A fascinating article in Monday's New York Times that draws an analogy between the failure of Lyndon Johnson's presidency - particularly his social agenda, known as the Great Society - as a result of the war in Vietnam and the present crisis faced by Obama in Afghanistan and over healthcare. When even a perennially hawkish magazine like The Economist believes defeat is staring America in the face you know things are in deep do-do.
"As the West struggles to maintain its weak hold on Afghanistan, so its ambitions there are narrowing. Early aspirations to bring peace, prosperity and decent government to the country have been replaced by the hope of establishing a functioning state and of improving security. By that measure, success in the short term will look much like stalemate. But the chance of achieving even these modest aims is being jeopardised by too few troops and a flawed strategy."
It too notes that "if things there continue to slide, Afghanistan could turn out to be the biggest blot on the Obama presidency."
Afghanistan has been the graveyard of more than one empire. Britain was defeated three times in Afghanistan. The Soviet Union learned that lesson the hard way - and they had a much larger military presence in the country (at it's peak about 33% bigger than the present combined ISAF & US force of 87,000), plus the Afghan military strength was much greater:
"Under Soviet guidance, the DRA armed forces were built up to an official strength of 302,000 in 1986. To minimize the risk of a coup d'état, they were divided into different branches, each modeled on its Soviet counterpart. The ministry of defense forces numbered 132,000, the ministry of interior 70,000 and the ministry of state security (KHAD) 80,000. However, these were theoretical figures: in reality each service was plagued with desertions, the army alone suffering 32,000 per year."
The present Afghan National Army has a maximum of 100,000 soldiers. Somewhere, Mikhail Gorbachev must be chuckling when he thinks about America's attempt to tame Afghanistan. I wonder if he's already writing a political eulogy in his head for Barack Obama.
For that matter, I wonder if Barack Obama is doing the same for himself. If he is, it might go something like this: