Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Afghanistan Is No Vietnam

From Michael O'Hanlon, at the National Interest:
Several weeks ago, reputable news organizations like Politico and CNN reported the results of a survey of Americans in which support for the Afghanistan war, now in its thirteenth year, was lower than public support had ever been for the Vietnam conflict. Reportedly, this polling data is influencing White House advisors to President Obama, who favor a rapid end to the war, including perhaps even a "zero option" for next year (after the current NATO mission there will have ended).

On its surface, the views of political advisors to the president seem easy to understand. After all, Vietnam brought down President Johnson. In such a context, getting the United States out of Afghanistan as completely and quickly as possible would seem imperative for the Obama administration.

Balderdash. In fact, this reading of the recent polls on Afghanistan is simply wrong, and the way in which the American media tended to report on it was fundamentally misleading.

Anyone who thinks the Afghanistan mission is less popular than Vietnam does not remember or understand the latter conflict. Unlike the case with the war in Southeast Asia, the nation's intensity of sentiment about Afghanistan, while admittedly not positive, is very mild.

It is true that less than 20 percent of all Americans view the Afghanistan war positively. In light of its length, its many frustrations, and President Karzai's attitude towards the United States, this is not entirely surprising.

But the attitudes about Afghanistan are not deeply felt across the public or the electorate. To be sure, among troops and diplomats and others who have served, and their families, the sacrifice has often been great and the sentiments about the war can be powerful—for good and for bad. But such a group, even very broadly defined, constitutes about 1 percent of the country.

The fine testimony before Congress last week of war commander General Joseph Dunford was notable largely for the lack of coverage it produced by the media, and the lack of interest by most Americans. There were no huge protests, no big newspaper advertisements calling for an end to the war, and relatively little partisan skirmishing on the subject even in these politically tumultuous times.

Any student of polling should know that polls about given subjects in public policy are only meaningful if they capture intensity. Vietnam tore this country apart. Afghanistan makes it yawn...
Yes, but either way, the results will be the same: a precipitous U.S. withdraw and a power vacuum filled by America's international rivals, especially Russia. There's already jockeying for position in Kabul. At the New York Times, "Breaking With the West, Afghan Leader Supports Russia’s Annexation of Crimea." And Moscow seeks to maximize its economic gains as well. At the Washington Post, "As U.S. war ends, Russia returns to Afghanistan with series of investment projects."

We're watching the spoiled fruits of the Obama administration's incompetence and moral bankruptcy, now causing the deepest collapse of U.S. power and international respect since Jimmy Carter's term in office. See Victor Davis Hanson, at National Review, "A New Obama Doctrine? With his presidency in a tailspin, Carter radically changed course. Will Obama do the same?"