by Rich Lowry
It says much about the mindset of the West, or at least of its elite, that this is already a question after a few weeks of desultory bombing in Afghanistan.
R. W. Apple yesterday wrote one of his quasi-op-eds that the New York Times runs in its news pages, making the comparison between the current conflict and Vietnam. Apple admits that the comparison is "premature," but says that it is not "unreasonable" — whatever that's supposed to mean.
Actually, it is totally unreasonable.
Yes, the war in Afghanistan could be going better — NRO has been criticizing our apparent strategy for weeks now — but slow progress doesn't another Vietnam make.
Any similarities between the two conflicts — U.S. advisers on the ground, for instance — are entirely superficial, on the order of: We used helicopters in Vietnam, and are using them again in Afghanistan, therefore Afghanistan is another "quagmire" that will cost tens of thousands of American lives. (Bob Novak also resorts to this sort of superficial analysis, in his column today.)
In his 800 words or so, Apple doesn't manage to hit on any of the rather large differences between the current situation and Vietnam. As ABC News military analyst and NR contributing editor John Hillen points out, there are at least three big ones.
The first, and perhaps the most important, is that the Taliban will not be receiving major supplies and reinforcements from another country, the way the Viet Cong did from North Vietnam, nor will the Taliban have the support of major powers, the way the Viet Cong could rely on the Chinese and Russians. This means that the Taliban — apart from some sporadic support from elements within Pakistan — is on a road to strategic starvation.
The second is that Afghanistan, at least at the moment, is not a guerrilla war. The Taliban has frontlines that we can bomb, something that was too often missing in Vietnam.
The third is that in Vietnam, we were propping up an increasingly unpopular government with legitimacy problems, whereas in this case it is our enemy that is trying to save an unpopular regime tainted with foreign support (Osama bin Laden and his "Arabs").
So, this is far from another Vietnam, except in the minds of parts of the pundit and political class, who will apparently never recover from their Vietnam Syndrome.
Next: Saudia Arabia?
A sort of consensus may be forming among war hard-liners: first phase Afghanistan, second phase Iraq, third phase Saudi Arabia. Ralph Peters has a piece today in the Wall Street Journal, raising the idea of seizing the Saudi oil fields. Stephen Schwartz has a similarly tough piece in the latest NR, calling for liberating the Middle East from Wahhabism.
Lest you forget why we can't stand the French and the Saudis, the Washington Post ran a story yesterday on terrorist Imad Mughniyah, who was involved in bombing the U.S. embassy in Beirut in 1983, hijacking TWA Flight 847 in 1985, and bombing the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992.
According to the Post:
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