Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Afghanistan Parallel

"President Bush said Tuesday that the United States should expand the size of its armed forces, acknowledging that the military had been strained by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and would need to grow to cope with what he suggested would be a long battle against Islamic extremism."
It's popular in some quarters to compare George Bush's disastrous Iraq war with the prolonged, and ultimately pointless tragedy, of the Vietnam War.

All such parallels are never exact. The people, circumstances, purposes, and consequences inevitably will differ to some extent. As in life itself, however, often one can find important lessons -- and grave warnings -- by studying history. As a popular quotation often attributed (without proof) to Mark Twain has it, "History doesn't repeat itself, but it often rhymes."

Here's another parallel to Iraq worth contemplating: "THE SOVIET EXPERIENCE IN AFGHANISTAN: RUSSIAN DOCUMENTS AND MEMOIRS":
The actual decision to invade was made in secret by a very small group of Politburo members, against the strong and openly expressed opposition of the military, and only then rubber-stamped by the other Politburo members.
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The highest leadership was poorly informed about the strength of religious beliefs among the masses of the Afghan population. Political and military leaders were surprised to find that rather than being perceived as a progressive anti-imperialist force, the Afghanis as foreign invaders, and "infidels."
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The initial mission... was soon expanded to combat, and kept growing over time. The Soviet reservists, who comprised the majority of the troops initially sent in, were pulled into full-scale combat operations against the rebels, while the regular Afghan army was often unreliable because of the desertions and lack of discipline.
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The Soviet troops also suffered from the confusion about their goals—the initial official mission was to protect the PDPA regime; however, when the troops reached Kabul, their orders were to overthrow Amin and his regime. Then the mission was changed once again, but the leadership was not willing to admit that the Soviet troops were essentially fighting the Afghan civil war for the PDPA.
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The realization that there could be no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan came to the Soviet military leadership very early on. The issue of troop withdrawal and the search for a political solution was discussed as early as 1980, but no real steps in that direction were taken, and the Limited Contingent continued to fight in Afghanistan without a clearly defined objective.
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[T]op Soviet military and political leadership held secret deliberations on the possibility of early withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the first combat operations of the Soviet troops led to the change in the original mission of the Limited Contingent to include combat operations against the rebels.
On the same day Bush as much as admitted he lied during the Fall congressional campaign when claiming "we're winning," the International Crisis Group published a short paper intended to avoid the same order of mistakes made by 'beltway insiders' in the (former) Soviet Union.

The paper is titled, "After Baker-Hamilton: What to Do in Iraq." A brief summary is here. The full 44-page report (in PDF format) is here.

Nowhere does ICG recommend the Soviet-like approach of committing more troops. Instead, it calls for a "clean break" from Bush's failed policies, and offers a detailed 27-step "sustained multilateral diplomacy" campaign with the clear objective of achieving "an end-state for Iraq and the region that is no one’s first choice, but with which everyone can live."

Here's the rub:
There is abundant reason to question whether the Bush administration is capable of such a dramatic course change. But there is no reason to question why it ought to change direction, and what will happen if it does not.
The dimensions of the disaster that George W. Bush has brought upon America are nearly incalculable. If, as seems abundantly clear, he cannot alter course then he should be replaced, and the quicker the better.

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