Apocalypse Then, Afghanistan Now

| Mon Oct. 12, 2009 1:11 PM EDT

This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

Here's the thing: This may be our next "Vietnam moment," but Afghanistan is no Vietnam: there are no major enemy powers like the Soviet Union and China lurking in the background; no organized enemy state with a powerful army like North Vietnam supporting the insurgents; no well organized, unified national liberation movement like the Vietcong, and that's just a beginning. Almost everywhere, in fact, the Vietnam analogy breaks down—almost everywhere, that is, except when it comes to us. Because we never managed to leave Vietnam behind, even when we were proclaiming that we had kicked that "syndrome," it turns out that we're still there. Our military leaders, for instance, only recently dusted off the old Vietnam-era counterinsurgency doctrine that once ended in catastrophe, shined it up, and are now presenting it as an ingenious new solution to war-fighting. Let's face it: everything about American thinking still stinks of the Vietnamese debacle, including the inability of our leaders to listen to a genuinely wide range of options.

Now, according to Peter Siegel and Jonathan Weisman of the Wall Street Journal, a "battle" of two Vietnam histories is underway at the White House and the Pentagon. Think of them as dueling books. The president and a number of his advisors have just finished reading Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam about a White House "being marched into an escalating war by a military viewing the conflict too narrowly to see the perils ahead" and backed by a hawkish national security adviser. The other, a Pentagon favorite, A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam, focuses on a military that by the early 1970s was supposedly winning its counterinsurgency struggle only to be "rejected by political leaders who bow[ed] to popular opinion and end[ed] the fight."

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