THE other evening my Poor Wife was watching some piece of historical dreck à la Hollywood--for the uninitiated, "watching", in my wife's parlance, means she had a program on between commercial interruptions, perhaps checking backwards and forwards on a couple other shows she was "watching" as well, instead of full Remote Control Audio Visual Phantasmagoria mode, where she moves methodically up from Channel 1 to Channel 850, and back down again, at roughly the same speed which allows you to light your home using alternating current without noticing any flickering--and I looked in just long enough to remark how prescient 13th century English barbers were to have accurately recapitulated early 21st century men's grooming styles so long before the fact. Probably had something to do with Nostradamus.
Do not get me wrong; I enjoy Hollywood historical dreck. But it belongs on my teevee, or accompanied by an $8 box of Milk Duds and some petrochemical-coated popcorn, not on the pages of the Times.
Administration hawks, largely in the military, are uneasy; they had wanted to go slower, so as to safeguard recent gains made against the Taliban. Administration doves, largely in the White House, are disappointed; they had wanted to pull back faster, seeing the killing of Osama bin Laden as an ideal opportunity to get out.
The president split the difference, suggesting that he was charting a “centered course.” But he has actually once again evaded the fundamental choice between accepting the costs of staying and the risks of leaving.
In other words, he did exactly what the American public wants, in this and everything else: Victory, but no Cost; withdrawal, but control; no taxes, but no cuts in services; hair-trigger diplomacy, but no consequences; no fences, but no rabbits.
Listen, I'm not taking a backseat to anybody in opposing our little Afghanistan adventure; you wanna complain to me, first show me where, in public, you opposed it in 2001, and where you, in public, said we'd be there for a generation, looking for a way to leave. This war is the American public's war. It was so overwhelmingly popular we almost lynched Susan Sontag, in case you and Andrew Sullivan have forgotten.
I don't care for anything the President has done in Afghanistan. But a half-assed draw down which splits the difference and thus serves up neither fish nor fowl? That's precisely the ending this thing deserves.
On the other hand neither it, nor the President, deserve any lessons learned from Richard Fuckhous Nixon:
Although Mr. Nixon and Mr. Kissinger had steeled themselves for the possibility of an eventual South Vietnamese collapse, they hoped it could be avoided and did what they could to prevent it. And had events in Washington played out differently — with Watergate not crippling the administration and with Congress less hell-bent on slamming the door behind the departing ground troops — they might have succeeded.
Good Lord. #1: there is no possible scenario that could be conveyed in English in which the "collapse" of the "South" Vietnamese "government" could have been avoided; that's like suggesting there was some way to reform the pox. "South Vietnam" was just our term of convenience for what was left of the mandarin class after the Vietnamese threw the deserving French out on their collective oreille; "government" was a euphemism for "strong man", whoever it was we figured at the time was corrupt and ruthless enough to run things for us. We had to gun down one of 'em ourselves, you'll recall. The idea that Nixon and Kissinger could possibly have imagined the South would survive absent hundreds of thousands of US troops in perpetuity is ridiculous. The idea that they could have succeeded, absent Watergate and an "anti-war" Congress, is beyond ludicrous.
Mr. Obama does not have a Watergate to contend with, nor does he face a passionately antiwar Congress. And his opponents on the battlefield don’t have the capabilities or support the North Vietnamese did. Without these stumbling blocks, he should be able to pull off a Nixonian strategy in Afghanistan. But this will involve more than simply tinkering with the number of troops being pulled out. It will mean denying what is going on, aggressively covering the retreat and staying after leaving.
Well, one: it seems like it might be easier to effect a withdrawal if you did have an anti-war Congress; Nixon could have, except he had, equally, a pro-war Congress, and his personal desire was for a military victory. I'm not sure what Obama wants, besides a successful domestic solution. And as pathetic as our "ally" in the South was, at least it represented a once-established order in Vietnam; we got nothin' like that in Afghanistan.
But, by all means, he should just lie about what he's doing. I'm sure the Republican party would understand, and fully support him.
The first rule of withdrawal is you do not talk about withdrawal. You may agree with the doves about the value of exiting, but you should respect the hawks’ fears about what will happen once people realize what you are doing.
The Hawks got you into the thing, and all they could foresee was victory. That something unappetizing will happen once you've stopped propping up a corrupt and illegitimate regime and moved on is a given, not a brilliant analysis born of aggressive foreign policy stances.
The second rule of withdrawal is to lay down suppressive fire so the enemy cannot rush into the gap you leave behind. The Nixon administration was brutal and ham-fisted about this, using secret bombing runs along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and expeditions into Cambodia and Laos to buy time and space for its “Vietnamization” programs to work. Thanks to technological advances, the Obama administration can do the same thing while incurring far fewer human, financial, legal and political costs. Drone attacks and raids against enemy targets in Pakistani sanctuaries today are a precision replay of actions in Cambodia and Laos, but more effective and less controversial.
I guess the real reason lying about shit is such good advice is that it'll result in people still believing you forty years later, despite all evidence to the contrary.
C'mon. Nixon campaigned (in '68) on his "secret plan" to end the war. Bombing Cambodia and Laos wasn't it. That was more of the Boy, There's A Big Surprise plan to escalate the war to win it, after it was already hopeless, and to do so with air power, the lazy President's way to appear omnipotent while accomplishing nothing. And this took place long before Watergate, and a while before there was much of a Congressional opposition to the war to speak of. Stronger than opposition to Afghanistan today, for sure, but also an organic development to the entire mission there, not an ad hoc opposition to a particular President featuring many of the same Foreign Affairs types who got us into it in the first place.
Unlike Mr. Nixon, however, Mr. Obama is relatively popular and widely trusted. He has gained credibility on national security thanks to the killing of Osama bin Laden. Congress is obsessed with domestic economic issues rather than foreign policy and deferential rather than hostile to military leaders — who themselves support staying engaged in Afghanistan.
Such a favorable domestic environment is matched by a relatively favorable international one, in which America’s ability to project power remains strong and most of the world shuns radical jihadists. Should Mr. Obama seek to fend off a complete enemy victory in Afghanistan even after most American combat forces leave, he should be able to succeed — at least until, as Mr. Kissinger put it, no one gives a damn.
Having tired of the fight in Afghanistan, the United States now has to perform political triage, deciding what goals are still worth fighting for and how they can be achieved.
And for which maybe we can thank the people who got us stuck there because of 9/11, rather than blame the people who said we had no mission beyond aggrandizing the Bush administration and killing whoever wasn't in a position to duck.
This President--who did get Osama bin Laden, which means he has every right to tell the rest of you adventurists to shut th' fuck up--certainly deserves, at minimum, the right to conduct Afghanistan policy without interference from the party which signed blank checks and extraordinary rendition orders for eight years. And maybe next time we can insist on not being lied to in the first place, so that lying to us later doesn't become a stroke of genius. As for the rest of the world, I don't really know who it's backing. I do know it understands full well that we're willing to lie about anything whatsoever when we think it advances right-wing interests around the globe. And they've known that since…Nixon.