Daily Archives: December 3, 2009

Troop Buildup Is Vietnam Redux; Not The Change Obama Promised


Juan Cole, author of the blog Informed Comment, wrote an essay for Salon on the speech which also lamented Obama’s failure to remember Vietnam:

President Barack Obama’s just-announced plan for Afghanistan seems modeled less on Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam strategy than on George W. Bush’s Iraq exit strategy. Or, at least it is modeled on the Washington mythology that Iraq was turned from quagmire into a face-saving qualified success by sheer indomitable will and a last-minute troop “surge.” But Afghanistan is not very much like Iraq, and the Washington consensus about its supposed end-game success in Iraq is wrong in key respects. Are think tank fantasies about an Iraq “victory” now misleading Obama into a set of serious missteps in Afghanistan?

Stephen Walt wrote in the New Foreign Policy.com (November 30) http://tinyurl.com/yf4a7l2

Tom Friedman had an especially fatuous column in Sunday’s New York Times, which is saying something given his well-established capacity for smug self-assurance.

According to Friedman, the big challenge we face in the Arab and Islamic world is “the Narrative” — his patronizing term for Muslim views about America’s supposedly negative role in the region. If Muslims weren’t so irrational, he thinks, they would recognize that “U.S. foreign policy has been largely dedicated to rescuing Muslims or trying to help free them from tyranny.” . . . .

I heard a different take on this subject at a recent conference on U.S. relations with the Islamic world. In addition to hearing a diverse set of views from different Islamic countries, one of the other participants (a prominent English journalist) put it quite simply. “If the United States wants to improve its image in the Islamic world,” he said, “it should stop killing Muslims.”

Now I don’t think the issue is quite that simple, but the comment got me thinking: How many Muslims has the United States killed in the past thirty years, and how many Americans have been killed by Muslims? Coming up with a precise answer to this question is probably impossible, but it is also not necessary, because the rough numbers are so clearly lopsided.

Walt arrived at a rough estimate of 288,000 Muslim deaths over the past thirty years. He also found that roughly 10,000 Americans had been killed by Muslims in the same period.

Almost all of those deaths on both sides occurred before Obama became president. If he had decided to pull a Truman on his military commanders. he would have demonstrated that he did mean it when he said he would change American conduct in world affairs.

Instead he is stuck in the demeaning position of a decision dictated to him by the military brass and their backers in the American political right. It is hard not be pessimistic when this happens.
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