In a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) tries to draw conclusions from the Vietnam War for our fight in Afghanistan. Some of his “lessons” are misguided and could put our troops in Afghanistan in greater harm’s way.
Senator Kerry asserts that “we should not commit troops to the battlefield without a clear understanding of what we expect them to accomplish, how long it will take, and how we maintain the consent of the American people.”
While it is necessary to review tactics and strategy, fighting a war requires leadership, not decision-making by polls and consensus. It puts the fate of the Afghan people and our troops into the hands of bureaucrats and pundits, holding it hostage to endless meetings and hearings that may confuse the mission, lengthen decision time, and put our troops in greater danger.
Afghanistan is no Vietnam. We are not fighting a hostile government and an organized military, but Taliban insurgents and al-Qaeda. The only real lesson from the Vietnam War is that we must fight to win, and doing that means we have to commit the resources we need, for as long as it takes.
As Commander-in-Chief, President Obama should consult regularly with his commanders and generals on the ground about what they need to win. He has repeatedly said that the war in Afghanistan is not a war of choice but a war of necessity, because “the safety of people around the world is at stake.” This is not the time to send the message that the President may backtrack on that statement. But as my colleague Lisa Curtis points out, the President may be considering a plan to scale back the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan to focus on al-Qaeda cells in western Pakistan. Senator Kerry has implied in his op ed that scaling down the military mission in Afghanistan would somehow contribute to stabilizing Pakistan. But he is wrong. Ceding territory to the Taliban in Afghanistan would embolden terrorists throughout the region, including in nuclear-armed Pakistan. We have no other option but to win the war in Afghanistan.