…and the award goes to: Kurt Anderson in New York Magazine!
Those of us who voted against Bush might like to think that Iraq is all “his” bungle, that we’re therefore free to walk away from the horror show. But we’re a nation, and we’re all responsible for all of our national liabilities. This is not Vietnam, where we hadn’t started the civil war, and where we really did have the power to end the killing by leaving. A more apt analogy, I worry, is the Soviet war in Afghanistan. After the 1979 invasion, the Soviets maintained a force of between 80,000 and 100,000 troops in a Muslim country of some 20 million people divided along ethnic, tribal, and sectarian lines. As General Petraeus said the other day, “I think historically, counterinsurgency operations have gone at least nine or ten years.” The Red Army left Afghanistan after nine years and 14,000 killed in a counterinsurgency war against a mix of indigenous fighters and the foreign jihadi who became the core of Al Qaeda. And six months later, the Soviet empire began to dissolve.
In other words, they were damned if they stayed and damned if they left, and so are we. Which should be the starting point of the real debate we need to begin.
Point: we started the civil war in Vietnam, by (with the French) creating South Vietnam in 1954. Ho Chi Minh beat the French in 1954, and had the whole country been handed over to the Viet Minh as the liberating force, there would have been no Vietnam War.
Point: we did not “end the killing by leaving” in Vietnam. There was the little matter of the rest of the war, from 1973-75, and the reeducation camps afterwards (and the fall of Laos and Cambodia). In fact, far fewer were killed in that period than had been killed while we were involved; but that’s not what the Kissingerian right was telling us in 1973. They were saying that if we didn’t back up the ARVN, there would be mass slaughter. Anderson’s evidence-free predictions that the slaughter in Iraq “may” get worse if we leave Iraq are to be compared to those right-wing predictions of vast Communist massacres if we abandoned Vietnam — which didn’t happen.
Point: Petraeus’s reference was to SUCCESSFUL counterinsurgency operations. Obviously, if you give up on a counterinsurgency operation that’s clearly hopeless, it can go on a lot shorter than 9 or 10 years; it can be as short as you like. The left believes the counterinsurgency operation in Iraq is hopeless, so it thinks we should leave.
Finally, the way Anderson interprets the Soviet-Afghan example here is completely bizarre. The USSR obviously would have been better off if it had recognized in 1983 that invading Afghanistan was a mistake, and had simply retreated. Afghanistan would have been better off, too. The grinding loss in Afghanistan certainly contributed strongly to the national crisis of self-confidence that led to the dissolution of the USSR, but given that the Soviets could not win in Afghanistan, the quicker they cut their losses, the less damage they would have done. Afghanistan is the strongest possible argument Anderson could make for simply getting out of Iraq immediately and completely. I have no idea what Anderson thinks he is trying to say here.
Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment