Noninterventionists will doom their cause to failure and irrelevance if they keep portraying the current U.S. effort in Afghanistan as “another Vietnam.”
Even though the U.S. war in Afghanistan is wasteful, stupid and pointless it is not; and never was a second Vietnam War. There are vast differences between the two conflicts that make attempts to equate them meaningless.
Reasons why Afghanistan is not another Vietnam include:
- The number of U.S. troops involved is far smaller, at its height in 1969 there were an estimated 549,000 Americans involved in the Vietnam War effort. The current number of US forces in Afghanistan is around 9,000. President Trump’s new deployment will increase that number to around 14,000 from a US population of around 326.474 million.
- The key difference between the conflicts is that back in 1967, 1968 or 1969 most Americans knew somebody who had been to Vietnam; was in Vietnam, or could go there. Today maybe 2% or 3% of the country’s population knows somebody directly involved in the war.
- This means that Afghanistan is less relevant to most Americans than next week’s Game of Thrones. A great many Americans probably do not realize that we are even in Afghanistan. Back in 1968, every American knew we were in Vietnam.
- The Vietnam War was a mass conflict fought by large conscripted armies.
- Mass conflicts like the one in Vietnam lead to mass casualties. The National Archives estimated that 58,220 Americans died in Vietnam. Such high body counts generate controversy and drive popular opposition.
- Afghanistan is a limited guerrilla war fought by a small professional army on one side and tiny bands of fighters on the other.
- Limited wars lead to limited numbers of casualties. Just 2,403 Americans have been killed in Afghanistan in 16 years, NBC News reported. The number is too high but it is not high enough to register on the popular conscious. Popular peace movements need high body counts or the threat of them to succeed.
- The United States still had a draft 50 years ago; most young men either served or worried about serving. Most parents worried that their son might go to war.
- Today we have a small professional military. Around 1.4 million Americans are serving in it, out of a population of 326.474 million. Back in February 2016, Scout.com calculated that the percentage of Americans serving in the military was .4%. Green Bay Packers fans probably outnumber the group of Americans that worry about their child being sent to Afghanistan.
- Vietnam is ancient history to most Americans. America’s largest generation is Millennials; people born between 1979 and 1999. There are around 75.4 million Millennials – and the oldest of them were born four years after the Fall of Saigon. Another 65.8 million Americans are part of Generation X (born between 1965 and 1979), to most of them; Vietnam was something characters talked about on TV shows like Magnum PI or the A-Team when they were kids.
- Noninterventionists will only bore or confuse Generation Xers and Millennials with talk of “another Vietnam.” They might as well compare Afghanistan to the Peloponnesian War for all the good it will do them.
Equating Afghanistan to Vietnam will Destroy Noninterventionists
Noninterventionists that try to equate Afghanistan will fall into the same trap that destroyed the left-wing peace movement during the Second Iraq War.
When the predictions of mass casualties and humiliating defeat did not come true the Peace Activists looked silly and irrelevant. A few years of such nonsense reduced a mass movement; that had once scared Democratic politicians to death, to a bad joke. By 2016 Hillary Clinton was able to simply ignore the antiwar movement because it had no more influence.
Noninterventionists and isolationists that keep babbling about a “second Vietnam” in Afghanistan will end up looking foolish. President Trump and other Republican leaders will be able to ignore and dismiss them – much as Hillary can ignore and dismiss the once mighty antiwar movement.
How Noninterventionists should Oppose Afghanistan
This does not mean noninterventionists should not oppose Afghanistan instead they should use different arguments. Some arguments that might work against the new Afghan War include:
- Emphasize the monetary cost of the war. Few Americans serve in the military these days – but everybody pays taxes. Keep pointing out the cost of the war and noting how much money has been wasted over there. This might seem cold-hearted but people might pay attention.
- Point out what else America could have done with all the money spent in Afghanistan. For example how many hospitals, or highways or high-speed rail lines or schools we could have built with those funds? Or how much we could have paid down the national debt.
- Emphasize the failure of the war effort to keep us safe from terrorism and all the Americans who died in terror attacks since the war began. Nothing exposes the futility of the war more than that.
- A good time to bring this up is the next time there is a terrorist atrocity on American soil. Ask “why is this happening after 16 years of continuous war?” It is a valid question that needs to be asked.
- Offer some realistic alternatives to the current war not just “pull out and pretend Afghanistan does not exist.” Bill Clinton tried that and it failed. Good alternatives might be turning Afghanistan over to the United Nations, asking China for help, or a limited military involvement with no nation building.
- Realize that “splendid isolation” will not work in today’s world. America should not be policing the world, but it cannot remain aloof or apart from the international community and the globe’s problems.
- Devise a new realistic formula for American involvement in the world and problems like Afghanistan. For example; a more robust United Nations with its own military forces, or a partnership with nations with real military power such as China or India. This would necessitate humility and might require sacrifices on our part. Those sacrifices might include asking American soldiers to take orders from Indian or Chinese officers; or a U.S. pullout from regions of the world, but it would certainly be better than another 2,403 U.S. deaths.
Continuing to equate Afghanistan with a very different war in a very different world that ended 42 years ago, will only get more Americans killed. Only a sober acceptance of present realities will end the wasteful Afghan War.