By John Stanton
“US CENTCOM commanders announced today that they intend to maintain their presence in [Afghanistan, Iraq and Qatar] until the sun runs out of hydrogen, thus committing the US to the longest duration deployment in human history. When asked how they planned to maintain the presence in the three countries for a projected length of 4 to 5 billion years, planners said ‘we’re working on a plan for that. We don’t have one yet, but not having a plan or an intelligent reason to do something has never been much of an impediment for us in the past; we don’t foresee it being a big show stopper for us in the future either.’ Among the options that were being discussed was an innovative program to “interbreed” the deployed personnel. “We are going to actively encourage the military members in these countries to intermarry and raise children that will replace them in the future. Sure, it may be a little hard on some of our female service members, since there currently are about 8 men for every woman over there, but we expect that to be Overcome by Events (OBE) as the sex ratios will even out in a generation or two. In any case the key to the plan is to make these assignments not only permanent, but inheritable and hereditary. For example, if you currently work the Joint Operations Center (JOC) weather desk, so will your children, and their children, and their children, ad infinitum. We like to think of it as job security.” Captain (Combined Joint Task Force-180)
Coincident to the Pentagon’s request for thousands more US soldiers to be shipped off to Afghanistan comes the massive vehicle borne improvised explosive device (VBID) attack in Kabul that has killed nearly 100 and wounded 400 others. Among the wounded are said to be about a dozen US citizens who, likely, are defense and support contractors. The Taliban vehemently denied any involvement in the attack. The Islamic State, or an affiliated group, is the likely suspects.
And so the world is off to the races again with a news cycle that features the routine victim portrayals, on scene interviews, expert analysis, and statements from leaders around the world condemning the attack and vowing to carry the fight to the evil doers. A billion year crusade indeed!
Americans watch the carnage on television or the Internet and empathize for, maybe, 10 minutes. Then, at their own peril, it is back to soap operas, video games, sporting events, the mobile device and the Game of Thrones television series: Seems like much of the world does the same thing. We are into civilian body counts on television, or the Internet, now with an occasional US soldier’s death reported. This is not dissimilar to watching body counts during the Vietnam War only civilians lead the gruesome counts.
Meanwhile, the Kabul attack becomes a prop to support the Pentagon’s request for more US troops to support Afghanistan, Iraq and the eternal global war on terrorism. But how are a few thousand US soldiers sent to and fro going to bring the Taliban to its knees or stop terrorist attacks from happening anywhere in the world? Even as the Islamic State is being squashed in Iraq and Syria, they are able to create havoc in Baghdad, Kabul, the Philippines and Manchester, UK.
Don’t we need 500,000 plus soldiers as we did in Vietnam to crush the adversaries? Why the incremental increases? Why not seek the services of 1 million American citizens via the draft to go and get the job done in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria?
The suicide attacks are mini-Tet Offensives: They remind world leaders and military planners that they are largely helpless to eliminate terrorist attacks. The relatively low numbers of reinforcements requested by the Pentagon are puzzling. If the US wanted to annihilate the Taliban and the Islamic State, they’d get the Whole of American Society involved in the task. Most Americans don’t care about US military actions in Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria.
“In a New York Times article dated August 7, 1967, two unidentified generals were quoted who stated that he had destroyed a single North Vietnamese division three times: “‘I’ve chased main-force units all over the country and the impact was zilch. It meant nothing to the people. Unless a more positive and more stirring theme than simple anti-communism can be found, the war appears likely to go on until someone gets tired and quits, which could take generations.’”
The other general’s quote was ‘Every time Westmorland makes a speech about how good the South Vietnam Army is, I want to ask him why he keeps calling for more Americans. His need for reinforcements is a measure of our failure with the Vietnamese.’”
Replace the “anti-communism and Vietnamese” with the Taliban, Islamic State or any terrorist group and the sentiments from 1967 are relevant in 2017.
In many ways, American society is culturally fragmented and stove-piped in three factions: Left, right and center. This is not dissimilar to the late 1960’s, early 1970’s. Aggressive Alt-Righter’s have taken up the mantel of Neo-White Nationalism, an ideology that finds friends in a Republican White House and Justice Department Attorney General Jefferson Sessions.
The Democrat Left still bemoans Hillary Clinton’s loss to Trump in 2016 and has, as yet, no aggressive platform to counter the Alt Right or appeal to its lost followers. The Independent Center looks Left and Right and disdains the rigid, uncompromising ideology they hold. If the stovepipes crack open in the worst way, the streets are where passions will be fought for as they were during the Vietnam era.
There are other similarities to the Vietnam experience. President Donald Trump’s administration is in disarray and under investigation by the US Justice Department. CNN reports that former FBI director James Comey will testify in the US Senate that Trump pressured him to halt the investigation into Russian influence operations during the 2016 presidential race. The country is already, officially a nation at war and is even flirting with a war against North Korea. To top it off, Trump just declared war on the planet on June 1 by withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accords. The Trump Administration is cornered and dangerous.
It’s hard not to draw comparisons with the Vietnam War experience. The convergence of the anti-war and anti-racism movements, the criminal investigations of president Richard Nixon, and a cultural sea change challenging the established order was, then, unprecedented. Its ghosts seem to be haunting the American Republic at this moment in time.
According to the History.com: “Though U.S. and South Vietnamese forces managed to hold off the Tet Offensive Communist attacks, news coverage of the offensive (including the lengthy Battle of Hue) shocked and dismayed the American public and further eroded support for the war effort. Despite heavy casualties, North Vietnam achieved a strategic victory with the Tet Offensive, as the attacks marked a turning point in the Vietnam War and the beginning of the slow, painful American withdrawal from the region.”
History does repeat itself simply because humans are repetitive creatures.
“And corruption is stranglin’ the land. The police force is watching the people and the people just can’t understand. We don’t know how to mind our own business, ’cause the whole world’s got to be just like us. Now we are fighting a war over there but no matter who’s the winner we can’t pay the cost.” Steppenwolf Monster, 1969.
John Stanton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org