It's been nearly
two months since the September 11 mass-slaughters, and the U.S.
response more and more resembles that period when America was
beginning its long slide into Vietnam.
grant you that it's not an exact comparison – one obvious difference,
because the 9-11 attack took place on our own soil, is that the
U.S. public has a better idea why we're there – but there are
enough similarities to make the skin crawl.
Vietnam, the U.S. took over a war from another country (France),
who could not defeat the Vietcong. In Afghanistan, the U.S.,
so to speak, is taking over from the Russians, who could not
defeat the Afghanis.
Vietnam, the U.S. had very little understanding and knowlege
of Vietnamese culture and history – and language. In Afghanistan,
the U.S. has very little understanding of Afghani culture, history
Vietnam, the U.S. was constantly fighting an inhospitable geography
– the jungles, the muck, the highlands, the monsoons. In Afghanistan,
the U.S. is constantly fighting an inhospitable geography –
the high mountains, the snowy winters, the lack of infrastructure.
Vietnam, the U.S. tried to win the hearts and minds of the native
population, while it bombed their villages with napalm, Agent
Orange, and cluster bombs. In Afghanistan, the U.S. is trying
to win the hearts and minds of the native population with its
yellow-packeted food drops, while it continues to mistakenly
bomb their villages and hospitals and food warehouses, sometimes
with cluster bombs.
Vietnam, the U.S. depended on its high-tech weaponry in fighting
guerrillas who for years, decades, centuries, had found a way
to disappear into jungles, caves, tunnels, and then drive the
invaders from its soil. In Afghanistan, the U.S is relying heavily
on its high tech weaponry in fighting guerrillas who for years,
decades, centuries have found a way to disappear into caves
and tunnels, and then drive invaders (British, Soviets) from
Vietnam, the U.S. (unsuccessfully) tried to prevent the truth
of what was happening there from being reported by the American
news media. In Afghanistan, the U.S. military doles out the
news it wants to have reported.
Vietnam, the U.S. in the early stages sent "advisors"
and other small contingents of troops, and used the local army
in its fight against the bad guys, prior to sending in hundreds
of thousands of drafted soldiers. In Afghanistan, the U.S. wants
the local opposition troops to do the major land fighting, but
realizes it may have to send in hundreds of thousands of American
troops (probably re-instituting the draft) to do the job.
Vietnam, the U.S. escalated the war beyond the borders of the
country it was fighting. In the current war, there is widespread
speculation that the U.S. is ready to go beyond Afghanistan,
with Iraq the next likely target. (You can imagine what that
will do to the fragile coalition of Muslim states currently
supporting or tolerating U.S. actions in Afghanistan.)
Vietnam, the U.S. was at a loss to figure out how to win the
war. In Afghanistan, it seems apparent that the U.S., anxious
to retaliate for September 11, rushed in and now is flailing
about trying to figure out what to do, given that (surprise!)
the Taliban are a clever, tenacious force of guerrillas fighters
– who also are well-skilled in public relations marketing.
of course, the two wars are not exactly parallel. This is a far
different conflict, in a far different place, with no Cold War
serving as background music. But the similarities are striking,
especially the main one: the U.S. administration doesn't appear
to know what it's doing, or how to do it.
his credit, Bush has told the American people straight out that
this will be a long war, with lots of casualties. But probably
the bloody reality has not sunk in yet, just as it didn't with
regard to Vietnam until the rain of body bags came pouring down
on the American body politic.
what are ex-Vietnam War peace activists to do, given the new realities?
Many of us are not oppossed to the idea behind Bush's war on terrorism
– after all, these bad guys upped the ante by their horrendous,
inhumane actions on our own soil on September 11. Their terror
network must be destroyed. But we do have large questions to raise
about the way this war is being conceived and carried out, and
about the consequences to U.S. national interests.
this bifurcated political view – supporting the goals of the
policy but disagreeing with the current tactics and strategies
– "unpatriotic"? Many of us critical of U.S. governmental
policy have been called that.
approach, and I think I speak for many others so inclined, is
dictated mainly by a desire to enhance the national interests
of the United States, and the way Bush & Co. are going about
things seems that it could easily damage those interests in the
long run, maybe even in the short run.
quickly swallowed bin Laden's bait and started a war in one of
the most difficult areas of the world to win such a conflict.
The Taliban are egging on the U.S. government to introduce ground
troops, because they know in that kind of war, as history has
demonstrated, the Afghanis stand to win. The U.S., having gone
this far, probably will swallow that bait as well.
the U.S. bombs from the air. Such bombing knocks out some Taliban
armaments and such, but the Taliban and Al Queda troops hide deep
in caves and tunnels until the sorties are over, and then come
out ready to fight. And, as predicted, by bombing from such heights
(often using out-of-date maps), we often hit civilian targets,
hospitals, homes, villages. These are the images inflaming Muslim
worse, in an already destitute country, millions of refugees,
who normally would be receiving food aid from the U.N. and other
relief agencies, probably will starve to death this winter. First,
the Taliban made sure they wouldn't get the food, and now the
U.S. bombing ensures that no relief agencies will get the supplies
to the refugees. And the U.S. has announced no plan to prevent
this "collateral damage" tragedy.
a matter of fact, as has been evident from the beginning of the
war, the U.S. doesn't appear to have much of a plan for anything.
It's pretty much an ad-hoc approach to warfare. Bomb and see what
happens. Oh my goodness, the Taliban are more resilient than we
thought, this might take years. On to Plan B.
so many ways, then, as Yogi would have said, it's deju vu all
over again, with the chance that Russia's "Vietnam"
will become ours, because Bush felt he had to rush into a war
without first thinking about the Law of Unintended Consequences.
(Now, it must be said, even by this critic: It's possible that
the U.S. strategy will prevail, that the Taliban will be toppled
shortly and that Al Queda will be destroyed, or at least so decimated
that it will take years to rebuild. Maybe Bush & Co. really
do know what they're doing, or at least will stumble into success.)
once the war-genie was let out of the bottle, there was no way
to prevent the inevitable SNAFU and FUBAR syndromes, and those
nasty little Unintended Consequences. There's the possibility
of Pakistan's government falling (and nuclear weapons then going
to the fundamentalist Islamicists); there's the possibility of
India and Pakistan going to war, perhaps nuclear; there's the
likelihood, unless action is taken soon, of an all-out Israeli/Palestinian
war; there's the possibility of Chinese mischief; there are the
unknown motivations of the Russians – and other possibilities
not even conceived of now, including devastations within our own
Bush narrowly focuses on Afghanistan (and Administration hawks
drool over the prospect of moving on Iraq), with little or no
thought given to how to ameliorate – by altering U.S. foreign/military
policy – the conditions in the Mideast and elsewhere that create
the fertile soil in which terrorism and anti-Americanism grows.
Bush's foreign and domestic policy goals remain pretty much the
same right-wing ones he came into office with, and the Congressional
Democrats seem totally confused and disorganized, not wanting
to seem "unpatriotic" by raising objections to U.S.
war plans and strategies. In short, as Hemingway once wrote, the
shitstorm is coming.
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D.,
has taught government and international politics at Western Washington
University and San Diego State University; he was with the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly two decades.