Can Obama Succeed In Afghanistan Where Nixon Failed In Vietnam?
The G8 and NATO came and left Chicago in good order, allowing President Barack Obama to bask in the role of the international statesman and perhaps claim credit that, as opposed to the event of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago- marred by confrontations between Mayor Richard Daley's police and antiwar demonstrators - the events this time were much better controlled.
The NATO decision on Afghanistan, although merely marking a ratification of what the United States and other members have already decided upon, also messaged 1968 but this time from the Republican side.
Richard Nixon, during the 1968 elections, announced that he had a secret plan for ending American's involvement in the Vietnam War. That secret plan was quickly revealed to be Vietnamization, under which the United States would hand over combat responsibilities to the government of South Vietnam.
This is what NATO proposes to do in Afghanistan - by handing over combat responsibility to the Afghan army.
Barack Obama inadvertently adopted the position of the much-maligned Donald Rumsfeld, by arguing that the NATO withdrawal could actually be helpful by providing a lighter footprint thus arousing less local animosity. This was Rumsfeld's argument in Iraq. NATO in Chancellor Angela Merkel's term was not "rushing for the exit", and Germany continues to extend aid to the Afghan government to allow it to prosecute war against Taliban.
Nixon's policy ultimately failed, because the Communist side had sanctuaries all around Vietnam, in Laos and Cambodia, and continued to be supplied by China and the Soviet Union. The United States was remote and US air power was removed from the equation when Congress cut off funding for the Vietnam War, leading to the collapse of South Vietnam in 1975.
It would appear that the Afghan government is in a slightly better position. Sentiment against fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan has not completely turned, the way it did in Vietnam and therefore in terms of money and advisors it would appear that NATO can manage a level of commitment once the troops are out that would sustain the Afghan armed forces and police.
Additionally, Afghanistan has quite a few neighbors or near neighbors who would not like to see a Taliban victory and this would include such unlikely bedfellows as Russia, Iran and India. Areas in northern Afghanistan that were the centers of the Northern Alliance, namely tribes that did not belong to the Pashtun, can also be counted on to resist the Taliban.
The one exception to the above is Pakistan. During the entire war Pakistan was suspected of playing a double game in terms of the Taliban. Pakistani military intelligence that had concealed Osama bin Laden was considered for particularly culpable.
This was the reason Pakistani president Zardari was invited to the NATO summit. However, the chill in US- Pakistani relations remains, because Pakistan did not relent in reopening the land route to Afghanistan that will be the main exit route for a NATO withdrawal. Pakistan is still waiting for an American apology and greater compensation for the deaths of 24 Pakistani servicemen from an American drone attack.
The Americans also resent the Pakistani demand for a toll paid by the Americans for using Pakistan as an extraction route. The just announced thirty year sentence for he who facilitated the liquidation of bin Laden is a further disquieting development.