The Next Next Vietnam

A few years ago during the height of ethnic cleansing in Iraq it wasn’t at all uncommon to hear comparisons of the endeavor to US engagement in Vietnam. Now that the violence has cooled and a relatively stable, if Iran friendly, government is in place, it seems like a less fashionable allusion. My concern for the coming years though is that Afghanistan looks quite poised to take its place, and Obama’s sanguine rhetoric during the campaign with regard to Afghanistan grows more troubling the more I learn. Here’s Thomas Ricks for Foreign Policy.

Second, this isn’t really about Afghanistan. It is about Pakistan-and might in the coming weeks morph into being about the entire South Asian subcontinent. The United States could “lose” Afghanistan and not suffer greatly. But “losing” Pakistan is a far more worrisome proposition, because Pakistan has both nuclear weapons and Islamic extremists. There aren’t a lot of things in the world that worry me more than that combination. And our war in Pakistan has been heating up considerably in recent months, with our Predator drone aircraft regularly whacking their leaders and their guys routinely torching our trucks and threatening our major supply line–each side playing to its own strength. The Khyber Pass road actually was reported closed last week.

Nor will we make much progress in Afghanistan, the secondary problem, until we make some progress in Pakistan, the primary and more difficult problem. This means we should be careful of any “solutions” offered to the war that don’t deal with Pakistan. An Afghan-only solution is no solution at all.

Now, Obama has made clear his intention to beef up diplomatic measures through the State department, and is by all accounts a smart guy, but it seems like engagement in Afghanistan could prove to be much more than Obama bargained for.

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