Obama and Afghanistan

Before we close up shop for the Thanksgiving holiday, I wanted to highlight some excellent commentary on President Obama’s impending decision about how to proceed with the war in Afghanistan. The President is scheduled to make an announcement next Tuesday, December 1, about his intentions for America’s next steps. Between now and then, we would do well to consider the lessons of history.

In an article just published in the online journal American Diplomacy, Michael H. Hunt, editor of the forthcoming book A Vietnam War Reader: A Documentary History from American and Vietnamese Perspectives and author of The American Ascendancy: How the United States Gained and Wielded Global Dominance, helps trace the specific parallels between the war on terrorism and the Vietnam War and offers insight on how the previous historical moment can help us better understand the current one. Here is an excerpt from his article, “Obama and Afghanistan: Learning from Nixon’s Vietnam Ordeal“:

The Vietnam War has a bearing on President Obama’s pending decision on troops levels.1 Though the president himself is doubtful about parallels,2 historians have pointed to the relevance of Lyndon Johnson’s decisions in 1964-1965. That plunge into Vietnam, they warn, undid the Great Society program and ultimately the Johnson presidency. Obama could suffer the same fate.

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Richard Nixon’s Vietnam War may offer a more appropriate but no less cautionary point of comparison.3 Consider the parallels between the Nixon’s position on coming into office in 1969 and the situation facing Obama exactly forty years later:

  • The White House has shifted from one party to the other with the new occupant inheriting a foreign intervention that is going poorly.
  • The Congress and the public are restive.
  • The military is feeling the strain of a trying mission.
  • The enemy has proven stubborn and elusive with the advantages of sanctuaries and outside funding.
  • The U.S. client that U.S. troops are supposed to save has proven administratively ineffective, indeed could not stand alone despite a long-term U.S. assistance program.

Hunt offers three important lessons to keep in mind about the relationship between military force and nation building and argues that Nixon’s “failure to promptly accept failure and the ensuing consequences provide a stark warning of the risks Obama now runs.” Read the full article at American Diplomacy.

We’ll be back to blogging next week, in time to see what historic next steps Obama sets forth.

Have a warm holiday.

–ellen