Many words are being slung about President Obama’s decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Mission, for one. Quagmire, for another.
We have not been privy to internal debates about the decision, although we respect the fact that it is reportedly the result of long, probing thought. All we know is what we read in the papers (and on the Internet). But we and many of our readers lived through Vietnam – as so many American soldiers, close to 70,000, factoring in post-war suicides, did not. We saw the Vietnam casualties brought back in body bags, night after night on our television screens, scarifying and salutary images, for they led to the war’s end.
Afghanistan is not Vietnam. Southeast Asia’s falling dominoes were a myth; there is nothing mythological about the dangers posed by Al Qaeda and those – meaning the Taliban – who allowed it to grow into an international terrorist threat. That is all the more reason to be concerned.
There’s no mystery about Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s request for more troops. He is a general: Generals want soldiers to command. If you’re a hammer, everything you see is a nail.
What is mysterious is the downscaling of his assessment. Why, a mere three months ago, did he claim that 80,000 more troops were needed to defeat the Taliban? Why, now, does he claim to be satisfied with a much lower figure? Was he wrong in September or is he wrong today? If 80,000 troops are needed to do the job, are we putting the added 30,000 troops and those already on the ground in harm’s way without purpose? If Vietnam taught us anything, it should be this: Military decisions should not be made for political reasons but only military ones. Our soldiers’ lives are not to be bartered away for ballot box advantage.
There are great hopes here, but great peril, too, if bad choices are made.
A guerrilla war is hard, if not impossible, to win. As we know from Vietnam, as we know from our own history and recognize each Chanukah, a small band of passionate fighters, hiding out in the mountains, can defeat a vast army. And Al Qaeda and the Taliban, like the Vietnamese but unlike our own Maccabees, are sure to have outside support.
Let’s hope our American powers-that-be know how to climb out of a quagmire.