LA Times Op-Ed…..
On the day that Saigon fell, and the conflict that the Vietnamese call the American War ended, I was a captain in the U.S. Army attending a course at Ft. Knox, Ky. One of my classmates — let’s call him Nguyen — was a captain in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. I wanted at least to acknowledge the magnitude of the disaster that had occurred.
“I’m sorry about what happened to your country,” I told him.
In my dim recollection, he didn’t even bother to reply. He simply looked at me with an expression both distressed and mournful.
Our encounter lasted no more than a handful of seconds. Today I recall my presumptuous apology with a profound sense of embarrassment and even shame. Worse still was my failure — inability? refusal? — to acknowledge the context: The United States had, over years, inflicted horrendous harm on the people of South Vietnam.
It’s a wonder Capt. Nguyen didn’t spit in my eye.
Our war in Indochina — the conflict we call the Vietnam War — officially ended in January 1973 with the signing in Paris of an “Agreement Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam.” Under the terms of that fraudulent pact, American prisoners of war were freed and the last U.S. combat troops left for home. Primary responsibility for securing the Republic of Vietnam thereby fell to ARVN.
Meanwhile, despite a nominal cessation of hostilities, approximately 150,000 North Vietnamese regulars still occupied a large swath of South Vietnamese territory. In effect, our message to our enemy and our ally was this: We’re outta here; you guys sort this out. In a bit more than two years, that sorting-out process would extinguish the Republic of Vietnam.
And so again today. At the end of the 17th year of what Americans commonly call the Afghanistan War — one wonders what name Afghans will eventually assign it — U.S. military forces are moving on. However we might define Washington’s evolving purposes in its Afghanistan War — “nation building,” “democratization,” “pacification”— the likelihood of mission accomplishment is nil. As in the early 1970s, so in 2019, rather than admitting failure, the Pentagon is changing the subject and once again turning its attention to “real soldiering,” which means refocusing on Russia and China.
Only one thing is required to validate this reshuffling of military priorities. Washington needs to create the appearance, as in 1973, that it’s exiting Afghanistan on its own terms. What’s needed, in short, is an updated equivalent of that “Agreement Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam.”
Until last weekend, the signing of such an agreement seemed imminent. President Trump and his envoy Zalmay Khalilzad appeared poised to repeat the trick that President Nixon and national security advisor Henry A. Kissinger pulled off in 1973 in Paris: Pause the war and call it peace. Should fighting resume after a “decent interval,” it will no longer be America’s problem.
Now, however, to judge by Trump’s Twitter account – currently the authoritative record of U.S. diplomacy – the deal has been postponed or perhaps abandoned. If national security advisor John Bolton has his way, U.S. forces might just withdraw anyway, without bothering with any sort of agreement.
Withdrawal is the point, after all. The Afghan deal, should it be revived, will almost certainly mirror the Paris Accords in key respects. It would serve as a formal ticket home for U.S. and NATO troops. Beyond that, the Taliban will supposedly promise not to provide sanctuary to anti-American terrorist groups, even though the Afghan branch of Islamic State is already firmly lodged there. Still, this proviso would allow the Trump administration to claim that it is averting a recurrence of the 9/11 attacks planned by Osama bin Laden while residing in Afghanistan in 2001 as a guest of the Taliban-controlled government. Mission accomplished, as it were….
image…An American soldier on patrol near Kandahar, Afghanistan. When the U.S. leaves Afghanistan our position will be: We’re outta here; you guys sort this out.