I finished up my class at Weber State University last week, studying Vietnam and Watergate through popular culture. High praise for Justina Bernstein for teaching it. The class was an eye-opener for a lot of reasons, not the least of which the miserable reminder that nothing really changes, including the seemingly inevitable forces that draw our politicians into foreign policy traps.
The last assignment was to ponder the Afghanistan “surge” President Obama just announced in light of our studies. What I did was compare Obama’s West Point speech with Richard Nixon’s 1970 speech announcing the incursion into Cambodia. It was distressing to see Obama and Nixon giving parallel speeches, structured the same way and attempting to achieve the same goals.
Both presidents were faced with wars they want to get out of. Both felt the need to up the ante to give the local forces a chance to build up and take on the fight. Both felt they had right on their sides, both claimed allies, both claimed that ultimate victory would be the result.
And we all know how Vietnam worked out.
I am not the only one pondering these things. Veteran reporter Helen Thomas had a marvelous column on this very subject (here click!) and former presidential candidate George McGovern reflected on his own case of deja vu here (click!) here in the Washington Post.
Yes yes, I know, there are a lot of differences between these two wars. But, as McGovern and Thomas both make clear, the similarities are telling and where we need to be looking. Bottom line, we are fighting insurgents who oppose us for deep cultural reasons in Afghanistan. It is a very widely diverse cultural mix that few Americans even come close to understanding and that very lack of understanding is the biggest reason why we should not be there.
If Obama had asked me, I’d have told him we could stay in Afghanistan for 100 years, kill everyone who even thinks he’s an Al Quida or Taliban operative or sympathizer, and then leave. Within six months the country would be right back where it started from.
So, my own opionion: Accept that it’s a mess we created through our own incompetence and cultural illiteracy, get out and move on. Despite all our good intentions, we can do no good there.
Speaking of messes: My column Sunday was on nuclear waste being dumped on Utah, known to the rest of the country as “America’s Mormon toilet.” The New York Times, on Sunday, had a good article (here!) looking at the Savannah River nuclear plant where all that waste, including depleted uranium which is what made all the original Gulf War soldiers sick, is coming from. What’s frightening, as you read the story, is all the confusion and accusations of mismanagement and general FUBAR feel to the whole thing. Just another example of how the nuclear industry uses up huge amounts of money nobody expected it to to clean up massive messes that everyone assured us would be no problem before they were made.
And in the end it all ends up dumped in Utah. And we’re supposed to accept this and feel good about it.
And don’t even get me started on those wing-nuts who want to build a nuclear plant near Kanab.