Balancing Military and Nonmilitary Actions in Afghanistan


We certainly need a rethinking of foreign and military policy that places more emphasis on the nonmilitary tools of policy (“A Handpicked Obama Team for a Sweeping Foreign Policy Shift” [NYT, Dec 1]. But the changes need to be carefully calibrated in terms of the facts on the ground in each situation rather than thoughtlessly replacing one ideologically driven policy by another.


For this reason I was discouraged to read the quotation from Secretary Gates that our recent emphasis on force alone “[was] almost like weorgot everything we learned in Vietnam”. For what we learned in Vietnam was certainly not that we should have provided more nonmilitary assistance or exercized more “soft power”. What we learned in Vietnam was that we could never win a conflict in which the opponent was continuously resupplied in men and materiel from territory into which Washington had decided not to enter. (In the end we lost Vietnam because of a conventional military offensive by the North that was led by tanks.) This lesson is particularly important as we consider how we might balance military and nonmilitary options in Afghanistan under a new administration.

We cannot hope to win in Afghanistan as long as we or our allies do not control the tribal areas in Pakistan. I would suggest that as we develop future policy only after we carefully reflect on “The Soviet-Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost” (the official story written by the Russian General Staff). The Soviets tried everything and yet they lost.

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