Thursday, September 03, 2009

Obama's Vietnam - A History Lesson

Big countries have this blind spot when it comes to spreading their version of society around the world.

The Western powers created the current Middle East out of whole cloth after World War II, jamming different ethnicities and religions together into “countries” creating ethnic and religious instability in the region that lasts through today.

The Soviet Union “stabilized” Eastern Europe until it’s collapse immediately following the Soviet Union’s failure in the early nineties when the area “re-balkanized” along ethnic and religious lines.

The Soviets tried the same thing in Afghanistan with similar results.

The French left Indo-China with their tail between their legs.

We Americans have experienced no better results spreading the gospel of democracy. Johnson quit the Presidency largely due to a failed Vietnam policy. Nixon would have been known for his failure there (and not for opening China) had he not played fast and loose with domestic law.

Bush the Elder at least limited his folly by not invading and occupying Iraq after the Gulf War. But, his crippling of Iraq led to increased Iranian influence in the area as it did not have to focus effort and resources on defending itself against Iraq.

Then W, due to some sort of father/son complex, or imperial ambitions, or maybe he’s a true believer in making the world safe for democracy, take your pick, remembering Americans parading in Paris from Saturday afternoon black and white WWII documentaries and jubilant liberated Kuwaitis throwing flowers at soldiers on CNN, invaded Iraq expecting the same results, having no plan for governance or rebuilding.

That was some six and a half years ago. He had forgotten that the Marshall plan had spent billions of dollars (at a time when a billion meant something) rebuilding Europe. He had forgotten that the Soviet Union’s domination of Eastern Europe was the functional equivalent of Saddam’s domination of Iraq. He had forgotten that Iran had been building up its influence and funding terrorists. He didn’t know that Shiites don’t like Sunnis who don’t like Kurds who don’t like Shiites….

Then he left it for Obama to play with.

So, Obama is playing the cards W dealt him in Iraq, slowly drawing down troops, still pumping money into its dysfunctional economy with the end result that we will have a planned presence for a decade or so overseeing fights among the residents that have been fighting each other for centuries, continuing to spend money to prop up the economy.

Meanwhile, and I don’t understand it, he’s ramped up our involvement in Afghanistan and apparently will continue to do so. I had thought that he was using Afghanistan during the campaign to give him some foreign policy “cred” – “I’m no wimp we’re going to do this one the right way, not like W did in Iraq.”

He could have easily let the rhetoric die a slow death, just like he’s done with gay rights and is doing with the most liberal views of health care reform.

So why are we in Afghanistan? Bush went in on the cheap to hunt down and kill off al Qaida, the perpetrator of the 9/11 bombings, and to push out the Taliban, the provider of al Qaida’s safe haven, oppressor of women and foe of democracy.

Neither goal is in sight, yet Obama seems to think that with a bit more attention, money and troops, they are attainable.

Both Bush and Obama ignore that the Taliban is only one faction in an alien culture. Afghanistan is a tribal society with no democratic traditions and no economic viability unless we encourage them to expand the poppy crop. Hell, Saddam’s Iraq was centuries more modern and closer to a twentieth century norm before we destroyed it.

Think Lord of the Flies with grown ups rather than Neverland that can be saved from Captain Hook by Peter Pan rallying the Lost Boys.

Obama can send in some more troops to “advise” the Afghani army and police. (Heard that plan before?) He can spend billions, they don’t mean much these days. At the end of the day or in a decade, we will be the French abandoning Indo-China, the Soviets leaving Afghanistan or Nixon’s America flying helicopters off the Saigon embassy roof.


The Curmudgeon said...

Reading Doonesbury again, are we?

Can't argue with you (or Mr. Trudeau), though: The Russians didn't learn from the English and we didn't learn from either of them. And we're playing Whack-a-Mole with the Taliban anyway: When pressed, they retreat to Pakistan (where we set them up in the first place to fight the Russkies) where we can't (usually) go and get them.

The sad thing is that we are setting up hundreds... thousands?... of men and especially women for death or torture by the Taliban ascendant who will be particularly peeved with those who let girls learn to read....

Dave said...

I was scooped by Trudeau? I've been thinking about this for a couple of weeks and decided I'd better write it when I saw the headline of George Will's recent piece - I don't know if he scooped me, I haven't read it.

Ron Davison said...

I consult with teams to plan development projects. Sometimes we make a real plan that simply tells us that it is going to take too long. At first, companies tend to be in denial about this and plunge ahead with a "plan" of what they wish were reality instead of what seems to be reality. If we were realistic about what it will take to "develop" Afghanistan, we'd probably see that it is a project of about 30+ years. Sadly, we'll be about a decade into it before deciding that it is not worth it.