September 11 Digital Archive

Re: [MAPC-discuss] People Say It's Not Vietnam


Re: [MAPC-discuss] People Say It's Not Vietnam



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September 11 Email: Body

X wrote:

>    People are saying this is not Vietnam, and they're getting away with

and Yugoslavia, Colombia, and Somalia,
all rolled into one

By X

As the U.S. war begins in Afghanistan, the budding
antiwar movement claims that "Afghanistan is Vietnam,"
meaning that "America's new war" could
become bogged down in a quagmire
or even end in defeat.
But Afghanistan is not simply like Vietnam.

I have followed Afghan politics with morbid
fascination since the civil wars and Soviet
invasion of the late 1970s.  The recent history
of Afghanistan demonstrates that a new
war in that country would not simply be like
the U.S. war in Vietnam. The war would instead be
like Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Colombia, and Somalia
all rolled into one.  Afghanistan offers a
package deal of multiple disasters, loaded
with extra bonus features.

Afghanistan is Vietnam.  There is some
historical truth to this claim.  Like the Afghanis
who defeated British and Russian invaders,
the Vietnamese defeated the Chinese and
French before us. The U.S. took on a
people whose main motivation was not ideology,
but a fierce sense of independence from
foreign rule.  Vietnamese guerrillas had
widespread support in the countryside,
partly because U.S. forces distinguished little
between combatants and civilians, and were
backing an unpopular and corrupt
South Vietnamese dictatorship. It will be
similarly difficult to tell who is who
in Afghanistan, and impossible to
find any force representing "freedom."

But Afghanistan is not simply like
Vietnam.  After the Communist rebels and
their North Vietnamese sponsors won the
war in 1975, Vietnam became a unified
state with a stable central government
and a single core ethnic identity.  Afghanistan,
on the other hand, has never had a strong central
government, and is split into ethnic enclaves.

Afghanistan is Yugoslavia.  Like
Yugoslavia before it violently split into ethnic
ministates, Afghanistan is a multiethnic
country with no single dominant group.
Its civil wars have further divided the
country into strong enclaves of ethnic groups,
most of which straddle the borders of neighboring
countries.  In the north, Tajiks,
Uzbeks and Turkmens have strong ties to
adjacent ex-Soviet republics. The territory
controlled by the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance
corresponds almost exactly to the Tajik
region. The Pashtuns, who form the bulk of the
Taliban, spill over into Pakistan.  The Baluchis
in the south have brethren in both Pakistan
and Iran, and the Hazaras in the central region
have Shi'ite religious ties to Iran.  A new
conflagration in Afghanistan could result in
a partition that enlarges adjacent states or
splinters the country into new and even
more unstable ethnic ministates.

But Afghanistan is not simply like
Yugoslavia.  Serbian and Croatian
voters eventually ousted their ultranationalist
leaders.  Their new countries have industrial
economies, unlike impoverished Afghanistan
which has long been forced to rely on an
underground, illegal drug economy.

Afghanistan is Colombia.  Just as all
sides in the Colombian civil war have
profited from the cocaine trade,
all Afghan factions together form
one of the global centers of the opium
trade.  The U.S.-backed mujahadin
rebels defeated the Soviets  partly by
purchasing weapons with drug profits.
Their successors in the Northern Alliance
have continued the practice despite
international pressure.  The Taliban
also engage in drug trafficking, despite
a generous U.S. grant of $43 million
to aid us in the "drug war."  The
outlaw tradition in Afghanistan
is ideally suited for the drug warlord

But Afghanistan is not simply Colombia.
Though Colombia is divided into
government and rebel zones that
intersect with narcotic fiefdoms,
it at least has national institutions and
national political parties. Afghanistan
has little national identity apart from
its resistance to outsiders, and no
cohesion within its political factions.

Afghanistan is Somalia.  From
the outset of Washington's
so-called "humanitarian intervention"
in Somalia, U.S. forces divided
the East African country into "good
guys" and "bad guys."  Instead
of working with clan elders to
end clan warfare, it sided
with one local warlord against
another local warlord,  It is
repeating the same basic error in
Afghanistan, by backing the
Northern Alliance and alienating
the Pashtuns and their Pakistani

Not only has Afghanistan
been divided into political, ethnic
and clan factions, but each faction
is itself divided.  The royalists were
divided into factions that led to
the 1973 ousting of King Zahir Shah.
The pro-Soviet Communists were
divided into Khalq (Masses) and Parcham
(Flag) factions that killed each other.
The mujahadin who ruled
Kabul in 1992-96 also battled
each other, opening the way for the
Taliban takeover.  New schisms
are becoming evident within both
the Northern Alliance and
the Taliban.

U.S. forces may well
topple the unpopular Taliban
and install a paper government
in Kabul, probably under
the exiled King. But
then their problems will only
be beginning.  The King is
86 years old, with no clear
successor.  Each of the political
and ethnic factions will grab
for power in a new
government, and will deeply resent
the U.S. if they do not get it.
In the same way that U.S.
support for the mujahadin
planted the seeds of Osama
Bin Laden,  U.S. support
of a new Afghan resistance
only guarantees continued
instability for the region.

The U.S. firepower directed against
Afghanistan has already targeted civilian
infrastructure such as power plants;
are they also directed against water
treatment plants in drought-stricken
Afghanistan, like in Iraq?
According to BBC reports, B-52s
are "carpetbombing" the areas around
the "terrorist camps," perhaps
including the mountain caves to which many
internal refugees have fled.  About halfway
through the Yugoslav War, the
Pentagon complained that it had used
up all its initial Serbian targets; it
is a fair bet that after one day of
bombing Afghanistan that it
has already used up all possible
Taliban targets.

It is one thing to isolate the Taliban
from outside support,
backed by an international tribunal
on crimes against humanity.
It is another thing entirely to be lured
into what British journalist Robert
Fisk has called the "trap" of
massive retaliation.  When Osama
Bin Laden launched his vicious attack on
the U.S., he was not simply making a
political statement, but was sending an
engraved invitation to war in
Afghanistan, a nation already littered
with 10 million landmines from
past wars. (Otherwise why not just
attack the Pentagon?  Otherwise
why assassinate the Northern
Alliance leader?)

Such a long,
open-ended war would serve
Bin Laden's agenda of polarizing the region,
and plunging it into new Islamic revolts.
By sending an RSVP of B-52s
and loose talk about a new "crusade,"
President Bush is playing right along
with Bin Laden's script.  Neither side
really wants to win this war quickly,
but wants to let a long conflict serve
its own purposes.  The worst thing
for Bin Laden would be for the
U.S. to exercise restraint.
The worst thing for Bush would be
a quick capture of Bin Laden.  Like
Saddam, Osama is worth more
to the U.S. alive than dead, as a
justification for crackdowns abroad
and at home.



Also see:
List of U.S. military interventions since 1890
A briefing on the history of U.S. interventions
Afghanistan is not simply like Vietnam
WORT interview with Robert Fisk
WORT interview with Ahmed Rashid

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Thursday, November 01, 2001 10:43 PM

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Re: [MAPC-discuss] People Say It's Not Vietnam


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