I hope his assessment -- that this can make a difference -- turns out to be right.
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