As I watch the events unfolding in Afghanistan today, my thoughts keep going back almost 40 years to the fall of South Vietnam. If there had ever been a reason for U.S. forces to be in Vietnam, those reasons had been lost for years before the south fell. If there was any good reason for U.S. forces to be in Afghanistan, those reasons have similarly been lost. Will the fall of Kabul in a civil war be similar to the fall of Saigon?
For more than a decade, U.S. ground forces were heavily involved in fighting in Vietnam. Close to 60,000 Americans died, but the North Vietnamese forces wouldn’t be defeated. The South Vietnamese troops allied with the United States weren’t as effective as the communist troops from North Vietnam. After becoming stuck in a long and bloody quagmire, the American public grew weary of the war.
In 1973, the various sides — North Vietnam, South Vietnam, the Viet Cong and the United States — finally agreed to a peace treaty. U.S. troops left the country, but the other combatants went back to fighting. In late April of 1975, the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon fell — with frantic South Vietnamese desperately trying to get onto U.S. helicopters evacuating the remaining Americans. (The photo above shows Vietnamese going over the wall of the U.S. embassy trying to board U.S. helicopters.)
It was a humiliating moment for the United States. After spending years — and wasting tens of thousands of American lives and untold tax dollars — trying to fight the war, it became clear that the only answer was to cut and run.
It’s time to do the same in Afghanistan. Before another person can be killed who doesn’t have to die, it’s time to get out of that place and let the Afghans fight over their own country.
When the United States invaded Afghanistan a decade ago, it was with a clear and simple mission — to kill or capture Osama bin Laden and destroy terrorist training camps. Well, the terrorist-in-chief is dead and the old bases were pretty much wiped out years ago. (And Bin Laden turned out to be in Pakistan, not Afghanistan anyway.) But the continued fighting is doing nothing but creating more enemies for the United States. It’s doing nothing to help anyone.
What exactly is the purpose of continued U.S. involvement in the country? Does anyone have some fantasy that the Afghans are suddenly going to quit being what they are? Are they suddenly going to adopt liberal democracy and embrace our way of life? Are we going to be the first group of outsiders to successfully invade the place and win? (Ask the British and the Russians how well that went for them.)
There’s no longer a reason to be there, even if you think there ever was one. The regime that the United States has put into place there will collapse when U.S. troops leave, but so what? It’s their country, not ours. It’s their business if they want to let a bunch of religious fanatics rule them. (Remember that Ronald Reagan called those religious fanatics “freedom fighters” when they were fighting the Soviets a few decades ago.)
Recent events have made things even worse for the United States. The burning of copies of the Koran at a U.S. base enflamed locals. Just as that started dying down, a U.S. soldier went into some random homes over the weekend and killed 16 Afghans, including women and children. (See the blood on the floor on the home on the right?) Why did he do it? We don’t know, but some reports say he might have been drunk and some eyewitnesses claimed there was more than one soldier involved. (U.S. officials deny that.)
Afghans are vowing to get revenge, so how many more will die? We’re sure to see a new wave of anti-American feeling because of the latest atrocity. Do you blame the Afghans for wanting us out of their country? How would you feel if there were foreign troops occupying your country because they wanted to choose a government friendly to them?
Most Americans now want U.S. forces out of Afghanistan, according to a new poll from the Washington Post. Election-year politics might prevent anything from happening right now, but let’s hope Barack Obama can find the political and moral will to do the right thing and get out now.
There’s no rational reason for us to be there. Most Afghans don’t want us there. Most Americans don’t want us there. There’s no justification, moral or pragmatic. It’s time to cut our losses and get out of something that should never have developed into the mess it’s become. Let’s get out now.