Levy: Afghanistan is another Vietnam

By Shane Levy

In our history and social studies classes, we learn that history tends to repeat itself.

We study history so that we can prevent past failures from recurring and cultivate past successes even further.

But with the recent news coming from Afghanistan, I question whether our leaders remember those lessons from their social studies classes.

At the end of October, eight more troops were reported dead in Southern Afghanistan, the region closest to Pakistan.

Their deaths increased U.S. troop casualties to 53 in October, making it the deadliest month in the war yet.

Fifty-one troops died in Afghanistan in the previous deadliest month, August.

Following such terrible news was the announcement that Matthew Hoh, a leading official stationed in Afghanistan, resigned his post.

Hoh, a Marine and former Department of Defense official in Iraq, stated in his resignation letter, drafted on Sept. 10, that he had “lost understanding and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States’ presence in Afghanistan” and doubts the “current strategy and planned future strategy” in the war.

The history of Afghanistan — and even neighboring Pakistan, for that matter — has proven the country to be not only a failed state, but perhaps one that foreign countries cannot occupy militarily and win.

Twice during the 19th century, British Indian forces invaded Afghanistan to try to occupy the tribal country, and twice, the British failed to succeed.

In 1979, Soviet forces invaded the country and — with some help from Uncle Sam — withdrew from Afghanistan 10 years later, unable to maintain their control.

Foreign countries cannot successfully occupy Afghanistan. But eight years after the initial U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, and considering Hoh’s now public sentiments, it still appears that our leaders don’t get it.

CNN foreign correspondent Michael Ware, who has extensively covered both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars from the Middle East, said, “You’re never going to win with bombs and bullets in Afghanistan. It is always going to take a political solution. You cannot win in that country.”

But some senior American political officials, most notably President Obama, have started entertaining the idea of supplying more troops to the doomed region.

The military operations of the United States in the post-World War II era have been exhaustive and generally unsuccessful campaigns.

The Korean War, Vietnam War, war in Iraq and perhaps now even the war in Afghanistan most frequently come to mind when one thinks of modern American military failures.

The paramount example of American military failure in the 20th century is arguably the Vietnam War.

The Vietnam War, which cost 58,000 American troops their lives, was a campaign built on unsubstantiated fears, and it was a conflict for which the United States was ill-prepared.

Recently, the war in Afghanistan has been frequently compared to the Vietnam War. From the unclear military strategy to the insurgent enemy, Afghanistan and Vietnam appear to be a match.

In March, however, the war in Afghanistan will surpass the length of the Vietnam War, thus becoming the longest war in American history.

Vietnam and Afghanistan are on similar paths.

With consistently rising casualties on both the American and Afghan sides of the conflict, and with no resolution of the war in sight, perhaps Walter Cronkite’s legendary quote about Vietnam might soon apply to Afghanistan: “It seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate.”

An increase in troops in Afghanistan will not solve the political and diplomatic problems that haunt the region. Such a strategy ignores the long history of similar strategic failures in Afghanistan, and it ignores similar circumstances in other American military failures.

It certainly appears that our leaders were absent on a crucial day in their social studies classes.

E-mail Shane at [email protected].