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The politics of Afghanistan/ Vietnam cont.

Previous discussion here and here.

One thing that might beat us in Afghanistan is the disconnect. The public is relatively disconnected from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Unlike Vietnam where we had a draft, most Americans are not forced to deeply analyze, sacrifice and soul search for these current conflicts. That is left to the military, family members and other supporting elements. In some odd way- the fact that this war is dissimilar to Vietnam because of a lack of connection may be our undoing.

Most Americans can ignore it, and that makes them feel uneasy about it… along with the way we are paying for it- there is a sense of guilt that I get from leaders like Martha Coakley and James McAllister… hard to put my finger on it, exactly. Almost as if people are searching for reasons not to have to support this effort, to avoid the effort itself. If the wars can be put it in a box and called Vietnam, something that one can recognize and feel (as bad), one can justify a lack of commitment.

Iraq and Afghanistan are being paid for by debt and some severe sacrifices of the very few in our society. Perhaps that is a good thing? Perhaps not. It could be our undoing in these conflicts… if the soul searching never occurs, comes up empty, or is severely damaged through false comparisons.

Obama asks us in his speech to do more… to unite behind this cause. I do hope that does not fall on empty ears searching for reasons to stay detached. Will more Ephs and Americans join this effort because of Obamas plea for commitment and unity… or will we continue the partisan divide and false analogies of the past?

Coakley may very well be voting on these wars in the near future. Let us hope, her memories of Vietnam do not distort her position. Let us hope, that our leaders take an honest look at these conflicts and that the end result is a product of baggage free analysis rather than guilt over present and past demons. May the public and our leaders show more passion for or against these conflicts, rather than this strange sense of guilt and detachment.

Afghanistan is not Vietnam. Afghanistan is not Iraq, either.

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#1 Comment By Derek On December 2, 2009 @ 10:06 am

You’ve been working this angle for a while now. But you’re fighting a bit of a straw man as you do so. I have not heard many people say that Afghanistan is Vietnam. But I have heard some smart scholars of the Vietnam era, for example, point out that in way x the two conflicts are similar and here is what we can learn from the parallels. And of course there is also the historical parallel of the Soviet experience in Afghanistan.
I think you are arguing against historical analogies doing too much. With that I agree. But I think you commit the commensurate sin of believing that historical comparisons can do too little.


#2 Comment By PTC On December 2, 2009 @ 10:45 am

PTC says:
Derek- Actually, I think that historical comparisons can do a lot, if they are fully analyzed. As I have stated several times, a series of false or superficial anologies based on extremely loose facts have been used to create a bridge to compare rather than contrast Afghanistan and Vietnam. That is a Red Herring.

For example…
1. Apples are fruit, organges are fruit, therefore these two fruits taste the same.

2. The terrain in Afghanistan is different, the terrain in Vietnam is different, therefore we can bridge to use this as a comparison of the two wars, rather than discourse about the differences in fighting a jungle war in the 1960s/70s and a high altitude war in the year 2009.

Eph Historians, journalists and Eph politicians which I have linked in several posts are drawing comparisons and making statements like “Afghanistan is Obama’s Vietnam” or the statement in the form of a question, “is Afghanastan Obama’s Vietnam?”. They are doing it often. All these analogies are bogus… as Obama stated in his speech last night.

From the Obama Speech:

First, there are those who suggest that Afghanistan is another Vietnam. They argue that it cannot be stabilized, and we are better off cutting our losses and rapidly withdrawing. Yet this argument depends upon a false reading of history. Unlike Vietnam, we are joined by a broad coalition of 43 nations that recognizes the legitimacy of our action. Unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a broad-based popular insurgency. And most importantly, unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border. To abandon this area now — and to rely only on efforts against al-Qaida from a distance — would significantly hamper our ability to keep the pressure on al-Qaida and create an unacceptable risk of additional attacks on our homeland and our allies.

Needless to say, I disagree with your assertion that myself and the President are fighting straw men in this instance. The question is not if Afghanistan is like Vietnam… because it is not, the question is, why are people hard linking these two very different conflicts?

#3 Comment By PTC On December 2, 2009 @ 10:57 am

As far as a historical perspective:

The popular-




Are two of my favorites- which historical pieces would you recommend reading to gain a better understanding of the war in Afghanistan?

#4 Comment By JG On December 2, 2009 @ 11:02 am

Anyone saying Afghanistan = Vietnam completely is absurd. But PTC are you really saying that there isn’t a single aspect of the conflict that can be compared? To me that seems equally absurd.

#5 Comment By PTC On December 2, 2009 @ 11:10 am

JG- What I am saying is that as soon as you dig even slightly into the comparisons being used, you find sharp contrasts that are far more relevant than the superficial “hook” of the Vietnam war. I am saying that the comparisons, as used, are indeed completely bogus.

#6 Comment By Ronit On December 2, 2009 @ 11:16 am

Some stuff from Eph Planet:

Dan Drezner ’90:

Analogical reasoning can be very dangerous in foreign affairs. The human impulse to see patterns everywhere can lead to the use of inexact analogies — “X is another Vietnam” or “Y is another Minuch.” This in turn leads to bad foreign policy decisions, as anyone with a passing familiarity with this book can tell you.

So one of the things I liked about Obama’s speech last night was his willingness to confront some analogical reasoning head-on.
The thing that nags at me, however, is the implicit analogy in last night’s speech, and in the policy discourse that will surround this decision: Afghanistan in late 2009 parallels Iraq in late 2006, and therefore a surge strategy now will have similar effects.

Stephen Rose ’58:

It can be assumed that the full force of right wing will be focused on trashing him while a comparable group from the left will do the same. Both will forget that the President has said the same thing from the start.

What the President did not say as strongly as he might have, is that this is a battle comparable to WWII. We are fighting the same irrational and lethal force. The impunity of both Taliban and Al Qaeda stops at no boundary. If this is the case, it is naive to assume that we can walk away. It is a matter of trusting the President’s judgment.

Pacifists were ultimately willing to take up arms in WWII. Because they came to understand the stakes. The stakes are as high now.

Marc Lynch:

I watched Obama’s speech last night with a heavy heart. The President impressed, as always — from the lofty rhetoric to the detailed, logical analysis (and the direct talk to the Afghan people, a nice touch also used in his big Iraq speech so many months ago). There were few surprises after all the leaks and pre-game briefings, but it was a defining moment nonetheless. He made the case as best as he could for the least bad of a terrible set of options. I remain unconvinced by each stage of the logic – the urgency of action, the connection to al-Qaeda, the likely impact of the increased troops, the mechanisms of leverage, the proposed 2011 inflection point towards drawdown. And yet, now that the decision has made, I want the President’s strategy to succeed. The best way to do that is to make sure that he follows through on his promises to keep the goals tightly focused and to avoid stumbling into open-ended occupation and an endless cycle of escalation.

Dan Blatt ’85:

The speech lacked focus. He did not deliver it with much conviction, kept contrasting what happened “in the past” and how those days are over. His tone never wavered. He didn’t pause for effect. I don’t think he ever used the noun, “victory,” or any form of the verb, “to win.”

Don’t get me wrong, there were some good things it, especially the points he made about Pakistan, but it was as Charles Krauthammer put it, a “strange speech.”

UPDATE: I’m pretty happy with the president’s plan, saved for his insistence on an “Exit Strategy.” He just seemed too defensive and didn’t really make the case for this plan, doing more to respond to the naysayers, more like the way a blogger responds to a critical comment than to the way he writes a post.

Ken Dilanian ’91 reports on Gates’s testimony and the politics of the troop plan.

Chan Lowe ’75:

#7 Comment By PTC On December 2, 2009 @ 11:18 am

and as anyone who reads my point of view on this can tell… I’d be far more suspicious and interested in a persons motives (or lack of motivation) than in their analogy as constructive critique… Especially if they are are using such broad based comparisons to state or imply that Afghanistan is not winnable, or pin it to someone politically.

Vietnam comparisons are being used in this case as an emotional club to beat up the public and/or justify a false self serving sense of reality- nothing more- because there is nothing more there once you scratch the surface of these comparisons.

#8 Comment By ephling On December 2, 2009 @ 11:30 am

“While trying to wind down one imperial project in Iraq, Obama is deepening the U.S. commitment to another — shaping the future of Afghanistan, in which the Karzai government is unambiguously the U.S. client. Typical of imperial enterprises, this one is not only proving far more troublesome than anticipated but it is also having destabilizing regional ramifications. The intense pressure now applied on Pakistan invites worrisome comparisons with the way the U.S. Vietnam commitment spilled over into Cambodia and resulted in a spectacular human disaster.”


Michael Hunt was a visiting professor at Williams last year who along with Randall Woods this year, have provided a great deal of intellectual horsepower for students interested in the Vietnam era. There was also the H-Diplo Conference last Feb. that contained a notable panel discussing nation building. I think it is hard to dispel the parallels.

#9 Comment By PTC On December 2, 2009 @ 11:38 am

Ephling- When China or Russian weigh in heavily on the side of the Taliban and begin to train, arm, augment and provide logistics for the Taliban/ Al Q war against the UN in the region I will agree with that parallel. Until then, it is as superficially bogus as the day is long.

If all of a sudden, the Taliban acquire thousands of surface to air missiles that are capable of shooting down hundreds of ISAF fast moving jets- I’ll lend it the strategic relevance that these historians are attempting to place on it. Until then, it is a data point with a huge divergence upon mild inspection.

#10 Comment By Ronit On December 2, 2009 @ 11:42 am

My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that Drezner is spot on.

The thing is, Afghanistan is very, very different from Iraq. As tough a nut as state-building is in Iraq, it’s a country with fewer ethnic and linguistic divisions, better infrastructure, a better educated citizenry, more natural endowments, and a longer history of relative “stability” than Afghanistan. Whatever you think about the surge strategy, the odds of success in Afghanistan are lower than in Iraq.

#11 Comment By PTC On December 2, 2009 @ 11:48 am

Unless of course, the UN quits, in which case, the region may very well fall into the abyss- and an abyss that threatens world interests and attacks us directly, perhaps with control of nuclear weapons- far worse than anything saw in Cambodia.

#12 Comment By ephling On December 2, 2009 @ 11:51 am


I am not sure the Russians care one way or the other but they will tell you one thing for sure, don’t fight a war in Afganistan.

“In October 2007, the New York Times reported the group might field as many as ten thousand fighters, but a much smaller fraction–less than three thousand–are full-time insurgents.”

Since when does it take 100,000 US troops and 40,000 allies to fight 3,000 goat herders. Nation building based on the construct that what is good for America is good for the world, and that my friend is Vietnam all over again. The six presidents that oversaw Vietnam had as little in common as Obama with Bush, but once they get in that office they tend to see the world much the same, at least militarily.

#13 Comment By Derek On December 2, 2009 @ 12:28 pm

I’m gonna tell ya, in a debate over history between a professional historian on the topic in question and someone else, the burden of proof is on the someone else.

In both Vietnam and Afghanistan we have had to deal with what were perceived as existential threats but the actual engagement in those places is only a proxy or loose approximation of the actual enemy. In Vietnam the question was Communism, and the fear was not Vietnam being Communist in and of itself, but rather what it meant for containment, and how Vietnam tied in to China and the Soviet Union. In Afghanistan the existential threat is not Communism but a particular brand of radical terrorism. But as in the case of Communism, we are addressing a threat that is larger than the particular borders of the conflict.

Both wars dragged on without any sense of an exit strategy. And one undeniable parallel: In both cases we were relying on a local ally with dubious commitment and on local leaders with dubious legitimacy.

But more importantly: Your own take on this simply lumps all of the parallels together. Basically you are coming up with operational differences on the ground and saying look, these things are different! Ergo: No parallels. But from a Grand Strategy perspective that takes into account geopolitical realities, American exercise of power (and its limitations), and long-term goals and strategies, the parallels are there as long as no one tries to draw them too closely.

And please, stop suddenly lumping yourself in with Obama’s words on Vietnam as if you are saying exactly the same thing. He is right to point out differences, as everyone here has done. But Barack Obama, as much as I admire him, is not the last word on the history of Vietnam (actually, nor is he the first word, or many of the words in between) and the loose correlation between your assertions and his are not enough to provide you the rhetorical cover you are seeking. Afghanistan is not Vietnam. But there are lessons we can draw from a Grand Strategy vantage point on these (and other) conflicts. To deny that categorically in the face of a lot of smart people with a lot of expertise (I do not know of anyone in America who teaches about Vietnam and chooses PTC at Ephblog over Williams Professor James McAllister, for example) is to reveal doctrinaire arrogance, not serious analysis.


#14 Comment By PTC On December 2, 2009 @ 12:31 pm

Nation building based on the construct that what is good for America is good for the world, and that my friend is Vietnam all over again

Bullshit. I can give you multiple examples of times nation building has worked and failed… it is not “Vietnam all over again” anymore than it is “Korea all over again”, or “Panama all over again”, or “Grenada all over again”, or the “Gulf War all over again”, or the “Kurdish liberation all over again”, or “Iraq”, or any other conflict where things have and have not worked for us “all over again”. You are way off base historically.

You are drawing this historical anecdote only through the sole use of the Afghanistan v Vietnam portal because why again, exactly? There are dozens of examples in our nations/ world history where nation building has failed or been achieved.

You are looking through a straw at the world and claiming that that viewpoint gives you absolute clarity on outcome… as if there was some kind of pre determined historical exercise in war.

I have shown multiple times through the use of simple strategic and historical facts how this Vietnam/ Afghanistan analogy is superficial at best, yet the sweeping comparisons from nay sayers continue.

#15 Comment By PTC On December 2, 2009 @ 12:34 pm

dcat- I give my preference to men fighting these wars who read and study history over a prof who has an opinion- we differ in that regard, I suppose.

#16 Comment By Derek On December 2, 2009 @ 12:54 pm

Why would you do that? “A Prof who has an opinion” is a nice and prickish way to try to dismiss someone’s professional expertise, to be sure, but is it a good way to assess the merits of an argument? I mean, that “opinion” is based on years, oftentimes decades, of immersion in the topic.

And what, exactly, are these “men fighting these wars” (More straw men from PTC, this time to bolster his argument) reading if not works by historians of these issues? I mean, yeah, “we differ in that regard,” but it’s not as if these are equal stances, and in any case, yours is an empty way to hide behind the troops: Why, then, are you not citing these “men fighting these wars”?

(By the way: Anyone want to place a bet as to whether I can find a military veteran or current enlistee who has raised the specter of Vietnam in regard to Afghanistan? because if I can come up with just one, guess what that does to PTC’s incredibly sanctimonious but completely fucking vacant argument. Yep: Invalidates it.)


#17 Comment By PTC On December 2, 2009 @ 2:37 pm

Actually Derek it is you who are dismissing the opinion of the POTUS, SECDEF, State, as well as the CG by elevating a history professors expertise and opinion of the fighting of a current war above theirs. Historians most certainly do have valuable opinions, but they do not have 1/1000 of the information at their command that a General or State Department official in theater has…

Of course you can find military people in this war who believe that we should withdraw… I happen to know some of those people myself… what you will have to look damn hard to find, and something I have not found yet, is a sophisticated veteran of Afghanistan who has that position because they are basing it almost entirely on a bridge to the Vietnam war.

Let me put it to you this way… I value your opinion on places in Africa that you have a real and relatively current physical understanding of a whole hell of a lot more than someone who only reads and writes about it. That is my bent on these types of things… we differ in style in that perhaps? Fine.

Lastly- You can deny that last night Obama backed what I have been stating on this blog for months … but he uses almost the exact language and many of the exact same examples that I have been using to refute these “false readings of history.” Obama clearly and directly confronts the people who are making the “Vietnam is Afghanistan” assertions in his speech… you can pretend all you want that he is not talking about the same bogus language that I have been ranting on about for months now… but you’re wrong.

#18 Comment By PTC On December 2, 2009 @ 2:43 pm

Do you trust the people we have in office right now? Do you think they are smart and taking the right advice? Do you believe that Obama, Clinton and Gates have a better understanding of the current conflict in Afghanistan and how it plays within our national interests than other experts in the field? Do you believe that, or someone who is telling you that this is like Vietnam?

#19 Comment By PTC On December 2, 2009 @ 3:00 pm

At any rate- for the sake of the country, let’s hope that Obama is right and that we can get this done. With any luck, General Mccrystal, the policy makers in DOD, State, and the Executive will be right and the nay sayers will be wrong.

#20 Comment By ephling On December 2, 2009 @ 4:27 pm

What makes you think this group is any more capable than the last group? I mean I hope you are correct but getting it right or wrong at the moment is a political decision made by a small group of people who more of less all share the same opinion to begin with. If 52.9% of Americans voted for him does that equate to a 52.9% chance of getting it right? How then would you then account for the fact that only 130 million out of a nation of 310 million voted, does that change the odds of his decisions being correct? The democratic election process and what happens there after have little to do with each other. What historians like McAllister, Hunt, and Derek bring is perspective and understanding based on analysis that is the result of painstaking analysis of source documents including actual interviews with policy makers including presidents. The kind of factual information that by law we will not see from this administration for decades, that would allow us to examine the data on which they are basing their decisions. Some have argued and I agree that we need a fourth branch of government, smart people, not owing allegiance to the politics of the moment. Sort of the status the Supreme Court holds but for big picture issues like wars and deficit spending, issues that by their nature extend beyond the term of any president.

#21 Comment By Derek On December 2, 2009 @ 4:32 pm

I’m doing no such thing as dismissing POTUS, SECDEF or anyone else. I am simply saying that there are some valid aspects of the comparison. You are purporting to speak for Obama (although again, Obama has no particular expertise on Vietnam that I know of) by asserting that they see NO connectons, which we simply do not know enough about.

Will you please stop misrepresenting the argument you pretend you are against” You write: “what you will have to look damn hard to find, and something I have not found yet, is a sophisticated veteran of Afghanistan who has that position because they are basing it almost entirely on a bridge to the Vietnam war.”

BUT NO ONE IS FUCKING ARGUING THIS. Least of all me. Once again, like in the sports debate, like in the Mt. Greylock debate, you are both changing your goalposts and are misrepresenting the arguments of other people. I laid out my reasons for a narrow willingness to make analogies with Vietnam. Please stop arguing with fictiobve folks for whom you an put words in their mouth. I made a substantive case against which you have said fuckall.

You’re a great bully PTC — when no one was standing up to you on concrete issues you were rolling. But then I introduce some concrete points where comparison might be valid and you start making up arguments.

You also wrote this: “Do you believe that, or someone who is telling you that this is like Vietnam? ”

Please, stop being an ass. It really is as simple as that. I believe that the world does not exist in simply syllogisms, that life is not a simple “The president is wholly right or the president is wholly wrong” dynamic. Stupid people think that way and than, as we can see from your touretes system of posting (three in a row from you rather than one coherent post) you are thinking stupidly.

I have not levied an opinion here on Sfghan istan, and you have not shown the courtesy of fucking asking me. Instead you have continued to assert that there are NO valid points of comparison between the two conflicts. And if anyone — including Gates or Obama — is saying that, then they are wrong. But so far none of them has said anything that categorical except as represented by you. You’re barely smart enough for Ephblog; you’re sure as hell not smart enough to extrapolate from those figures their larger views on a historical analogy.

And yes, when it comes to questions of history, I think, believe it or not, that a professional historian’s opinion might be more valid than a politicians. If that is objectionable, so be it. It also happens to be right.


#22 Comment By PTC On December 2, 2009 @ 5:08 pm

dcat- Well, the POTUS SECDEF and State are the ones who are engaged in and forming this current policy to fight the war.. if there was confusion about my language about who is fighting it, who is forming the policy… then ok. We were, I thought de facto, discussing those historians who do not think we can win with this current strategy. Those who continually compare this conflict to Vietnam. Those who are quoted in articles over and over again, continually using Vietnam comparisons to state why we are going to lose. Those who Obama refutes. If you were not doing that, No problem.

I do not see where I ever stated that you had an opinion about the war one way or another… all I did was support my opinion that those directly involved have better information than academics.

I am not a bully at all. I am making an argument. I have continually refuted these broad based comparisons using facts. You argue back that these Vietnam shouters have a point to make.. I say, they do not. Who is more of a bully, me who takes on these historical premises that have been published in scores of articles over the past six months, or those who are using Vietnam to scare the hell out of everyone and refute the UNs policy? I am strongly rebuking this whole “Vietnam comparison” argument, because it is just plain bullshit in my humble opinion.

I still think this whole “Vietnam connection” is based on guilt, political motivations and false historical premise

Perhaps we’ll win this thing? I certainly hope so. If we lose it will have nothing to do with Vietnam, except perhaps that it is so engrained in the American psyche that all someone has to do is shout “VIETNAM” from the mountaintop to make everyone hang their heads in shame and cry defeat. I don’t plan on us losing this one. I think we’ll win it. If I am wrong- that sucks.

#23 Comment By Derek On December 2, 2009 @ 6:21 pm

Eh. I’m done with you. You refuse to see fine points anywhere, you constantly change the goal posts, you argue with strawmen, you misrepresent others, and you manipulate arguments. If you were smarter, or if anyone outside of the PTC household gave a flying fuck what you thought about historical analogies I’d keep it going. But you’re not and no one does. Tell it to your wrestling buddies. I’m going to read people whose opinions matter on all sides of the divide and who bother with a modicum of intellectual honesty. You’re not one of those people.


#24 Comment By Dick Swart On December 2, 2009 @ 6:24 pm

#25 Comment By PTC On December 2, 2009 @ 7:10 pm

Derek- I have no problem with that. As long as you realize that the honest intellectuals you are reading who make Afghanistan Vietnam comparisons are not being honest. Just like Obama stated.

#26 Comment By PTC On December 2, 2009 @ 7:34 pm

Ronit- I agree that the surge strategy in Afghanistan will need to be executed very differently. The country is much more disjointed and it will require a longer commitment of people in more austere and nuanced conditions because the lines of the tribal cultures and slow transportation and communication lines.

In Iraq we faced some pretty tough odds after de Baathification though… and our military was still able to recover the relative peace after the complete destruction of social order and structure that occurred under Bremer. I think that Afghanistan is indeed a harder fight, but that we have better political leadership who are not going to make the near catastrophic political policy miscalculations that were made in Iraq. The effort in Afghanistan will need to be well coordinated and executed, no doubt about it.

#27 Comment By PTC On December 2, 2009 @ 7:36 pm

Not to mention… we never did find any weapons of mass destruction.

#28 Comment By Jay On December 2, 2009 @ 9:08 pm

You’re barely smart enough for Ephblog … If you were smarter … or if anyone outside of the PTC household gave a flying fuck what you thought … But you’re not … Tell it to your wrestling buddies.

What a mean thing to say.

#29 Comment By PTC On December 2, 2009 @ 9:23 pm

Jay- No drama. Derek gets like that from time to time when he is in a debate with others… me included. It is not mean because it is also entirely untrue, I am immune to that kind of attack at this stage of my life. People other than my family do indeed care what I think about such matters… even act on what I have to say, often. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

#30 Comment By PTC On December 3, 2009 @ 7:03 am

From Afghanistan/ Vietnam yesterday

Henry Bass says:
Afghanistan is unlikely to be the major disaster that Vietnam was. However, LBJ might have been a great president except for Nam. Because of Nam he was instead a tragic president. Perhaps our most tragic president. Obama has the oportunity to be a great president. Afganistan and Iraq could turn him into a tragic president like LBJ. In this sense Aganistan could turn out to be Obama’s Nam.

But couldn’t the same thing have been said about Clinton and Bosnia or any other number of conflicts? This is a broad comparison of what will happen politically to Obama if he loses in Afghanistan or things go poorly, not using similarities with the war in Vietnam as an indicator that we are going to lose.

Of course people that compare the conflicts are almost always indicating that a loss in Afghanistan is a foregone conclusion, which is my biggest problem with the analogies.

Henry- I think if anything that the war in Afghanistan is the antithesis to the war in Vietnam when it comes to the political climate and why we might lose. We will lose because of apathy and guilt. We will lose because not enough of the country got involved to win it, almost the exact opposite of Vietnam, where enough of the nation got involved to stop it.

As I posted above- people are simply not connected to the war in Afghanistan. That was not the case in Vietnam. In Vietnam, the people were extremely connected because of the draft and the high number of casualties.

This troop increase looks like it will be the last ditch effort to win a war that has been under resourced.

Unlike Vietnam, we have had another much more costly war being waged in Iraq at the same time as the war in Afghanistan… and that has been by far the biggest drag on the Afghan war effort.

Iraq fatigue is what has hurt us in Afghanistan. Iraq has been the focus of the resources for war as well. That cannot be overstated in this debate about any apparent analogies with Vietnam. There was no massive second war taking place during the Vietnam conflict.

The war in Iraq poisons any effort to draw substantive similarities between Afghanistan and Vietnam. That is one thing that has been missed in this debate.

#31 Comment By jeffz On December 3, 2009 @ 7:35 am

While I have at times gotten frustrated with you during certain debates PTC (and while I don’t agree with you on this one, nothing you’ve said strikes me as terribly problematic), you are hardly unique among Ephblog regulars in that regard — far from it. DCat’s comment was way, way, way out of line. And DCat, if you are wondering why I said in a recent thread that you are the most pejorative poster on Ephblog, it is comments like that, which are all too frequent. For someone who takes oh-so-personally even the slightest hint of snobbery directed towards the institution you are employed by, you sure as hell seem comfortable denigrating others who you feel are not in your intellectual class. Which, so far as I can tell, includes none of the Ephblog regulars, PTC included.

I’d post a link to the scene from Say Anything (“You must chill! You must chill!”) if I could find one. Seriously dude, take a deep breath, and chill out. Whenever you say things like that, it just makes everyone wince and makes YOU, not your target, look bad. I’m sure you now think I am dousche or an asshole or one of your other favorite epithets. I am hardly an unusually sensitized person — the opposite, actually. But I’ve been reading your over-the-top personal attacks, which seem to be growing more and more frequent, for so long that I just can’t take it any more. Not to say I, or Sam Crane, or Kane, or various others haven’t crossed the line from time to time, but you are in a whole different category. It’s frankly embarassing, especially for a self-styled intellectual such as yourself. Or maybe I am just so out of touch with the academy that I am unfamiliar with the new style of argumentation in vogue.

But way to take the high road, PTC. And sorry for the meta discussion. Proceed …

#32 Comment By Henry Bass On December 3, 2009 @ 8:05 am


Its a long discussion and I’m out of town in a minute. We can discuss it another time. Ill be away till Tues.


#33 Comment By PTC On December 3, 2009 @ 9:03 am

Henry- Hey thanks. I think I’ll be off the blog for about 6-8 months shortly… I travel on Monday but should be online until Wed or so… not sure if I will be blogging after that.

Good times.

JeffZ- Derek tends to push arguments in a direction and then nail you to a wall for going there… we are kind of similar in that style of debate… I’d say we are both “to blame” for some of these meta exchanges… no big issue, except it would be great if we could change the style a bit and explore more rather than debate subjects. I view the debate as a form of exploration really… rather than hard facts. Things get lost or misunderstood in the written word as well, which makes for a hard fight when people hold each other to exact language during a quick exchange, and focus on exact parts rather than the broader themes of the post. That happens a lot “in here”, I agree. Meta does indeed suck the wind out of the blog…

#34 Comment By PTC On December 3, 2009 @ 9:10 am

One thing that might beat us in Afghanistan is the disconnect. The public is relatively disconnected from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Unlike Vietnam where we had a draft, most Americans are not forced to deeply analyze, sacrifice and soul search for these current conflicts. That is left to the military, family members and other supporting elements. In some odd way- the fact that this war is dissimilar to Vietnam because of a lack of connection may be our undoing

For those who missed the theme of the post…

#35 Comment By PTC On December 3, 2009 @ 9:22 am

Vietnam worked its way through our entire culture and ended up forming such massive protests that many “normal” even “wealthy” people ended up in jail or killed for their opposition to the war. Something else to think about while we look at the differences between Vietnam and Afghanistan. Vietnam merged with an entire counter culture, perhaps even formed it, and changed our societal views of government and warfare rapidly and drastically.

The historical effects of the Vietnam war have impact on Afghanistan… not the similarities. Vietnam impacts every war we fight. It is a foundation of policy rather than legitimate analogy.

#36 Comment By David On December 3, 2009 @ 10:05 am

Jeff: “I’d post a link to the scene from Say Anything (”You must chill! You must chill!”) if I could find one.”

Thanks for making me look for this! Alas, I could find no video. But how about:

I second your comments.

Seriously dude, take a deep breath, and chill out. Whenever you say things like that, it just makes everyone wince and makes YOU, not your target, look bad. I’m sure you now think I am dousche or an asshole or one of your other favorite epithets. I am hardly an unusually sensitized person — the opposite, actually. But I’ve been reading your over-the-top personal attacks, which seem to be growing more and more frequent, for so long that I just can’t take it any more. Not to say I, or Sam Crane, or Kane, or various others haven’t crossed the line from time to time, but you are in a whole different category. It’s frankly embarrassing, especially for a self-styled intellectual such as yourself.

Exactly correct.

#37 Comment By Dick Swart On December 3, 2009 @ 11:12 am


Thank you for your patience and measured responses during this remarkable diatribe which has been so very depressing to me.

The subject matter is not the issue. The meta tone and style of a blog representing the thoughts of an informal Williams College community are.

dcat’s language and lack of respect in this exchange and others, remove him from consideration as a responsible participant in EphBlog and earn him a visit to Coventry.

PTC, The ‘Battlin’ Townie’ will be very much missed during your absence. Bon Chance and come back to us!

Dick Swart

#38 Comment By Whitney Wilson '90 On December 3, 2009 @ 11:47 am

I think I’ll be off the blog for about 6-8 months shortly… I travel on Monday but should be online until Wed or so… not sure if I will be blogging after that.

Have a good trip PTC. EphBlog will miss you.

#39 Comment By Derek On December 3, 2009 @ 12:12 pm

You know what? While you guys are fundamentally right that my last attack was out of bounds there is more than a bit of an element of an over-the-top response to it on your own parts. There reaches a point when I simply cannot stand having my arguments or watching the arguments of others be misrepresented again and again and again by PTC. It happened in the debate about sports, it happened in the debate about the quality of Mt. Greylock and it is happening here. I might go too far in my rhetoric, but I try my damndest to maintan intellectual honesty, even if ruthlessly, and I loathe when others do not do the same, and PTC simply does not adhere to that level of honesty. There is one other Ephblog participant as well who does that, and nothing infuriates me more. Between being a jerk and being dishonest, color me a jerk.

It becomes infuriating to try to narrow down a point — eg. the lack of reliable leadership in both South Vietnam and Afghanistan — and yet have the person you are arguing with simply return to assert that there is absolutely no framework for any kind of comparison writ large. Many, many, many very smart people have made this comparison in whole or in part. I have tried to make clear that I think PTC is correct that a broad based Vietnam-Afghanostan comparison does not resonate as true to me. But I have then pointed out the areas where there are apt comparisons on the level of grand startegy though from what I see almost none operationally. Rather than address aspects of that argument that might hold water PTC insists that these people are simply using it as a scare tactic, as if John Judis, say, does not have pretty solid credentials as someone willing to support American use of force, as if historians of Vietnam have no validity on matters related to Vietnam, and as if one must be a soldier to have an opinion on these things, as if hiding behind “The President says it’s so” is a justifiable argument.

It’s impossible to argue the fine points with someone who refuses to acknowledge that there are fine points and who constantly shifts the sands of the arguments. And it’s a pattern that transcends this post or this issue. So fine: The scolds with their feigned daintiness have weighed in: I’m the biggest prick at Ephblog. But give me ruthless honesty over its opposite every day of the week.


#40 Comment By PTC On December 3, 2009 @ 12:43 pm

lack of reliable leadership in both South Vietnam and Afghanistan


But one could say that about any number of US related wars or military actions… and it is only superficially true, because the dynamics are completely different. That is what makes those kinds of arguments dishonest. Scholars are acting as if there is some large measure of anecdote between the two wars by using superficial analogies to create the appearance of truth that creates a false dichotomy. That is fundamentally dishonest. I do not believe that these folks are lying per say, or even doing it consciously. This distorting of the realities that portrays a political and historical bias is unfathomable for me. That is what I have argued all along in these threads- that these analogies are bogus, and I stand behind that.

Vietnam is part of a foundation for policy and military doctrine not an analogy Afghanistan. Those who I am addressing have gotten that fundamentally wrong and are using historical reference that distorts a war we are in. You can disagree with that if you like, but my opinion and or the argumentation of my opinion does not make me a liar anymore than their false representations of Afghanistan makes them liars.

As far as using Obama speech… well, when one can use an expert’s stated opinion to back up an opinion that he/she has been stating for months… why not use it?

#41 Comment By PTC On December 3, 2009 @ 12:57 pm

PTC insists that these people are simply using it as a scare tactic, as if John Judis, say, does not have pretty solid credentials as someone willing to support American use of force, as if historians of Vietnam have no validity on matters related to Vietnam, and as if one must be a soldier to have an opinion on these things, as if hiding behind “The President says it’s so” is a justifiable argument.

“As if” I ever “insisted” any such thing. You are breaking out parts of my argument, clearly distorting those parts, “as if” they are the only opinions I have stated in these threads. While I understand this method of debate and I myself have been guilty of it in the past… I think it is wrong to do if you are going to get personal about it.

#42 Comment By Jr. Mom On December 3, 2009 @ 1:37 pm

FWIW, I thought Jeff’s commentary @31 is sincere and well-said. And PTC rightly took responsibility for his part in bringing this thread to a certain point. The rest of the commentary castigating Derek is overkill and amounts to stone-throwing.

There are some strange shenanigans that go on here at EB, game playing, taking of sides, and a subtle mean-spiritedness that often goes unchecked, while the more obvious contentious behavior is quickly criticized. It amounts to a sort of pretense at good manners, IMO.

Derek, PTC, you are two of the best voices on this site. You are both very committed and passionate guys, often saying what needs to be said. I, for one, would like to see you find a way to continue your debates in a more productive manner.

#43 Comment By PTC On December 3, 2009 @ 1:47 pm

I don’t know jr mom… all these hazing, D1 wanna be (think they are!), smarty pants, MGRHS rating 6 of 10 loving Ephs are starting to really piss me off.


I’m not bitter! I’m not bitter! lol.

#44 Comment By Neil On December 3, 2009 @ 3:05 pm

There reaches a point when I simply cannot stand having my arguments or watching the arguments of others be misrepresented again and again and again …


#45 Comment By Ronit On December 3, 2009 @ 6:01 pm

Back on topic, here’s Sam Crane on the Afghanistan decision and Mencius. Worth reading in full.

#46 Comment By PTC On December 3, 2009 @ 6:47 pm

Ronit- I read it. I think we are trying to install a new ruler and leave. That is going to take some time. I do not think we will make more war by doing what we are doing there. War was already there when we arrived, and it will be there when we leave… it is a matter of how we leave the balance of power at this point. This troop increase appears to be a last attempt at trying to tip the balance so the relative “good guys” contain the “bad guys”.

At some point we will need to address narcotics and the enforcement of laws against this trade in the region… how that impacts our position in Afghanistan.

I am not sure about his opinion that Iraq will fall back into civil war… I’ll let you know if I think he is right about that in the near term once I get a better look at the situation there. My understanding is that Iraq is stable and that the mechanisms of a healthy society (security, government and trade) are growing. That could change rapidly do to unforeseen events or upon our departure…

#47 Comment By PTC On December 3, 2009 @ 7:00 pm

I also have to dispute some of the references he makes to ‘dark prisons’ and such. The USA has an outstanding record of human rights treatment in terms of prisoners. The cases where we deviated from that were an unfortunate deviation from normal rendition based on poor policy in my opinion.

The United States takes human rights seriously… the new administration has banned such practices, so I think Prof Cranes focus on some of the outlier “bad deeds” authorized by previous leadership is misguided and a bit fantastic.

#48 Comment By PTC On December 3, 2009 @ 7:03 pm

sorry… “black jails”. My point is, any prison we are responsible for in Afghanistan is 100X more human than the forms of incarceration and methods of justice that existed there before… and well within the guidelines of international law. We’re not monsters.

#49 Comment By PTC On December 3, 2009 @ 7:18 pm


Good little piece by CNN about a recruit, some tidbits of family…

#50 Comment By rory On December 3, 2009 @ 7:22 pm

One deviance is all it really takes to lose the higher moral ground. The US had many more than one deviation, unfortunately. *gets tempted to make vietnam comparison to puppet and corrupt government and individual human rights violations like my lai being more important than many good acts in terms of relations with a country*

Being better than the bad that existed before isn’t good enough when you’re an invader.

Nor does Sam make a claim about Iraq falling back into civil war in that post.

We might not be “monsters” but we are humans and as such, we’ve got a pretty piss-poor reputation in Afghanistan and for good reason, unfortunately. to deny that is a mistake, a horrible one.

You don’t need to glorify the US to make a claim for a “surge”. Doing so makes me less supportive of the surge. Rather, acknowledge the many errors prior and the need to fix them if possible. Overly apologetic views of the US make me less supportive of your other points, honestly.

#51 Comment By PTC On December 3, 2009 @ 7:31 pm

Rory- Well, I disagree. My lai was a crime. People do commit crimes in war, and sometimes they are or are not discovered.
When they are discovered, we prosecute. Such crimes are extremely rare and not tolerated.

Our reputation in Afghanistan is poor for several reasons… but mostly because it has been an under staffed and under manned operation because of the focus on Iraq. That is what Obama is attempting to change.

I am not trying to glorify the USA… simply state that our nation does take human rights very seriously.

#52 Comment By PTC On December 3, 2009 @ 7:40 pm

If we were to withdraw and attempt to control the Taliban in the region through more covert means (less troops) that would mean less control within the confines of our own doctrine. SOF and OGA would need to project power in the space largely through surrogates who would operate away from the guidelines of American Military law, and that would certainly mean proxy for a more cruel forms of warfare and risk of an even worse reputation.

Everyone wants to do this with less bodies, part of that, would mean playing the game dirtier than we are currently. The troop increase is meant to give space for training and stability… law. We can do a lot within a lawless space, but we cannot stay clean doing it. That has been part of the problem in Afghanistan.

#53 Comment By PTC On December 3, 2009 @ 7:44 pm

Afghanistan is not Germany or Japan after WWII; it is closer to Iraq now, the obvious differences notwithstanding, where our efforts at state-building have yet to succeed and will most likely produce a reignition of civil war

Rory- I took that as a claim that Iraq will most likely fall back into a civil war… which could come down to definition of civil war I suppose, but my understanding is that for now, the country’s stability is increasing.

#54 Comment By rory On December 3, 2009 @ 8:11 pm


i must have missed that line. sorry.

crimes have gone unprosecuted in war–quite often–and prosecuting crimes doesn’t resolve the problem in the country that has been invaded…more recently than my lai, think of abu ghraib. I don’t think the slap-on-the-wrist really resolved the PR problem over abu ghraib in iraq, for example.

the problem in war is that it’s impossible to perfectly train a soldier when to be at war and when not to in real time…especially against an insurgency. no matter how much the US takes “human rights seriously” (a claim many, many outside the US would disagree with), like i said, a couple deviations from perfection is all it takes to ruin our reputation as an invading country.

so yeah, we’re better than most. we might even be the best of any invading country. It still isn’t (can’t? perhaps) good enough to convince an invaded country’s people to be happy with a persistent military presence. it’s a quagmire. i worry about over presence because i just don’t see an exit route that makes sense/would work.

has a country ever screwed up nation-building and then righted the course? i can’t think of an example. I’d bet that once you screw up, there’s no make-over.

FWIW, Israel, for example, probably has the best trained military in terms of trying to respect human rights while also providing security. that’s not working out for them well necessarily.

#55 Comment By PTC On December 3, 2009 @ 8:28 pm

Rory- part of my point is that an increased presence in this war will most certainly increase human rights in the case of Afghanistan, rather than decrease them. Now, known cases of abuse will be much more reported and that may not stop fanatics and power players with outside interests from exploiting us and beating us in this war… but it seems odd to insinuate that a decrease in US commitment would actually increase human rights in Afghanistan. The reason we want to leave is about $$$ and protection of our national interests.

If the real concern of others are the rights and well being of the Afghani people, then it should be a slam dunk… America needs to go in with every resource have to make a decent country out of the place. The more troops, the bigger our commitment, the better off the Afghani people.

#56 Comment By rory On December 3, 2009 @ 8:33 pm


that’s not my argument at all. My argument is that invading forces have to be perfect on human rights because they are under a microscope. We have not been and thus, no matter how good we do from now on, the proverbial die is already cast. Increase or decrease the presence, it is the presence itself that is “toxic” for lack of a better word. Quietly abiding by the invasion until we leave isn’t nation-building but might be the best possible outcome. if that comes from a “surge”, so be it. It’s time to cut bait and leave because the military is not the right route for nation building.

i wonder where you got that insinuation from…not a straw man? because it reads like one.

#57 Comment By rory On December 3, 2009 @ 8:34 pm

again, when has a full scale invasion ever made “a decent country out of [a] place”? i’ve never found that a believable end goal.

#58 Comment By PTC On December 3, 2009 @ 8:59 pm

rory- I know it is not your argument… but it appears to be a major concern of prof Crane…

Germany, more recently, Bosnia.

#59 Comment By Ronit On December 3, 2009 @ 10:08 pm

@PTC: If you think the Afghanistan/Vietnam analogies are bad, I am kind of stunned you think the Germany example is in any way relevant here. I’ll quote Sam:

Afghanistan is not Germany or Japan after WWII; it is closer to Iraq now, the obvious differences notwithstanding, where our efforts at state-building have yet to succeed and will most likely produce a reignition of civil war. More war in Afghanistan will most likely produce just that: more war in Afghanistan.

Germany and Japan had centuries of practice at being full-fledged nation states. I think even the comparison to Iraq is too optimistic. Iraq had considerably more of what it takes to be a nation state when we invaded.

And we didn’t do anything like a full scale invasion of Bosnia. It was a NATO bombing campaign against the Bosnian Serb army.

#60 Comment By kthomas On December 3, 2009 @ 10:40 pm

Germany did not become anything even approaching a nation-state until the March Revolution of 1848. The state which emerged after the Franco-Prussian War of 1871 might be better called a ‘nation-state,’ but there remained these little questions of what a nation was and where its boundaries lay. And then…

Ideas have consequences. The price of the idea of the nation-state, combined with European tribalism, in one decade alone, approached 200 million souls.

Repeat this exercise for Japan.

#61 Comment By PTC On December 3, 2009 @ 10:46 pm

Ronit- We occupied Bosnia with a large international force. Same with the province of Kosovo. Kosovo is fairly backwards, although not as backwards as Afghanistan. Still, rugged mountainous terrain, a large muslim population, village culture and blood fueds… closer to Afghanistan than Vietnam. But I was not making a comparative argument… only stating that it had been done.

I see your point now… I did not consider Germany a decent country… you meant modern, right? When has a modern society been established from a primitive one through an invasion? What are you asking exactly?

#62 Comment By Ronit On December 3, 2009 @ 10:47 pm

@kthomas: My mistake, obviously. Nation-state was a terrible choice of word given the particular history of both countries. Thanks for pointing that out.

I am not sure what word to use to convey the difference between Afghanistan and those countries. But would you grant that culturally the German and Japanese people had the experience of being something, in their history, that made successful ‘nation-building’ by an outside force a more likely outcome in both cases?

#63 Comment By PTC On December 3, 2009 @ 10:52 pm

I disagree that we did not invade Bosnia… we bombed them and then occupied their territory with a large military presence that still exists in lower numbers today. There was ground combat in Kosovo and Bosnia.

#64 Comment By Ronit On December 3, 2009 @ 10:52 pm

@PTC: Modern is not a bad word. I am thinking about things like infrastructure and industry, certainly, but also about institutions and culture and education. Japan and Germany had high levels of all of these things that you need for a civic society. Maybe you need some concept of a form of government that predates, and is independent of, the enemy we defeated. That last one at least applies to Japan – the emperor as a unifying concept.

#65 Comment By PTC On December 3, 2009 @ 11:15 pm

Ronit- Any number of countries in Africa and the middle east… for starters… many examples in history where an invasion by a foreign power increased education, wealth, health care…. but I am not sure I am hitting the mark there either…

Kind of a pointless exercise because we are not in Afghanistan to create any of those things. We are there to try and project influence and create a power structure that we can rely on to stop extremism.

Let me be clear… I do not think Kosovo is a good analogy for Afghanistan, it is not as poor an analogy as Vietnam in my opinion… but that is, a matter of opinion. Frankly, both Kosovo and Vietnam serve as lousy analogies for Afghanistan.

#66 Comment By Jr. Mom On December 4, 2009 @ 2:15 am

I recently had a cross country flight in which my seatmate was a very friendly, bright and talkative young Afghani-American. Circumstances in his past were such that he and his family are lucky to be alive. In fact, not all of them are. He was raised, and educated in the US, but has recently spent a lot of time back in Afghanistan. He is actively involved in what Sam and others would probably call “building strength from within”. I probably shouldn’t discuss much of what he said, but suffice to say that he is very grateful for U.S. involvement. I wish I had known more, maybe even passed that time with him after Obama’s speech, so that I could have asked better questions of him. But sitting next to him and hearing his first-hand stories has certainly given me a subtly different perspective on our role there. I still lean towards questioning our involvement, but because of him (and what he told me), I am a bit less certain it is wrong, and a bit more attentive as to why it might be right. But, I will admit, that as his face fades from my memory, and is instead replaced by the young men and women we will lose, I will probably go back to adamantly wanting out.

#67 Comment By tc On December 4, 2009 @ 3:29 am

I really dont see much similar in these conflicts. In Vietnam we lost over 58,000 troops in 10 years. At times we had over 500,000 troops in the country. The Vietnamese were much more capable shooting down thousands of helicopters and hundreds of airplanes including strategic bombers with surface to air missiles. They had their own airforce which engaged ours effectivley to some degree. This is all media blather trying to stir things up. As tragic as it is we have only lost 800 men in 9 years. Yes its a cluster fuck but what wars arent? We lost 800 men in a day at tarawa fighting the Japanese. As for cost sure thats a problem but these crazy nuts and their freinds attacked out country on 9-11, is everyone forgetting that? Where was the complaints about cost when we had over 400,000 troops stationed in europe for 50 years! I think the bush administration dropped the ball on this one. After 9-11 he could and should have called for a draft,ignored Iraq and put a million men on the ground in Afganistan crushing anything in their way and capturing Osama bin laden. Then the long hard road to rebuilding the country should have begun. I may be wrong but i really beleive he would have had the support too do this at the time. Now everyones mind is muddled and confused because things were not done right the first time.I wonder what people would say after little bighorn today,oh that is just a never ending war against a group of savages which we cannot win lets just give them North Dakota, South Dakota, and Whyoming and call it a day,cause it cost to much and we cant win.

#68 Comment By PTC On December 4, 2009 @ 7:51 am

Jr Mom- There is a part of the left that has a severe mistrust of the military and looks poorly upon any effort or undertaking that relies heavily on the projection of military power.

It’s never about if we are trying to do the right thing or not, it is about if it is worth it or if what we are doing is only making matters worse. I predict we’ll create the stability needed in Afghanistan to hand the country over to some form of non hostile entity that opposes the brutal oppression of the Taliban and continues to work with ISAF to fight extremism in the region. I think this will work, with the limited goals that we have.

We still have to deal with the problem of our position on narcotics… can that be replaced by some other cash making product in the region, or do we just let them grow it? Our opposition to a large part of their economy is a big burden on our effort there, and we have yet to figure out an angle.

#69 Comment By rory On December 4, 2009 @ 9:47 am

@PTC: countries in africa and the middle east? are you defending colonialism now? lol.

if bosnia and kosovo are the best examples, i think my point is made. talk about an atrocious comparison case.

#70 Comment By PTC On December 4, 2009 @ 12:50 pm

Rory- They are not the only or best historical examples… but they are- the most recent case where the USA has intervened militarily to create stability and it has worked. Deny it or not, a decade ago we projected power into Serbia and created stability during a brutal civil war. We used massive military force to do it, with a ground invasion that included village engagement. It was a big deal (and still is), and the American military with the UN did an outstanding job. Laugh all you want.

We could also debate Iraq but that is too young as of yet… and could still go south- as well as the fact that it may not serve our strategic interest- it may very well be that a decade from now what we created in Iraq is “more decent” than the brutal regime that we killed. That has yet to play out yet.

If Iraq was worth the price in blood and treasure, as well as the strategic end state for us, is an entirely different matter from if we created a “more decent” country.

#71 Comment By PTC On December 4, 2009 @ 12:56 pm

Bosnia has a extremely long history of internal warfare and blood letting… it was no small feat putting a lid on that, and many people made the same kinds of arguments against the Clinton Administration that are being made today against the Obama Afghanistan strategy. Including the Vietnam analogies.

#72 Comment By PTC On December 4, 2009 @ 1:17 pm

Quick google search brought back a lot of the Vietnam rhetoric that I remembered during that conflict…


#73 Comment By rory On December 4, 2009 @ 2:39 pm

@PTC: again, you’ve either willfully or not misconstrued an argument. I’m curious what “countries in the middle east and africa” you were speaking about. The early-invasion histories of bosnia and afghanistan are so divergent as to render any comparison meaningful.

so again, what countries in the middle east and africa. that’s what made me laugh.

#74 Comment By PTC On December 4, 2009 @ 3:03 pm

We’ll have to wait and see how this plays out in Afghanistan. No matter what happens… I am sure there will be plenty of argument of if we have succeeded in making a more decent country.

#75 Comment By PTC On December 4, 2009 @ 3:12 pm

History is not stagnant. It evolves, so no, I am not defending Colonialism… only stating the reality that in some cases more modern societies evolved from it… which is what you are calling “decent” now, I believe? Still not quite following, what your definition of “a more decent country”… if stopping Genocide and instilling peace and greater prosperity in a region is not an example of making a place more decent… what is?

#76 Comment By PTC On December 4, 2009 @ 3:13 pm

tc- You captured some of my points exactly.

You and I are in agreement about OIF and OEF as well.

#77 Comment By rory On December 4, 2009 @ 3:34 pm

@PTC: again, what countries in the middle east and africa did full-scale invasion help? what genocide did it stop there?

colonialism retarded and continues to retard to this day the development of africa. Du Bois got that right over 50 years ago.

yes, countries are more modern than they were before. but that’s meaningless: other countries are more modern today than they were and weren’t colonized. be specific, please.

#78 Comment By PTC On December 4, 2009 @ 4:55 pm

I thought your point was that no invasion has ever succeeded in making “a decent place” out of any country…

I still think Germany and Bosnia are pretty good examples. How about Panama? Italy? Kuwait? Tunisia? Again… it depends on how you use “full scale invasion” in the context of history and what you mean by the phrase “a decent place”. Germany was made into a decent place after full scale invasion in my mind. So was Italy.

We stopped Genocide in Bosnia. Just as I stated.

Until you define what you mean by your language there will be no way for me to debate you or agree with you. I obviously did not understand your statement… at first I thought you meant a more lawful place with less exploitation… then perhaps a more modern society with better trade? You need to explain what you mean.

#79 Comment By Ronit On December 4, 2009 @ 7:10 pm

#80 Comment By PTC On December 4, 2009 @ 7:39 pm

And we are also refusing to face another unmentionable: that our policies in Afghanistan and in the tribal areas of Pakistan have made the Taliban a much more significant threat within Pakistan itself.

I wonder how much importance Kaiser would place on our inability to have a decent policy on narcotics in above statement?

Ronit- Good article. I disagree that we have enabled Bin Laden in Afghanistan, but The OIF part, yeah, hard not to agree about that right now, even though we are “winning” OIF.

I think we have done more damage to Al Q in the region than Kaiser asserts, and that extremism was rising and going to rise more and would have been even worse following 9/11 if we had failed to act. His assertion that we have enabled more violence and will fuel more hatred because of our actions are intangible, as are mine that failure to strike back in Afghanistan would have made it worse than what we have now. We needed to strike back and should continue to do so.

I agree with tc above in @67 that we should have gone huge into AFG and continued to contain Hussein in Iraq… but those cards have been played. I think Obama is smart to do what he is doing with this troop increase.

Perhaps we will find and kill OBL during this push. It would not hurt politically or emotionally to get a more complete sense of justice for 9/11.

#81 Comment By PTC On December 5, 2009 @ 6:47 am


Iraq/Afghanistan surge comparison. Reads relevant to me… a significant part of the AFG policy is based off of the success of the surge in OIF, no doubt about it.

Can the OIF surge be used as a hard indicator that an OEF surge will work… I don’t think so. Good article.

#82 Comment By ephling On December 5, 2009 @ 4:06 pm

PTC you were beginning to sway me with your well presented points, but now that the Time’s says there is no comparison, and it is a front page article on MSN, there has to be. I find it interesting that this is no longer a war on terror, but the authorization for troops specifically states the mission is finding and killing those responsible for 9-11 and preventing future terrorism. Maybe we need a new congressional review. Not much in the first one about nation building unless those funds are coming from someplace else. Maybe the last admin had it wrong but if so I always thought the opposite of war was peace, not more war (to which you will say, I am guessing, that the opposite of Bush’s war is victory) Have a great trip. I enjoy your comments even though I disagree with many.

“That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

#83 Comment By PTC On December 5, 2009 @ 4:54 pm

Ephling- Hey man thanks. Take it easy. If you are in Williamstown… breath some cool air for me.

#84 Comment By David Kaiser On December 6, 2009 @ 6:16 pm

Nice to be cited here.

PTC wrote:

“there is a sense of guilt that I get from leaders like Martha Coakley and James McAllister… hard to put my finger on it, exactly. Almost as if people are searching for reasons not to have to support this effort, to avoid the effort itself. If the wars can be put it in a box and called Vietnam, something that one can recognize and feel (as bad), one can justify a lack of commitment.”

It isn’t guilt, it’s memory, responsibility, analysis. No, Afghanistan isn’t Vietnam. It has more than twice as many people and MUCH more territory than South Vietnam did in 1965. Even with this increase we will have fewer troops than we had in Vietnam at the end of that fateful year. Its government is even weaker than South Vietnam’s, which is saying quite a lot. Like the Viet Cong, the Taliban has emerged as by far the most organized and committed force (though not a popular one) in the country.

We cannot have what we want just by wishing for it. Democrats like myself see another parallel: that the dedicated members of the Obama Administration, who have so many worthy goals–like those in LBJ’s–now have a number-one priority of defending this very dubious effort. LBJ had huge Congressional majorities and lost much of them thanks to this war. Liberalism in the US has never recovered. Although it seemed to be recovering under Obama, he does not have majorities so large or loyal, and the war is not likely to do them much good.

I hope this works out, although frankly, I think it’s going to get harder and harder even to supply our troops in landlocked Afghanistan (another very important differnce, by the way.) And since we know that Al Queda has, and always will be able to, find new refuges. . .is it worthwhile? These are very serious questions and those who raise them don’t deserve to have their motives impugned.

David Kaiser, Stanley Kaplan Professor, 2006-7

#85 Comment By PTC On December 8, 2009 @ 8:40 am

Prof Kaiser- I do not disagree with the historical analogies as they reference the war n terms of political realities in the United States. Vietnam and the memory of it plays into how we approach every modern conflict, no doubt about that. What I do not think is valid, are attempts to draw parrelels that indicate we will fail because of tactical and strategic references.

“Is it worth is” is a valid question. The military cannot fight it because of X Y and Z using comparisons to NAM are not, in my opinion.

I still think the public at large feels very uneasy about these wars, and lacks an understanding of our current militaries capabilites and limitations. There is a lack of connection to both OIF and OEF… no draft, no war bonds, no taxes.

At any rate- thanks for commenting…

#86 Comment By ephling On December 8, 2009 @ 9:39 am

“give up the woman [he] really loved-The Great Society- in order to get involved with that bitch of a war” LBJ

Fascinating, but not surprising, to see Kaiser view the Afghan war from such a liberal political perspective. Vietnam left LBJ on the rubbish heap of history. Unable to fully commit to either aspect of his agenda he failed at both. Obama is smarter by forcing through his plans with no pretext of bipartisanship while he has the majority and worrying about re-election later. Even if he is a one term president he will do more to advance the liberal agenda than anyone since FDR.

#87 Comment By Ken Thomas ’93 On December 9, 2009 @ 3:44 am

#88 Comment By David Kaiser On December 9, 2009 @ 9:11 pm

LBJ did more than anyone to advance the liberal agenda since FDR. At this point I’m quite doubtful Obama can do as much as he. At best, the health care reform, as it is emerging, will be a step towards universal coverage, which will force us all, eventually, to get serious about cutting costs and rethinking a lot of the medicine done in this country. The way everyone reacted to the mammogram and pap smear recommendations, however–which are exactly the kind of recommendations we need–shows that that is all a long way off. Given that it has taken all year to get health care done, I don’t think Obama, for these two years at least, is going to have a very historic legislative record.
My real concern about Afghanistan is whether our involvement can possibly do any good. So far we have been there 8 years–that’s right–and things have gotten dramatically worse. They have also gotten worse in Pakistan. When we put large numbers of troops in a country like that it does two things: it mobilizes the opposition and it gets the guys on our side focused on who gets the money (which is surely happening in Pakistan as well.) Joe Biden seems to have gotten the point but he is the only one. And now Obama is committed to this for years. Having lived through 1965-8 that really bothers me.

#89 Comment By ephling On December 9, 2009 @ 11:35 pm

I recently had the pleasure of reading American Tragedy. As Harry Potter would say, brilliant.

#90 Comment By David Kaiser On December 10, 2009 @ 8:58 pm

Thank you, Ephling. Perhaps you should take a look at The Road to Dallas–they are complementary, in a way.