As Obama dithers in order to give his shrinking liberal base the impression that he’s really agonizing over a decision that’s already been made for him over escalating the war in Afghanistan, the right is trotting out the old argument to explain how we “lost” Vietnam.
The first flaw, here, is that you can’t lose something that was never yours to begin with. But then, a core delusion of imperial thinking is that the United States owns the world. Therefore, any country that doesn’t toe the line is “lost.”
According to the right, we lost Vietnam because the American people lost their will, and this loss of will was aided and abetted by a liberal press, all of which demoralized our citizen army that lost its stomach for a good fight.
The truth is that in a democratic society an administration cannot pursue a war once popular support is lost. That is the nature of a democracy.
However, we must be cautious before we draw a parallel between Afghanistan and Vietnam. There are some crucial differences. Back in the sixties we were still a democracy with a functioning and independent press that wasn’t embedded in Pentagon briefing rooms. This is no longer the case. Back then, we had a citizen army that had to believe in what it was fighting for. Alas, no more. A professional army fights because it is paid to do so.
Obama will escalate Afghanistan for two reasons. First, he is committed to the long war, also known as the Eternal War of the Empty Policy. Second, any democratic administration, no matter how liberal, lives in fear of the right’s pit bulls, and instead of tearing their throats out it moves as quietly and cautiously as possible less it awakens the sleeping dogs. The pack needs its wars and aggression to live out its macho fantasies of unbridled power.
I understand Obama is a poker player. It would be nice if he took the lessons he’s learned at the table and carried them into his policy making. With Afghanistan, he is like the player six cards into a game of seven-card stud who stays in a game with a jack-high hand even though his opponent across the table has two aces showing. A basic rule of poker is you don’t stay in a game with a bad hand simply because you have money in the pot.