years after the fall of Saigon all the prerequisites for a similar scenario are
unfolding in Afghanistan. And if the past holds any lessons for the future,
Washington could not hope for a more auspicious outcome.
forces stand guard at an Afghan National Army outpost after an attack by
Taliban militants in Kunduz province on March 4, 2020. Photo: AFP / STR
United States, both Vietnam and Afghanistan were the offshoots of much wider
conflicts. Vietnam was an offshoot of the Cold War, with Washington believing
that if the spread of Communism in Vietnam was not checked it would spread to
other countries in the region and ultimately impact the global balance of
power. That Communism in Vietnam was the offshoot of a local, postcolonial
situation, and the possibility that geo-policy in the region would ultimately
trump ideology was never even considered. Thus a combination of fear, arrogance
and ignorance steered the United States into going to war in Vietnam.
was the offshoot of the “global war on terror,” and by invading the country
Washington sought both to destroy al-Qaeda as an organization and the Taliban
regime, which had provided its base in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan and overthrowing the Taliban regime proved to be the easy part of
the endeavour. What to do next with Afghanistan proved the challenge.
general once commented that the United States is good at blowing things up but
not much else. In Europe, after the end of the Second World War, the United
States was fortunate enough to deal with developed industrialized societies
where reconstruction was just a matter of availability of resources. The
provision of these resources through the Marshall Plan was all that Western
Europe needed to get back on its feet.
resources as such were not the issue either in Vietnam or Afghanistan. Granted
there was a need for resources, but as the existing social structures were not
geared to absorb and process them, foreign aid only served to destabilize a
society already under stress. Conversely what was at issue was the creation, by
the United States, of a self-supporting local authority that could keep at bay,
in the case of Afghanistan the Taliban, and in the case of Vietnam, the
Communists. In both cases the end result was an abysmal failure.
negotiations that were to lead to the signing of a peace agreement in Vietnam
and in Afghanistan went through substantively similar processes. In both cases
one of the main obstacles to the negotiation came not so much from Washington’s
opposite number, be it the Vietnamese Communists or the Taliban, but by the
client government that the United States had put in place.
government in Saigon nor the one in Kabul had any interest in seeing the
confrontation shift from the military to the political arena. Likewise, both
being dependent for their survival on an American military presence, any agreement
that would reduce that presence would not play out in their favor.
Vietnam the Communists and in Afghanistan the Taliban did not need the open
intervention of a foreign party in order for them to hold their own is of
course the next question that comes to mind, and the answer begs no dispute;
because neither of the two parties had the necessary grounding within the
country to stay in power without a massive outside prop.
peace agreement delayed the inevitable by two years. When Saigon fell, on April
30, 1975, US forces departed Vietnam, and whatever was left of an American
presence was booted out of the country that day, lock, stock and barrel. For
the United States it could not have been a better outcome. The slate had been
signing on February 29, 2020, of a peace agreement between the United States
and the Taliban, a somewhat similar development is now within the realm of the
possible, namely the collapse of the Kabul government and a return to power of
after their victory, it took 20 years for the Communists to come to their
senses and for geopolitics to trump ideology. It might well take 10 times that
long in Afghanistan for a similar process to develop, but it is also
irrelevant. By then Afghanistan and its Taliban will have become a problem for
Iran, China, Pakistan and India but not for the United States. And except for a
few bruised egos in Washington, the world will not be a better, or a worse,
place for it.
Alexander Casella PhD has taught and worked as a
journalist for the likes of Le Monde, The Times, The New York Times, Die Zeit,
The Guardian, and Swiss radio and TV, writing primarily on China and Vietnam.
In 1973 he joined the UNHCR, serving, among others, as head of the East Asia
Section and director for Asia and Oceania. He then served 18 years as
representative in Geneva of the International Centre for Migration Policy
Headline: Goodbye Saigon, goodbye Kabul
Source: The Asia Times