The analogy is, of course, that the U.S. might well lose the Afghan war. After toppling the Taliban in 2001 amid warnings that the American military, like all previous great powers, would be bogged down in the "graveyard of empires," the U.S. is again on target for another quagmire.
Upon reading Zakaria, I was immediate struck by another analogy: Opponents of the Iraq war made the same argument from 2003 to 2006, that the war in Mesopotamia was "America's next Vietnam."
Taking up the new round of Vietnam analogies, Max Boot responds in his essay today, "Deja vu in Kabul":
It is striking the extent to which the arguments now being made about Afghanistan were previously made - and discredited - in the case of Iraq. The only thing we haven't heard yet is a proposal to dismember Afghanistan into mini-states. But with Joe Biden in the White House, we can expect that brainstorm to pop up soon.Actually, another "Joe" has been brainstorming, but in the direction of victory. In his Wall Street Journal essay yesterday, Senator Joseph Lieberman argued that the real quagmire in Afghanistan will be al Qaeda's:
... there are already whispers on both the left and the right that Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires, that we should abandon any hope of nation-building there, additional forces sent there will only get bogged down in a quagmire.
Why are these whisperings wrong? Why is this war necessary?
The most direct answer is that Afghanistan is where the attacks of 9/11 were plotted, where al Qaeda made its sanctuary under the Taliban, and where they will do so again if given the chance. We have a vital national interest in preventing that from happening.
It is also important to recognize that, although we face many problems in Afghanistan today, none are because we have made it possible for five million Afghan children - girls and boys - to go to school; or because child mortality has dropped 25% since we overthrew the Taliban in 2001; or because Afghan men and women have been able to vote in their first free and fair elections in history.
On the contrary, the reason we have not lost in Afghanistan - despite our missteps - is because America still inspires hope of a better life for millions of ordinary Afghans and has worked mightily to deliver it. And the reason we can defeat the extremists is because they do not.
This, ultimately, is how the war on terror will end: not when we capture or kill Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar - though we must do that too - but when we have empowered and expanded the mainstream Muslim majority to stand up and defeat the extremist minority.
That is the opportunity we have in Afghanistan today: to make that country into a quagmire, not for America but for al Qaeda, the Taliban and their fellow Islamist extremists, and into a graveyard in which their dreams of an Islamist empire are finally buried.