Winning the Good War: Why Afghanistan is not Obama’s Vietnam
By Peter Bergen
Washington Journal, July 2009
hroughout his campaign last year, President Barack Obama said repeatedly that the real central front of the war against terrorists was on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. And now he is living up to his campaign promise to roll back the Taliban and al-Qaeda with significant resources. By the end of the year there will be some 70,000 American soldiers in Afghanistan, and the Obama administration is pushing for billions of dollars in additional aid to both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This has caused consternation among some in the Democratic Party. In May, fifty-one House Democrats voted against continued funding for the Afghan war. And David Obey, the chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, which controls federal spending, says the White House must show concrete results in Afghanistan within a year—implying that if it doesn’t do so, he will move to turn off the money spigot. If this is the attitude of Obama’s own party, one can imagine what the Republicans will be saying if his "Af-Pak" strategy doesn’t start yielding results as they gear up for the 2010 midterm elections.
It’s not just politicians who are souring on the Afghan war. A USA Today poll earlier this year found that 42 percent of Americans believe the war is a mistake, up from 6 percent in 2002. The media has only added to the gloom. Newsweek ran a cover story in January speculating that Afghanistan could be Obama’s Vietnam. And the New York Times has run prominent opinion pieces with headlines like "The ‘Good War’ Isn’t Worth Fighting" and "Fearing Another Quagmire in Afghanistan."
But the growing skepticism about Obama’s chances for success in Afghanistan is largely based on deep misreadings of both the country’s history and the views of its people, which are often compounded by facile comparisons to the United States’s misadventures of past decades in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Afghanistan will not be Obama’s Vietnam, nor will it be his Iraq. Rather, the renewed and better resourced American effort in Afghanistan will, in time, produce a relatively stable and prosperous Central Asian state.
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