Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Can America win in Afghanistan?
Only 41 percent of likely U.S. voters believe that the country can win the war in Afghanistan, a new poll shows, down from 51 percent in December when President Barack Obama announced a new war strategy. The Rasmussen telephone poll conducted last week found that 36 percent of those surveyed didn’t think the United States could win in Afghanistan. Another 23 percent were unsure.
Doubts about the handling of the Afghan war have continuously been growing, except for that spike in hopes soon after Obama announced a surge as part of his strategy to stabilise Afghanistan and bring the troops home. Indeed, 48 percent of those polled said ending the war now was a more important goal than winning it, reflecting falling confidence in the war effort.
The poll was conducted just as U.S. casualties from the nine-year war crossed the 1,000 mark, pushed by a suicide attack on a NATO convoy in Kabul. That attack, the deadliest against foreign troops since September, was followed by assaults on heavily-fortified military bases in Bagram, north of Kabul, and in Kandahar.
In the American narrative of the war, comparisons with Vietnam keep coming back, despite strong assertions that the two wars aren’t the same. Michael Cohen, writing in Democracy Arsenal, joins a growing army of sceptics questioning the upcoming operation in Kandahar and whether the United States was underestimating the enemy in much the same way as it did the North Vietnamese back in 1965.
Cohen, picking up on a piece in The Washington Post, says the U.S. military plan for Kandahar seems to be predicated on the notion that the U.S. will bloody the Taliban, seize some level of control in the southern province and push the Taliban closer to negotiations.. But what if doesn’t happen?
“What if the Taliban undertake a guerrilla campaign against NATO forces and/or a wave of terror attacks those who collaborate with the U.S. government. What if they decide to bide their time and wait out U.S. military operations? What if local Afghans blame NATO and the U.S. for the violence that will be sure to accompany our military operations there? What if the strengthening of corrupt, government officials like Walid Karzai turns more of the population against the government? And above all, what if escalation in Kandahar makes the Taliban not more inclined to negotiate with the U.S., but less? What if military operations actually slow the move toward political reconciliation?”
It is instructive and somewhat eerie, that the United States made many of the same calculations when it launched air strikes against North Vietnam, Cohen writes. The argument that American leaders presented then was that the use of air power against North Vietnam would push Hanoi toward negotiations and that the enemy would bend toward U.S. will and compromise. But U.S. policymakers greatly underestimated the tenacity of the enemy; they came to believe that the North Vietnamese would feel “a threshold of pain” before the U.S. did.
In the event the air strikes failed to affect the behaviour of the North Vietnamese or push them towards negotiations. Instead they opened the path for the entry of U.S. ground troops ….and then more troops . . . and more troops until the U.S. was sucked into a quagmire of its own making, Cohen writes.