Sunday, December 20, 2009

Obama's Indecent Interval

By 1971, Nixon and Kissinger understood that "winning" in Vietnam was no longer in the cards — so they shifted from trying to win the war to trying to win the next election. As Nixon put it in March 1971: "We can't have [Saigon] knocked over brutally … "

Kissinger finished the thought " … before the election."

So Nixon and Kissinger pushed the South Vietnamese to "stand on their own," promising we'd support them if necessary. But at the same time, Kissinger assured the North Vietnamese — through China — that the U.S. wouldn't intervene to prevent a North Vietnamese victory — as long as that victory didn't come with embarrassing speed.

Kissinger's talking points for his 1972 meeting with Chinese Premier Chou En-lai on the topic of Vietnam included a promise that the U.S. would withdraw all troops and "leave the political evolution of Vietnam to the Vietnamese." The U.S. would "let objective realities" — North Vietnamese military superiority — "shape the political future." In the margins of his briefing book, Kissinger scrawled a handwritten elaboration for Chou: "We want a decent interval. You have our assurance."

The "decent interval" strategy worked. By declaring that "peace was at hand," Kissinger took the wind out of antiwar Democrat George McGovern's sails, and Nixon won reelection.

In other words, Nixon came to Lyndon Johnson's realization that however little Vietnam meant to American national interests, it wasn't worth the blood and treasure squandered on it. All they needed electorally was a little respect and a little time so that it didn't look like we were run out of Indo China on a rail the way the French were.

President Barack Obama is certainly smart enough to understand how little Afghanistan stacks up in the grander scheme of American core interests. So, what's going on here?

Gynne Dyer suggests that the President has simply inherited a myth too big to fail:

...assertions that al-Qaeda needs Afghanistan as a base [constitute] a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of terrorist operations, but it permeates American thinking on the subject. Even if Obama knows better himself, he cannot hope to disabuse his fellow Americans of that delusion in the time available.

Instead, he goes along with it, even saying that Afghanistan and Pakistan are “the epicentre of the violent extremism practiced by al-Qaeda....Since 9/11, al-Qaeda's safe-havens have been the source of attacks against London and Amman and Bali.” This is utter nonsense, but even if he knows it is nonsense, he cannot say so publicly.

Al-Qaeda doesn’t run training camps any more; it leaves that to the various local groups that spring up and try to follow its example both in the Muslim world and in the West. The template for Islamist terrorism is now available everywhere, so al-Qaeda no longer needs a specific territorial base. For the purpose of planning actual terrorist attacks, it never did.

Terrorist operations don’t require “bases”; they need a couple of hotel rooms or a safe house somewhere. The operational planning for the 9/11 attacks was done in Germany and the United States. The London attacks were planned in Yorkshire, the Amman attack probably in Syria, and the Bali attacks in Jakarta.
The worse case scenario?
If the Taliban conquered all of Afghanistan and then invited al-Qaeda to set up camps there–neither of which is a necessary consequence of an American withdrawal–what additional advantages would al-Qaeda enjoy?

Well, it could then fly its people in and out through Kabul in addition to using Karachi and Lahore, but they’d face even stiffer security checks at the far end of the flight. It hardly seems worth it.

The leaders of al-Qaeda would certainly like to see the Taliban regain power in Kabul, since it was al-Qaeda’s attacks on the United States on 9/11, specifically intended to provoke a U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, that brought the Taliban regime down in the first place. But al-Qaeda takes no part in the Taliban’s war in Afghanistan: it is strictly an Afghan operation.

Even if Obama does not believe the Washington orthodoxy, which insists that who controls Afghanistan is a question of great importance to American security, his short-term strategy must respect that orthodoxy. Hence the “surge”. But the speed with which that surge is to be followed by an American withdrawal suggests that he may really know better.

July 2011 is not a long time away: all the Taliban leaders have to do is wait 18 months and then collect their winnings. If they are intelligent and pragmatic men–which they are–they may even let the foreign forces make some apparent progress in the meantime, so that the security situation looks promising when the time comes to start pulling the U.S. troops out.

In fact, the Taliban might not even try to collect their winnings right away after the foreigners leave. There’s no point in risking a backlash in the United States that might bring the American troops back.
Vietnam Redux:
This is actually how the Vietnam war ended. The United States went through a major exercise in “Vietnamization” in the early 1970s, and the last American combat troops left South Vietnam in 1973. At that point, the security situation in the south seemed fairly good–and the North Vietnamese politely waited until 1975 to collect their winnings.

In doing so, they granted Henry Kissinger, national security adviser to President Richard Nixon, the “decent interval” he had requested. A decent interval, that is, between the departure of the American troops and the victory of the forces that they had been fighting, so that it did not look too much like an American defeat. In practical political terms, that is also the best outcome that Obama can now hope for in Afghanistan.

If that is Obama’s real strategy, then he can take consolation in the fact that nothing bad happened to American interests after the North Vietnamese victory in 1975. Nothing bad is likely to happen to American interests in the event of a Taliban victory, either. Nor is a Taliban victory even a foregone conclusion after an American withdrawal, since they would still have to overcome all the other ethnic forces in the country.
But, for the time being, al Qaeda has us right where it wants us:
The biggest risk Obama runs with this strategy is that it gives al-Qaeda a motive to launch new attacks against the United States. The Taliban want the U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, but al-Qaeda wants them to be stuck there indefinitely, taking casualties and killing Muslims. It’s unlikely that al-Qaeda can just order a terrorist attack in the United States, but if it looks like the U.S. troops are really going home, then it may well try.
OTOH, maybe Obama is a true believer:
...maybe all this analysis is too clever by half. Maybe Obama just thinks he can win the war in Afghanistan in the next 18 months. In that case, his presidency is doomed.
Is that it? Either Barack Obama is destined to becoming a second Lyndon Johnson sacrificing a slam-dunk second term or a second Richard Nixon with a secret plan to end the war? I can't believe this simple dichotomy really sums it up. For one thing, all American patriots that I am aware of just want Barry to become a second FDR.

Speaking of which, here's my map of Afghanistan, BTW, and don't forget to click!


  1. Senor Vigil,
    Good post.The parallels/analysis you provide work for me.

    Can't recall the figures but I do recall the hardware we left for the ARVN made them one of the largest military's in the world. The NVA were caught unaware by the speed of the collapse once they moved on Saigon.

    Catholic regime propped up by foreign arms in a Buddhist country. We have a largely Tajik officer corps in the ANA propped up by foreign arms in a largely Pashto nation.

    If Obama believes his drivel he is no better than GWB. If he is sacrificing lives as a political maneuver he also is no better than GWB.

  2. Well done post Vigilante. I feel like a schmuck for not visiting your site sooner.

  3. Truth,
    Less trolls here too. Vigil's dogs keep them away.

  4. Charlie Wilson of Charlie Wilson's War is pessimistic about President Obama's Indecent Interval in Afghanistan:

    Generally, I'm a pretty optimistic person, and I'm not very optimistic about this. I feel like I would not be surprised if in two years we've taken a lot of casualties and spent a lot of money and don't have much to show for it.

    .....This is really a tough one for me because I'm trying not to run my mouth too much, which is an unusual situation for me..... I'm trying to think of a way to phrase this. You just don't see any significant and hopeful evidence of a serious movement toward a democratic, less corrupt society.....

    As far as I know, and I think I've read as much as there is to read about it, there has never been, and I use the word never — n-e-v-e-r — never been a strong central government in Afghanistan. It's valley to valley. And most of the different political viewpoints are based

    ..... If I were writing this, I would look back and look at Vietnam a little bit. I just don't see anything that's really encouraging. And I don't see anything that leads any way other than failure, although I very much hope that's not true.

    It will be a lot worse [than in Vietnam]. The torture and maiming and the separation of people from their limbs and all that sort of thing will be a lot worse because the Taliban is just awful....

    But you always have to hope that the secretary of defense and the national security advisers know something that we don't know. I kind of doubt that they do.

    I think this Texan has just about been right on 97% as far as Afghanistan has been concerned

  5. Not enough soap in two states worth of WalMarts to wash the blood off that bastards hands.

    I wonder if he ever bothered to learn anything about Afghanistan,or if he just spent the next twenty years patting himself on the back for supporting the jihadists who were killing schoolgirls and teachers and throwing acid in womens faces?

    As if the rotten MF gives a damn about the people he used.."the Taliban is just awful".
    Why didn't he just butt the hell out and allow the Afghanis to crush the drug trade,educate women and provide a decent life for their people? The Taraki regime wasn't Leave it to Beaver and they were trying to make up for 600 years of feudal rule but they were making an effort. Wilson could have worked for loans to help them, rather than weapons to use against teachers and children then eventually the Russians.

    OK on a rant, got to go throw some cold water in my face turn off the Xmas lights and go to bed man.

  6. Instead, he goes along with it, even saying that Afghanistan and Pakistan are “the epicentre of the violent extremism practiced by al-Qaeda...

    I respect Dyer's opinion even though I read the guy way, way, way back in the 80's and as far as he was concerned the Soviet Union would never fall.

    My question to him now is he, and a lot of other people, overlooking Pakistan's nukes and the stakes involved if they should up and walk away. I'm not saying we should continue the fight just to support a corrupt Pakistan government and prevent Taliban using Afghanistan as a base to launch further attacks into that country. I'm just saying we are playing with some heavy nuclear nightmares here.

    I guess I'll have to buy the book

  7. Hmmm---according to the cockeyed Cheneys, we must remain in Afghanistan and Iraq AND invade Iran too if we're ever going to win this "war on terror." I wonder how much in kickbacks they're both getting from the military/industrial complex to keep spouting off such utter craziness?

    OUT in Iraq; OUT in Afghanistan! No more Vietnams!

  8. Unless there is a deal made with the Taliban with in the next 18 months. We are not going any where. On the contrary. We will be doing preemptive strikes in other countries. There is already chatter that we had special op boots on the ground in Pakistan. We are bombing Yemen. There is no war on terror. The Taliban are not terrorists, they are insurgents within their own country. We are fabricating enemies to continue the endless wars without borders.

  9. Got a bumper sticker i bought in Berkeley:
    Terrorist-what the big army calls the little army

    Why do the American people buy into the concept that anyone defending themselves within their own country against the US or Israel are terrorists ?

    Excuse my language, but how the fuck is it possible to be so stupid?

    If a man kidnaps a toddler for sex then claims the child raped HIM would we accept that twisted logic ?

    If not, why do Americans follow a similar twisted logic in viewing the defenders of Gaza and Lebanon and Iraq and Afghanistan as terrorists ?

    Was our genocide of Indians and enslavement of Blacks and economic destruction of so many third world countries so ennobling that we have a license from God to invade weaker countries and exterminate the vermin who defend it ?

  10. Thanks for this analysis, Vig. very well done.

  11. I don't understand what 'deal' can be made with the Taliban?...having said that, I agree, and have, with Vigil's points on Afghanistan, all along. We are wrong to be there... too much ignorance of our own past makes me so friggin mad! When Oso asks how it is possible to so fucking stupid?... I have to think, with only a slim notice that I use 'conspiracy thought' in it, that someone important is making far too much money on this to let it dissolve. And really, I don't like nor do I easily work well the 'conspiracy theory'. (when they nail it they nail it!) I've been accused of late / non-blog time / of being a 'conspiracy theorist' about Afghanistan. And if nobody has noticed, the back burner is about to boil over on Iran and what 'we should do about it' there too.

    We have a planet to pick up after, to clean up! Our future security fiscally and providentially lies there. And bravo! to Oso for bringing up a very valid instigator re: the fear, domination and genocidal tendencies of the One God societies!
    ***removing soapbox and self, repectfully***

  12. GHB; Did you mention "conspiracy theory"? Well that must be me. LOL
    The paper trail for this is all out there. It is not about Democracy, 9/11, human rights, terrorism, or any of that other nonsense.
    It is about energy, control of the flow of energy, empire building, and greed.

  13. My theory now is that we'll stay long enough to finish that oil line and then we'll leave. Perhaps that's all we'll do there and military losses will be minimal. Oil, oil, oil.

  14. URBAN; The quest for energy is always evolving, and moving. Our military will be chasing and protecting that commodity for the corps. until the day we get off of fossil fuels. That is why endless wars without borders is now our destiny. We are Globocop. Our blood, sweat, and tears for their profit.

  15. Pinks, I am addressing my doubts pertaining to Reality Zone's economic determinism as applies to Obamastan in his excellent blog, Reality Zone. I'm not a fan. But I'm willing to listen.

  16. Pakistan's leaders, both military and civilian, are convinced the United States will soon tire of blood and treasure expended in Afghanistan because, contrary to President Obama's belief, that is not where al-Qaida is these days. It's not safe for al-Qaida, therefore undesirable. Kayani and his generals want to make sure the post-NATO and then post-U.S. phase, as they see it, is not taken over by the pro-Indian Northern Alliance.

    For Pakistani strategists, this could spell the end of Pakistan, caught in a gigantic pincer by India, still the only real enemy. Its 1971 conquest of East Pakistan, 1,000 miles east of West Pakistan, turned it into Bangladesh. In Pakistan's strategic eyes, Afghanistan must have a friendly regime in charge, as the country to their west is their defense in depth against India.

    Meanwhile, the United States is stuck attempting to prop up both Pakistan and Afghanistan, both governed by unpopular presidents of dubious probity.

  17. IP; A/Q is here, there, and every where. I totally agree about India and Pakistan. I do not agree that the West is trying to prop up Pakistan. I believe the west is trying to Balkanize Pakistan, and the region. This is where Baluchistan comes into play. The IMF has already made Pakistan a failed state. The PAKS have already had to privatize many of their natural resources, including nat. gas fields. India is, and has been in Afghanistan, and yes they back the Northern Alliance. This is a major thorn for Pakistan. Kashmir will be the ultimate trigger fuse. Watch for false flags concerning Baluchistan, and Jundalla.

  18. IP; Col Wilkerson interview.

  19. IMO, Obama's program to build Afghanistan is counterproductive to his program to rebuild Pakistan. In my view, it more sustainable to rebuild a failing nation-state than to build a nation-state where a nation-state never existed. Many writers have shown that success in Afghanistan, when there is any, just drives the Taliban virus deeper into Pakistan. The problem I have with Obama's Indecent Interval is that it's not taking Pakistan as the priority. We should go whole hog on the Kerry-Lugar $7 billion Marshall Plan for Pakistan. (We're not.) We should wrestle with the Indian-Pakis' historical knot in Kashmir. (We're not.) But putting Afghanistan before Pakistan is bat-shit fucking crazy. (And BTW, did I mention Pakis have nukes?)

  20. That's a very good and informative interview with Col Wilkerson. It tells me what I'm already convinced of: (a) Obama's Indecent interval is unsustainable and (b) He's not concentrating on our number one objective-Pakistan.

  21. BTW, I didn't mean to ignore Oso's rant on Charlie Wilson. Oso and I have covered that real estate before. As have Reality Zone and I have covered Zbigniew Brzezinski's role in Pre-Taliban Afghanistan. My side: encouraging the Soviet Union & Empire to implode was an invaluable USA core national interest. Kudos to Wilson & Brzezinski for their part in it. Too bad Afghanistan and Russia didn't turn into flaming bourgeois democracies. (Stuff happens) Their side? Well, you've already heard it, I think.

  22. Meanwhile, the United States is stuck attempting to prop up both Pakistan and Afghanistan, both governed by unpopular presidents of dubious probity. Oh, hell no..we ain't stuck..we, the collective, war-mongering we, love this shit. It makes the corporatocracy richer and more powerful.

    Isn't that always the goal?

    Very educational post Vigilante..gracias senior. ;)

  23. I'm sure Obama is a progressive that would help the average American if he thought he could. But apparently he thinks he can't. He can only bring them a small amount of change because of what he thinks the system will allow.

    You can criticize him for lack of imagination, duplicity during the campaign, lack of spine and political miscalculation. And you might be right about some or all of that, but all of those aren't the essence of Obama. The core of Obama is a man who is a cautious politician. That is what he is at his center. He can't help himself. Asking him to be something else is asking a rock to be a little less hard. He is what he is.

    So, what Obama does by his nature is find the middle ground. As an excellent innate politician, he will find the political center of any field and rush to it. That's where elections are won - the center. So, that's why he sounded so progressive during the primaries, because that was the center of the left. And why he sounded like such a reformer during the general election because the great majority of Americans desperately wanted change.

    So, what happened to that Obama? The country is the same, so why did Obama drop the progressive reformer angle and go toward the right and corporate America? Because his field changed. He went from campaigning all across the country to being in the middle of Washington, DC. The center of Washington is very different than the center of the country.

  24. Off topic, Merry Christmas to Vig and all here.

  25. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  26. I.P., I think I could accept the President on those terms as well as do Adam Nagourney, Ross Douthat and Kevin Drum do. (See No Drama Obama.) But when his incrementalism is applied to Afghanistan, resulting in needless and pointless killing, destruction and expenditures, I say Obama's Indecent Interval only extends George Bush's crime spree.