President Barack Obama’s decision to add 30,000 U.S. troops to the fight in Afghanistan displays shades of the Vietnam conflict, says former Sen. George McGovern.
The 1972 Democratic presidential nominee writes in a Washington Post op-ed article that the United States finds itself confronted with a growing insurgency and unpopular government in Afghanistan that he believes resembles the situation in Vietnam.
“Presidents John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon all believed that the best way to save the government in Saigon and defeat Ho Chi Minh and his Viet Cong troops was to send U.S. troops,” McGovern writes. “But the insurgency only grew stronger, even after we had 500,000 troops fighting and dying in Vietnam.”
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McGovern says Obama has followed in his predecessors footsteps by escalating the American presence in what he calls “the equally mistaken war in Afghanistan.” In his view, increasing the American presence will only fuel the Taliban’s resolve and drain the nation’s resources.
“Why do we send young Americans to risk life and limb on behalf of such worthless regimes? The administration says we need to fight al-Qaida in Afghanistan. But the major al-Qaida forces are in Pakistan,” he writes. “[The Taliban’s] target is its own government, not out government.
“Its only quarrel with us is that its members see us using our troops and our resources to prop up a government they despise.”
He also sees images of the Soviet experience in Afghanistan during the 1980s, which bankrupted the Soviet treasury and cost 15,000 lives.
McGovern contends America’s mounting $12 trillion debt and sour economic times make matters worse.
“We should bring our soldiers home before any more of them are killed or wounded ─ and before our national debt explodes,” McGovern writes.
Vietnam served as a distraction to Johnson, who significantly escalated the war after campaigning in 1964 that he would not “send American boys nine or 10 thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys should be doing for themselves.’
The backlash against Vietnam led Johnson to not seek re-election in 1968, but McGovern says it remains to be seen how Afghanistan will impact Obama.
The Obama administration, however, has repeatedly dismissed the Vietnam-Afghanistan comparison saying the cost of a hasty withdrawal would be far worse because Afghanistan could return to being a haven for al-Qaida terrorists intent on attacking the United States.
“I want to stress the core difference. In Vietnam, the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese never posed a direct threat to the United States homeland and its population. But in Afghanistan, the Taliban and al-Qaida, who are integrally related, do pose a direct threat to the U.S. That's the fundamental difference right there,” Ambassador Richard Holbrooke said during a Dec. 3 interview on National Public Radio.
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