What do you think about the US action in Vietnam fifty some years ago? With the cold war long over, it's hard for us to remember why we were even there, and I think most Americans simply follow the story their party advocates (Democrats says evil Republicans took us in, Republicans say Nixon betrayed them), or if they are an independent, blame the politicians. Jack Kelly reminds us today in a column on Afghanistan of his views on Vietnam:
"In 1997, H.R. McMaster, then an Army major, wrote a book about an earlier war in which senior military leaders paid excessive deference to political superiors.
"The Joint Chiefs of Staff became accomplices in the president's deception and focused on a tactical task, killing the enemy," he wrote. "The war in Vietnam was lost ... even before the first American units were deployed.""
Kelly has written in the past about how the US actually won in Vietnam, but decided to throw it away.
I think we have to keep these views in mind when we look at today's column "Delusional about Afghanistan". Kelly first complains about what he sees as overly optimistic testimony to Congress by the NATO commander in Afghanistan. He goes on to note how Afghan soldiers are killing US soldiers, and how Afghan soldiers are of such a low quality. Plus, "The Afghans don't like us, either.". Instead of explaining why that might be so, Kelly complains that there are not enough trainers, and the Afghan soldiers themselves are illiterate and corrupt. The unspoken message so far - US politicians are lying to us, not giving US troops what they need to accomplish the mission and anyway the natives are substandard and evil.
The rest of the column stays in that vein, withdrawing troops on a timetable gives the Taliban a reason to simply wait and that since the surge was was "halfhearted" and troops our being drawn down, our own soldiers "have lost all idealism". The unspoken message is we are losing in Afghanistan because our politicians (specifically the Democrat Obama) are lying to us.
I have to say I agree; I think we are losing in Afghanistan, everything I hear is that our troops have lost any and all idealism they might have had, and that the Afghans don't like us.
But there is everything Jack Kelly doesn't mention.
First of all, our war/occupation Afghanistan started quite a while ago. The Bush administration ran it on the cheap, and allowed itself to be distracted by Iraq (although make no mistake that Iraq was filled with evil people, many of whom we justifiably killed). I vaguely recall Kelly has been willing to throw Bush under the bus for handling of Iraq, and apparently Afghanistan (though I don't think Kelly would call even George "Dubya" Bush a Democrat in Republicans clothing). I suppose that is why in seven Republican administration years the US couldn't win in Afghanistan, although that view requires some pretty spectacular blinders.
Then there is the issue of why the Afghans don't like us. Since the US is self-evidently a global force for good, and the American way of like is clearly so much better than any other, the only reasons the Afghans have for not liking us is that they are illiterate and corrupt (Kelly has some nasty thoughts for Hamid Karzai).
Kelly mentions nothing about our use of drones to hunt the Taliban, how they frequently kill civilians along with suspected Taliban. Further, Kelly mentions nothing about how we then attack the funerals for the suspected Taliban, killing more civilians. I suppose Kelly justifies that to himself (to the extent he thinks about it at all) that the relatives of Taliban members deserve what they get if they don't distance themselves, let alone turn in those Taliban. I suspect the people of Afghanistan see things differently.
So if/when you read this Jack Kelly column, ask yourself, do you think we should have gone into Vietnam at all, and regardless do you think we won Vietnam only to have the politicians throw it away? If you answer yes, then you and I see reality somewhat differently, and I suspect the overwhelming majority of the American people agree with me. Not that history is somehow voted on (well, there are concepts like shared myths, but that is way beyond the scope of this post), but I think the overwhelming majority of historians would not say we won Vietnam (even if we did win a lot of individual battles).
But Kelly's view of Vietnam informs his view of Afghanistan, this is the prism he sees the world through. Who is delusional?