Mr. Obama: Tear Down This War!
By Bernard Weiner
Co-Editor, The Crisis Papers
May 11, 2010
Many of us progressives now in our 60s and 70s spent years of
our young lives in "The Sixties" trying to stop the U.S. war in Vietnam.
Many in this cohort were beaten, jailed, lost jobs, suffered discrimination.
We were, after all, considered "unpatriotic" and "traitors" by government
leaders and their rightwing supporters.
We didn't end the war on our own, of course, much as we would have liked to
believe that. Mainly, it was the Vietnamese themselves who were responsible
for that outcome as they battled U.S. forces to a quagmire standoff and then
took over the country when the massively unpopular South Vietnamese
But our anti-war activism was at least partially responsible for altering
the-government-knows-better-than-you-do attitude of our parents' generation.
Our "Movement" also helped educate the new generation as to the truth of
what was happening in Southeast Asia and in the rest of the world as U.S.
forces, representing the corporatism at the heart of Western society,
supplanted the old European colonialists in Vietnam and elsewhere.
Whenever I speak about those anti-Vietnam War days -- as I began to do again
after the illegal, immoral war was launched against Iraq in 2003 --
myself by how emotional I still am about the tumultuous "Sixties."
Its impact is strong. The past truly is never past, and isn't even the past.
In talking about the war and the mass-movement opposition to it in "The
Sixties" (in my reckoning, from the civil rights era of the late-'50s/'60s
roughly to the mid-'70s), long-buried feelings leap out.
THE CIVIL WAR IN THE SIXTIES
I revisited my old anti-war haunts in the Pacific Northwest some years ago
and found my body trembling as those old sense-memories washed over me.
Another time, after seeing the movie "Born on the Fourth of July," I was
trying to explain to my teenage son about why so many of us had been so
engaged trying to get the war stopped -- and I was barely able to talk
coherently, I was sobbing so much.
That was such a painful period in my life (also a gloriously liberating time
as well, of course) and in the lives of so many others in this country. Not
to mention how the war affected the Vietnamese, who may have lost close to
two million loved ones in that conflict. (The irony: Today, we have good
trade relations with communist Vietnam.)
The U.S. was nearly torn in two by the Vietnam War and the opposition to it.
It was a kind of cultural/political civil war, aided to a large degree by
the presence of the military draft. That civil war was ugly and painful,
affecting nearly everyone in the country. It's difficult to describe, for
those who weren't there, the chaotic and often bloody nature of the politics
of that day.
HAVE TO FIGHT THE SAME FIGHT AGAIN?
And here we are again, with two more wars inherited from the CheneyBush
Administration but willingly adopted by the new administration. In Iraq,
Obama promises to withdraw U.S. combat forces by next year, but,
significantly, hedges with if "the situation on the ground" permits. In
Afghanistan, the U.S. has doubled-down on a war that cannot be won (it's
estimated there are 200,000 U.S. troops there now).
It seems that the only thing American governments learn from history is that
they don't learn from history.
In Iraq, Obama has begun re-positioning U.S. forces away from the urban
battlegrounds in preparation for the promised pre-2012-election troop
withdrawals. The U.S. situation in Afghanistan more and more resembles the
history of America in Vietnam four decades before.
THE PARALLELS THEN & NOW
The parallels between Afghanistan and 'Nam are not exact, of course, but the
main points are remarkably similar:
In Vietnam, the U.S. was fighting a
native insurgency that it barely understood. In Afghanistan, the U.S. is
fighting a native insurgency -- laced with arcane political, clan and
familial complexities -- that it barely understands. (Need it be stated?
The U.S. has precious few who speak the local languages; indeed, because
they are gay, it fired a whole passel of intelligence agent in
Iraq/Afghanistan/D.C. who did speak the languages.)
In Vietnam, the U.S. had taken over
from the colonial French, who were being defeated by the native
insurgency led by Ho Chi Minh. In Afghanistan, the native insurgency had
battled earlier British colonial control and later the Soviets. Both
were forced to depart their stalemated wars, unable to afford the
political and financial costs.
In South Vietnam, the local government
propped up by the Americans was venal, corrupt, brutal, well-versed in
the arts of torture. A succession of military regimes came and went, and
none of them earned the respect or support of the civilian population.
In Afghanistan, we are propping up a venal, corrupt government that
barely controls its capital, with many of the provincial governments run
by drug lords (one of them the brother of the president) and warlords;
this time, it's the U.S. that is often the torturer.
In Vietnam, the U.S. administrations'
all the presidents over the years that it could not win that war.
Despite overwhelming firepower and technological supremacy, the best
that could be hoped for in this type of guerrilla conflict, these
experts noted, was endless stalemate: a prohibitively costly quagmire.
The various Presidents "stayed the course" anyway, and paid the price:
The U.S. had to retreat from Vietnam in disarray, and is similarly
likely to have to leave Afghanistan with nothing that can be called a
"victory." Even President Obama has publicly acknowledged the likely
military stalemate in that nation, a country that in no way can be
considered a vital national interest to the United States.
(Remember Bush's Secretary of Defense,
Donald Rumsfeld, saying U.S. forces couldn't find anything in Afghanistan
STICKING WITH CORRUPT LEADERS
U.S. policy in Afghanistan rests upon the continued strong presence of
President Hamid Karzai. True, his most recent election was a corrupt
electoral farce, but he's Our (Made) Man in Kabul and Obama will stick with
him -- until the U.S. realizes it must cut him loose and push him under the
bus. Much as the U.S. did to President Diem and subsequent Vietnamese rulers
during that war.
One is left wondering why the new U.S. president didn't announce a staged
withdrawal from Afghanistan after hearing from all his experts. Obama
doesn't believe the neo-conservative B.S. that victory is possible in this
war, so why keep sending in more and more troops to fight it? Is he trying
to strengthen his "national-security" creds by going all macho, thus giving
the rightwing little opening to attack him as a weak-kneed
commander-in-chief? Is he saving the withdrawal speech until after the 2012
election? Is he a true believer in, and supporter of, the
military-industrial complex that pulls the strings in Washington -- the same
movers and shakers who might financially support his re-election campaign?
Is he trying to wipe out the Taliban before the U.S. pulls out?
Certainly, not much good news is coming out of Afghanistan. Taliban leaders
are killed, and the Taliban grows more leaders, gains new recruits. A recent
poll of Pashtun areas revealed that 80% of these men are angry, a doubling
of this response from one year ago, and only 9% are angry at the Taliban.
Guess where their anger is directed: yep, the U.S./NATO occupiers. (By the
way, you probably haven't read about this in the mainstream press, but there
are reports that the Times Square bomber says his anger about Predator drone
attacks in his native Pakistan, killing so many innocent civilians, is what
led him to make his car-bomb. In other words: U.S. policy, not "hating our
Everyone, seemingly including President Obama, knows how this Afghanistan
misadventure will turn out. Either the U.S. will leave voluntarily soon, on
its own staged-withdrawal schedule, or America will be forced to retreat
from Afghanistan later, like the Brits and Soviets did (and as the U.S. did
from 'Nam), as yet another major world power forced to admit it could not
tame the poor, downtrodden fighters in this destitute South Asian country .
CUT LOSSES, GET OUT A.S.A.P.
Let's do the tallying: This is an unwinnable war. There is no vital U.S.
national interest there. America continues to alienate Muslims all over the
world by our occupation of, and brutal behavior in, yet another Islamic
country. The U.S. is proving to be a top recruiter for the Taliban and Al
Qaida by our policy. The U.S. is propping up provincial regimes in
Afghanistan that are dependent on drug-trafficking. America time and time
again winds up slaughtering innocent men and women and children in
Afghanistan -- how many slaughtered wedding parties does the U.S. need to
have on its resume? -- thus losing the battle for "hearts and minds" on the
ground. We need the billions this war is costing us at home.
And, perhaps most important domestically, the U.S. is losing its sense of
itself as a moral country. Much as we would like to believe so, we are not
seen as, and we are not in fact, the good guys here. It's well past time for
President Obama to realize that he made a bad mistake, and exit as quickly
Would the U.S. look bad? Yeah, for a few minutes. Unless the policy changes,
imagine what America will look like years from now after many thousands more
U.S. troops and Afghan civilians are killed and maimed before our country
comes to its senses and gets the hell out of there.
Just get out. Now.
Copyright 2010 by Bernard Weiner
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught government &
international relations at universities in California and Washington, worked
as a writer/editor for the San Francisco Chronicle for two decades, and
currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org).