Afghan war: Vietnamization is not an option

As America’s latest wartime president reviews the grim but realistic assessment of his top war zone general— and reshapes the military strategy that will become his legacy — this much is certain:

The Vietnamization of the war in Afghanistan cannot, and will not, be an option.

And this much is far from certain: Whether the Iraqization of Afghanistan (which is a semi-accurate shorthand for what the general is proposing) really can be an option that can succeed in this latest war that is close to Iraq only in proximity — but in no other way.

President Obama is now reviewing the options laid out in the assessment by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, which he received via his official government channel, Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Meanwhile, every member of the Congress is reviewing these same options, delivered to them this week via the government’s traditional de facto channel, Bob Woodward, in The Washington Post — and they are already ratcheting up the pressure on the president.

So everything is proceeding on track.

McChrystal’s report is intellectually impressive and militarily perceptive in its straightforward assessment of what is happening in Afghanistan today, and his recommendation of the best option for success. He reports that the Taliban are resurgent, more powerful than ever. The same Taliban America routed in just weeks after President George W. Bush’s retaliation for the attacks of September 11, 2001. He said the United States and its allies now face “failure” in Afghanistan. (Why? The general turns diplomat, saying the effort in Afghanistan “has been historically under-resourced,” his polite way of referring to when Bush siphoned what was needed in America’s war of necessity in Afghanistan to launch a war of choice in Iraq.)

America lost the war in Vietnam by thinking it was good enough to just turn things over to that country’s military and depart.

McChrystal’s new strategy seeks to build upon the counter-insurgency strategy that worked in Iraq because it went far beyond a numerical surge in troop and shifting away from traditional combat by having troops help civilians improve their living conditions.

America has 62,000 troops in Afghanistan and McChrystal is expected to request some 40,000 more. He said it is a mistake to focus upon troop numbers because the key is a new mission of securing cities and working with the people. Defense Secretary Gates has asked his general to delay this request, while the president and his national security team review his recommendations.

Obama has said he is conducting a full review of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan to make determine whether more troops can indeed achieve America’s most crucial goals. Among the concerns are the fact that the present Afghan government is riddled with corruption and has just run an apparently seriously fraudulent election. Obama has said his prime goal is to prevent al Qaeda from ever again using Afghanistan as a base from which to attack the United States.

Meanwhile, the worst of Washington’s political impulses are once again gushing through the Capitol’s most vacuous of pipelines and into the mainstream news. House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), just informed via the Woodward Intelligence Channel, rushed to declare himself “deeply troubled… by reports that the White House is delaying action on the General’s request for more troops. … It’s time for the President to clarify where he stands on the strategy he has articulated, because the longer we wait the more we put our troops at risk.”

It is good to know the House Republican leader has recovered from the political laryngitis that struck him so silent back when Bush and Vice President Cheney were losing due to willful neglect their once-won war in Afghanistan. But our body politic would be healthier if Boehner heeded the wisdom of a fellow Republican, Bush/Obama Defense Secretary Gates, who last week suggested “everybody ought to take a deep breath” while Washington takes the time to get it right, at last, in Afghanistan.

(Martin Schram writes political analysis. E-mail him at martin.schram(at)