In case you missed it (not likely), the New York Times featured dueling op-eds from both Lewis Sorley and Gordon Goldstein on the lessons of Vietnam as applied to Afghanistan. One of the reasons I suggested an end to the reductio ad Vietnamum on the blog this weekend is because the lessons of that conflict as they apply to Afghanistan are far from clear, as these op-eds demonstrate. Two smart people could both carefully read history and arrive at two different conclusions as to what we should do in Afghanistan.
Credit goes to reader and enthusiastic supporter of all things counterinsurgency Michael Cohen for sending along this piece by the very serious and very smart Austin Long that escaped my view earlier this week. Austin makes a case for a counter-terror campaign in Afghanistan and, bless him, gets down to the specifics. The people who have actually led and executed counter-terror operations in Afghanistan -- Gens. Stan McChrystal, Mike Flynn, Scott Miller -- are the best people to explain why such campaigns will not work. In the words of Gen. McChrystal, “You can kill Taliban forever, because they are not a finite number.” And in my mind, these kinds of CT strategies ignore the political dimension even more egregiously than do most counterinsurgency strategies. But read it yourself and draw your own conclusions. You guys may think I'm so far down the road of counterinsurgency that I am not open to alternatives, but I really am. I'm just wary of those which are more conceptual than operational.
A few more things for the readership:
1. The leader in this week's Economist agrees with us imperialist war-mongers, so go direct some of your hate mail in their direction.
2. Easy on the Vietnam analogies, gang. There are a lot of good books on Vietnam, and what historical conclusion one draws from the war depends on which books one has read. (Of course, we have actual veterans of the war who read this blog, so they can probably skip the reading list.) Who do you read? Krepinevich? Karnow? Goldstein? Sorely? Fall? Those who suggest advocates of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan have not read their history need to explain exactly what history we need to read that we have not. Regardless and whatever you think of the current U.S. administration, the decision-making process of Barack Obama's national security team could not be more different than that of Lyndon Johnson.
Bernard Fall loved his wife, but his heart belonged to Vietnam.Perhaps it's the description of the recording of his literal last words, spoken from the street in Hue for which his most famous book is named:
"Shadows are lengthening," he says quietly near the tape's abrupt end. "We've reached one of our phase lines after the firefight, and it smells bad, meaning it's a little bit suspicious. Could be an amb -- "Or his Fall's wife's reaction to Robert McNamara's autobiography:
In 1995, Robert S. McNamara, the secretary of defense during much of the Vietnam War, published a memoir in which he lamented the lack of Vietnam experts who might have helped the U.S. avoid its mistakes there.But Charlie is pretty sure that what really struck her heart on a cold night in Washington was the title of Dorothy's ode to her husband: Bernard Fall, Memories of a Soldier-Scholar.
Dorothy Fall was incensed: She knew that one of the most renowned Vietnam experts had lived less than 10 miles from the Pentagon, and McNamara had never called.