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OPINION | RAOUF HALABY: Vietnam 1973, Afghanistan 2021

by RAOUF HALABY | August 22, 2021 at 2:07 a.m.

In addition to earthquakes, global warming, a pernicious pandemic, a depressed economy, abuse of power, racism, social/ideological polarization, illegal immigration, graft and corruption, hubris and arrogance are but two of America's tragic flaws.

Pundits, politicians, and sycophants will debate this question: Did President Joe Biden make a huge mistake pulling out of Afghanistan on short notice (prior to the stated date) under the cover of dark without properly informing the Afghan government?

The plans to withdraw U.S. forces out of Afghanistan were drawn up by President Trump, Mike Pompeo, and their national security team. To deflect from their faux pas for the abrupt withdrawal, President Biden and his team are shifting the blame to Trump and his team.

While President Biden's pulling out of a futile military adventure was wise and overdue, the lack of planning of this chaotic and embarrassing decision will haunt Joe Biden for the rest of his life.

In all the public punditry about Biden's action, the sycophantry of media talking heads and elected officials (on the right and the left) rightly decry the $2.3 billion spent on a senseless military adventure and the death of 2,312 U.S. personnel and 20,066 wounded.

There's been hardly any mention of the tens of thousands of Afghans dead and wounded and the destruction of hospitals, schools, and entire villages vaporized in heinous air assaults and drone attacks.

And the lifelong PTSD traumas borne by our Iraq and Afghanistan military veterans and millions of Iraqi and Afghan civilians are heavy crosses they have to bear for the rest of their lives.

While U.S. combat forces bore the brunt of the Afghan and Iraq wars, top military brass keenly built phony resume accolades whose payoffs are lucrative lobbying and corporate jobs and paths to congressional positions. Ask Lindsey Graham and Tom Cotton. It is these same hypocrites who, in 2001, who were George Bush and company's cheerleaders.

Strategically located Afghanistan sits on mineral deposits, worth billions of dollars, that have been exploited by scores of conglomerates sharpening their greedy fangs and claws to lay claim to the country's subterranean wealth. Ask oilman Bush and Dick Cheney, Brown and Root, Halliburton, and Bechtel's scavengers.

After a 14-year American involvement/war in Vietnam, in 1975 Saigon fell to a determined Viet Cong. After yet another 20-year ill-advised protracted military adventure, at 11 a.m. Aug. 15, Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, fell to the Taliban.

Inasmuch as I hate to frame the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan as a pattern in the execution of U.S. foreign policy/wars, this movie is not new. In both instances the U.S. was/is a key player, making the same mistakes over and over again.

In addition to America's waging war on Vietnam, neighboring Cambodia and Laos also fell victim to napalm strafing, B-52 carpet bombing, the dropping of cluster bombs, and the spraying of some 20 million gallons of pesticides and defoliants such as Agent Orange.

Agent Orange has not only destroyed the lives and livelihoods of Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians; it has also destroyed the lives of thousands of American military personnel in the service of Johnson and Nixon's "Econam War."

In 1973, our adversary was the Viet Cong. Today, among our many adversaries is the Taliban, a ruthless theocratically fanatical lot led by medieval seventh-century tribal leaders who've exploited the weakness of the current Afghan government, an equally corrupt and inept entity.

Propped up by U.S. and NATO powers, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani deserted his people and his country just as the Taliban were about to take over Kabul. Like the scores of U.S.-supported tyrants and cronies around the world, he will no doubt live high on millions of dollars pilfered and stashed in Swiss banks.

I will leave it to others to detail all the atrocities committed by the U.S. and its many NATO allies that began in 2001. And the myriad atrocities committed by the U.S. in Vietnam (to supposedly stop the spread of communism) have been memorialized in hundreds of books and documentaries.

I shall never forget the images of carnage of the last days of April 1975 that included the hurried loading of U.S. military hardware aboard impotent naval ships, the masses of people congregating in front of the U.S. embassy's protective cordon of concrete and metal fencing, scaling the walls and begging to be airlifted in helicopters atop the embassy rooftop-turned-landing-pad to the safety of Navy ships, the Viet Cong assaults in the Greater Saigon area, and then, on April 30, 1975, the rolling of Viet Cong tanks into the South Vietnamese presidential palace compound.

The footage of civilians scrambling to reach American ships was gut-wrenching. Equally disturbing was the footage of our military hardware, including several helicopters, being pushed off naval vessels into the Saigon Bay harbor.

Was this a burial metaphor for American military might in southeast Asia?

Caught in the struggle between the two superpowers of the time, Vietnam, one of the poorest countries in the world, persevered in forcing out American forces. Likewise, Afghanistan, also one of the poorest countries in the world, with covert U.S. support of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, forced the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan.

After a 10-year occupation of Afghanistan and over a nine-month timetable, on Feb. 15, 1989, the Soviet 40th Army, with tens of thousands of cheering Afghans along the highways, finished its withdrawal. Russia's withdrawal from Afghanistan in orderly military formation was more dignified than America's departure from Vietnam and Afghanistan.

Unlike the synchronized Soviet Union retreat, the world's mightiest military withdrew from Afghanistan in shame and disgrace. Will those responsible for starting the war and withdrawing irresponsibly be held to account for this shameful transgression of hubris and arrogance?

In 1991, Daddy Bush waged a war against Iraq, bombing it back to the Stone Age. He as much as said the following: This victory--a hollow one--makes up for the embarrassing Vietnam defeat.

With the Soviet empire on the wane, Daddy Bush gloated that the 1991 Iraq War was an affirmation of a military victory over an emaciated Iraq; America could now pompously claim that "a new world order [emerged]," and "What we say goes."

Ten years later Daddy Bush's boy, the Supreme Court choice for the presidency, waged a war on Afghanistan.

The cowardly Osama Bin Laden- led assault on three iconic U.S. entities shocked the nation to its very core.

Afghanistan had to pay a price. And from the start and for 20 years "the mission" was not properly defined. Instead of a well-planned military action to bring those responsible to justice, Lyssa, Greek goddess of mad rage, and Manea, goddess of madness and insanity, blitzed the White House, the Pentagon, Congress, every media outlet, and every living room across the nation.

It is much easier to wage a war than to halt it and bring it to a close.

So here we are, 20 years and four presidents later, facing yet another humiliating withdrawal. And like Vietnam's burgeoning war into neighboring countries, our last four presidents have either waged wars or are responsible for expanding the Afghanistan mission into Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya.

The Abu Ghraib prison brutalities, the killing of thousands of civilians, and the rendition of thousands at Guantanamo and other torture chambers put a blight on America's reputation. This does not include the many muzzling restrictions imposed on free expression here at home.

I think of the parallels between the Jan. 6 bloody assault on Capitol Hill and the Taliban's assault on the Afghan presidential palace. The first did not succeed, and the second did. The Taliban's behavior in the former Afghan presidential office was orderly, compared to the barbaric takeover of the Capitol rotunda, hallways, and Speaker Pelosi's office.

President Biden's decision to temporarily re-introduce U.S. military forces into Afghanistan is too little and too late. Since Aug. 12, State Department (with an AWOL Blinken), National Security, and Pentagon spokesmen scrambled to provide political cover for Biden, and folks such as Tom Cotton and Lindsey Graham (perennial presidential aspirants) are braying about Biden's flip-flop decision(s). They smell blood, and are going in for their kill.

American politics has turned into a gotcha war with money flowing in from those who benefit from the forever wars, to the detriment of the masses as well as thousands of service men and women whose lives were forever changed; they, not politicians or top brass, are the ones who gave their lives, shedding blood, sweat, and tears in the service of egotistical politicians.

To these brave service women and men I say: You were called upon, you served honorably, and the nation owes you a deep debt of gratitude.

Just think of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Libya, Iran, and Yemen as casinos whose high-stakes vainglorious gamblers gamble big. And when they lose, they lose big.

A naturalized U.S. citizen, Raouf J. Halaby is a Professor Emeritus of English and Art. He is a peace activist and an avid gardener and beekeeper.

Print Headline: Deja vu: Vietnam 1973, Afghanistan 2021

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