As another general calls for more troops in Afghanistan it is time to re-focus on the large pieces of known information. Vietnam is not a very good comparison for the current US efforts in Afghanistan. The Soviet debacle of the 1980s however does provide such an example. Most importantly, it should be clearly pointed out that the Soviet Union lost in Afghanistan after years of effort and Afghanistan was on their border at the time as opposed to halfway around the world. A little British history would not hurt either.
Today's Washington Post article by Bob Woodward highlights General McChrystal requests for more troops. You can see the article Woodward on Afghanistan.
Let's start by playing devil's advocate, and assume for a moment that force can work against an insurgency. The last insurgency the US won was the Philippine insurrection in the early 20th Century. It was a nasty little war all by itself, but the US possessed a distinct technological weapons advantage and it still took over ten years to win. The Philippines were previously a Spanish colony, and were fairly centralized when the US arrived. The Philippines benefited from extensive trade for centuries and were connected to the outside world. Afghanistan, by contrast, with pretty extreme isolation and significant de-centralization presents an opposite example. In addition when you add the benefit of the solid weapons readily available now to insurgency forces, (AK-47s, extensive and diverse IEDs)advantage turns again to the defender.
More Importantly, the Soviet Union spent the better part of the 1980s trying to subdue Afghanistan. They lost even though they possessed the distinct advantage of proximity--something you do not hear anyone talking about. It is not merely an issue of lives, both American and Afghani, but the US simply cannot afford the extreme cost of ramping up this conflict to a level where some type of "victory" is possible. The diversity of the insurgency makes for no simple strategy. Moreover, the widespread corruption in Afghanistan makes any "victory," even if it were militarily likely, a Pyrrhic one at best. Whatever government we manage to prop up is decades away from being able to provide any type of national civil society.
As the Woodward article implies, the public support for more US troops remains doubtful. Bombing will not dislodge the diverse insurgency. It is time to get out. Unfortunately, recent statements by Osama bin Laden say the same thing, and that will make it even more difficult politically to do what needs to be done. I rarely disagree with Robert Fisk, and his article this morning is a must read. You can see it here: Everyone seems to be agreeing with Osama Bin Laden.
From Fisk's article:
And what do America's Republican hawks – the subject of bin Laden's latest sermon – now say about the Afghan catastrophe? "More troops will not guarantee success in Afghanistan," failed Republican contender and ex-Vietnam vet John McCain told us this week. "But a failure to send them will be a guarantee of failure." How Osama must have chuckled as this preposterous announcement echoed around al-Qa'ida's dark cave.
Afghanistan clearly presents a losing situation. It is a loser for Afghanis, it is a loser for the US and all their allies still helping us there. Unfortunately it's a loser for Afghanis whether we stay or go. It is painful no matter which course we choose. It is a loser politically no matter what Obama does. Because of these reasons, it is far better to get out now than drag this on for the futile hope that the game may change. When gambling, sometimes one has to walk away from the table, because doubling down in a rigged game only puts you deeper in the hole. Sometimes you have to take your lumps, even though no one will likely thank you for it.