Victory at the Cost of Sanity in Obama’s Forever War
By William Pfaff
The Nation magazine’s Robert Dreyfuss has just published a fascinating
account of Washington establishment opinion about the war in
The four speakers at a Brookings Institution discussion were Bruce
Riedel, adviser to the president (and believer in the catastrophic
international consequences of a loss of the war in Afghanistan);
Michael O’Hanlon, an adviser to Gen. David Petraeus; Tony Cordesman of
the Center for Strategic and International Studies; and Kim Kagan,
head of the Institute for the Study of War.
The unanimous gloom expressed by these four speakers, and the apparent
absence of any sunlight shining from the attending (and largely
professional-political) audience, seems clear confirmation that Barack
Obama and his chosen advisers have wasted no time in placing
themselves and the country—in a mere five months—into the same
desperate situation that it took the combined Johnson and Nixon
administrations 15 years to arrive at in the case of Vietnam. This
view would seem widely shared today—without influencing policy.
This is scarcely believable. Dreyfuss summarizes the speakers’ shared
views: 1. “Significant escalation” is essential “to avoid utter
defeat.” 2. If “tens of thousands” of new troops were sent to
Afghanistan, it would be impossible to know whether this reinforcement
changed anything until another 18 months had elapsed. 3. Even if the
U.S. “turns the tide,” no “significant drawdown” of American troops
could occur for at least another five years.
However, the most dramatic unanimous opinion of the four experts was
this one: “There is no alternative to victory.”
Where have we heard that before? From Douglas MacArthur, speaking to
Congress on April 19, 1951, almost six months to a day after his
combined U.S., R.O.K. and U.N. army’s drive to the Yalu River was
defeated by China’s intervention in the Korean war. The communists’
complete re-conquest of North Korea followed.
Two months after MacArthur spoke, the United States renounced the
military objective of reunifying Korea and expressed interest in an
armistice roughly along the 38th parallel, the prewar border. That was
the alternative to American victory.
In Vietnam, the alternative to victory was the 1973 subterfuge of
“Vietnamization” of the war, with withdrawal of the last American
troops in March of that year. Saigon fell on April 30, 1975.
Why is there no alternative to American victory in what the president
When President Obama took office he might have said that the Bush
administration had made a dreadful mess of Afghanistan, but that he
was resolved to save America, NATO and Afghanistan itself from this
Bush-era folly. He intended to put the U.S. on a new track toward
peace and reconciliation with the 40 million Pashtuns of Central
Asia—who provide the potential recruiting pool for the angry young men
of the Taliban.
He could also have said that it makes no real difference to the United
States whether the Taliban do or do not rule Afghanistan, or whether
Osama bin Laden is or is not in that country. Afghanistan is on the
other side of the world, surrounded by tough people who can look after
themselves. Terrorists do not need “safe havens” in Afghanistan. The
world is full of empty “safe havens.” The terrorists are being
defeated by policemen and security forces in all of the Western
countries, while Osama bin Laden periodically releases videos to Arab
The people of Afghanistan have themselves defended their country
against all foreign interference since the time of Alexander the
Great. It wasn’t the U.S. or NATO that defended them. They did it
themselves—as an energetic minority of them are doing now—but,
unhappily, against U.S. and NATO interference in their country.
The Afghans have already experienced Taliban rule, from 1996 until the
U.S. invasion in 2001. A great many of them did not like it. If they
don’t want the Taliban, with their obscurantism, oppression of women
and brutal interpretations of Islamic law, to come back again and
install their despotic rule, let the Afghan people defend themselves.
The U.S./NATO intervention simply gets in the way. As a foreigners’
invasion, it is objectively a source of support for the Taliban.
Instead of reading ecology and novels on his vacation, the president
should read Charles de Gaulle. He ended the dreadful insurrection in
Algeria that brought him back to power in France in 1958. And Algeria
was legally a part of France itself, possessing energy resources that
could have made France energy self-sufficient, and it had a large
colonial population that wanted Algeria forever French.
So did a part of the French army. A conspiracy of officers tried to
assassinate de Gaulle and overthrow his government. This wasn’t a
puerile problem of armed bullies shouting abuse at congressmen.
De Gaulle ordered peace negotiations, stopped the war, brought the
colonists and the army home, and turned to rebuilding France after its
generations of crisis.
Please, President Obama: Take a lesson in success. Don’t kill tens, or
hundreds, of thousands more people in still another search for a
useless American victory that ends in defeat, and ruins your
Visit William Pfaff’s Web site at www.williampfaff.com.
© 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.