An Afghanistan Reality Check for Max Boot
Writing in the April 18 Wall Street Journal, Max Boot took the occasion of the recent Haqqani attacks on seven high-profile Afghan sites to renew his call for maintaining a large U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. After all, he noted, those attacks could hardly be equated with the communist Tet offensive in South Vietnam in 1968.
True enough. It was the Tet offensive that finally obliterated U.S. public support for the Vietnam War, which had generated intense opposition from certain quarters but which had enjoyed majority support among so-called Silent Majority Americans. After Tet, that majority support evaporated.
But the war in Afghanistan doesn’t need a Tet offensive to undermine American support for the effort. As Boot notes, polls indicate opposition to the war already is at 70 percent. So why would the Haqqani insurgents, or any other Islamist insurgents in Afghanistan, even contemplate something like a Tet offensive to undermine U.S. domestic support for the war?
Boot proudly notes that more Afghan insurgents died in the recent attacks (thirty-six) than members of the security forces (eleven). True again. But compare that to Tet, when some 249 Americans lost their lives in a counteroffensive that killed ten thousand communists. And domestic war support still plummeted. The Boot comparison is like trying to draw lessons about the Granada invasion from D-Day.
Boot, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, then goes on to prescribe what the United States must do to “maintain a pro-Western regime in power.” As he says, “The Taliban are too weak to defeat us or our Afghan allies. But we can defeat ourselves.”
This is nonsense. The realities are these: A pro-Western government may survive in Kabul, but it will not maintain strong influence over the Taliban strongholds of the south and east. Western influence will wane severely in Afghanistan irrespective of America’s military strategy there. Influence in the region will flow to neighboring states—Pakistan, India and Iran—with much more powerful interests there than the United States has. And nothing Boot writes in his intermittent howlers will bear any impact relationship to any of it.