Afghanistan War: What Richard Holbrooke Really Thought


richard holbrooke kati marton afghanistan tank 2006.jpg
Nicholas Kristof’s bombshell article yesterday probing into the notes, letters and thinking on Afghanistan by Richard Holbrooke has a number of good journalists, including Politico‘s Ben Smith, scrambling to reassess where one of the Democrat Party’s foreign policy titans really stood on America’s longest war.
Thanks to Kati Marton, the late Richard Holbrooke’s wife, Kristof was given access to key files and notes of Holbrooke’s in her possession — and with these, Kristof has painted a compelling picture that Holbrooke strongly believed that the Afghanistan War needed to be ended through tough-minded negotiations and eventual reconciliation with the Taliban.
Just as important, Holbrooke felt that the Obama administration has over-militarized its tool kit for dealing with Afghanistan and winced when General David Petraeus referred to him as his “wingman.” During the Bosnia War, the tables between the diplomatic team and the Pentagon were reversed — with General Wesley Clark delivering the military moves that Holbrooke needed and directed.
Kati Marton has done a great service in showing Kristof these papers — particularly now as decisions on the Afghanistan War are again under review. Kristof has now helped underline and put in exclamatory bold Richard Holbrooke’s final words: “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan.”
The revelations of Holbrooke’s views were not a surprise to me — in part because of numerous conversations I was privileged to have with both Holbrooke and Kati Marton in the past but also with key members of his SRAP (Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan) team.
Holbrooke and his people were officially supportive of (while in some cases privately opposed to) the President’s plan to use a military surge to gut-punch the Taliban and hopefully maneuver them towards negotiations — but ultimately a negotiated end state leaving Afghanistan better off than when this all started was the key goal in their mind. Many others in the Obama administration — particularly on the Pentagon side of the equation — have had a tough time keeping that goal in sight.
But Richard Holbrooke telegraphed his views on Afghanistan publicly at a historian conference featuring Henry Kissinger, Hillary Clinton, himself, and others hosted by the State Department on the release of the updated Foreign Relations of the United States volumes on Southeast Asia — with a focus on the Vietnam War. These volumes are considered the reconciled history of the US — with secrets that had recently become declassified woven into public accounts of America’s foreign policy.
At this meeting, I asked Holbrooke to compare his work in the early years of the Vietnam build-up in which he was also tasked with non-military roles in building up the economic and civil society institutions of Vietnam with what he was doing today in Afghanistan.
Holbrooke’s entire commentary is here, but here follows our specific exchange on Afghanistan and Vietnam:

QUESTION [Steve Clemons]: Ambassador Holbrooke, thank you so much for your comments. I think the purpose of these foreign relations volumes is not only to set the record straight, but to give us a digest of issues so that – to help us in foreign policy decisions that we make later down the road. And you were on the field in – on the ground in Vietnam, as you said, looking at this through the portal of civilian – the civilian dimensions of the war, like your task today. And it would be interesting to know, both positively and negatively, what your experiences in doing that in Vietnam, how those have affected the way you’ve organized your teams work today in Afghanistan.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I was wondering how long we could avoid that question. (Laughter.) And it has to be a friend who asks it, right? Steve, that’s a – of course, I’ve thought about it a lot. And so let me start by making a very simple statement about then and now.
There are many structural similarities between the two situations, but there is a fundamental strategic difference. And there’s a fundamental difference about how we got involved. In Afghanistan, we entered the war because we were attacked in the most serious attack on American soil in history, and the nation unanimously on a bipartisan basis, without any significant dissent, myself certainly included, felt that we had to go into Afghanistan because the people who were in charge of the country had sheltered Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida and could not remain there. And whatever happened after that, the root cause of our entry into Afghanistan was instantaneous, Pearl Harbor- like and totally justified.
We slid into Vietnam accidentally. Little known fact, Eisenhower already had advisory troops there before Kennedy became President. Eisenhower had told the president-elect not only about Laos, in response to this gentleman’s question, but also about the importance of Vietnam. It was Eisenhower who laid out the domino theory which became the dominant metaphor of the war and which turned out to be false. The dominoes didn’t fall unless you count Cambodia and Laos, which were part of the strategic space.
And so we slid in a thousand soldiers under Eisenhower, at the time of President Kennedy’s death, maybe 15,000, 16,000, at the time Lyndon Johnson left office, over 500,000, and then the drawdowns that Henry described. So we slid in.
Had people sat down and said, you know, we’re going to go in there, we’re going to end up with 500,000 troops, I cannot imagine any administration, any political system would have agreed to that intervention. But as Henry pointed out, that’s the hand that they were dealt on January 20th, 1969. And so that is a – that is the fundamental difference.
But structurally there are obvious similarities. And leafing through these books here, they leap out at you. Many of the programs that are being followed, many of the basic doctrines are the same ones that we were trying to apply in Vietnam. And I believe in history. I think history is continuous. It doesn’t begin or end on Pearl Harbor Day or the day Lyndon Johnson withdraws from the presidency or on 9/11. You have to learn from the past but not be imprisoned by it. You need to take counsel of history but never be imprisoned by it.
So this is not Vietnam, but there’s a lot to learn. And it’s not an accident that David Petraeus, my counterpart for the first year-and-a-half of this Administration, until he went back to Kabul, had written his Ph.D. thesis at Princeton about this, about the war, and he and I have talked many times about it.

Richard Holbrooke believed that Vietnam was a massive mistake by the United States and didn’t want to repeat the errors today that America made then. While he was right that the factors that animated US intervention in Vietnam differed greatly from what drove America’s decision to invade Afghanistan, he suggests that there are many “structural similarities.”
During Holbrooke’s opening comments at this historian’s conference, Holbrooke made very clear his rejection of America’s Vietnam escapade:

I must conclude that our goals in Vietnam did not justify the immense costs of the war. Nor do I believe that success was denied to us because of domestic events and lack of patience on the part of the American public.

And then in commenting about Dean Rusk’s private reservations about the Vietnam engagement, I saw and felt Holbrooke using this as a metaphor for his own reservations about Afghanistan while nonetheless serving President Obama and carrying out his policies:

And – but while Dean Rusk harbored deep internal doubts about the war, he felt an absolute obligation to support the troops and the President’s policy. He believed deeply in the theory of American invincibility, something I would emphasize to a younger generation, was instilled in every one of us in high school in those days, in those far away days, when we were taught and endlessly reminded that America had never lost a war. All the strength of Dean Rusk’s convictions – convictions we all still would like to be able to hold, of course – were inadequate to the fact that on the ground, as we slid deeper and deeper into the morass, and later as it spread to Cambodia.
And so we failed the first test. Our beloved nation sent into battle soldiers without a clear determination of what they could accomplish and they misjudged the stakes.

The trends in America’s engagement in Afghanistan bothered Richard Holbrooke greatly — and it’s important, as the Kristof article ends, for the administration to take serious account of Holbrooke’s concerns as the next steps on Afghanistan are weighed.
— Steve Clemons


33 comments on “Afghanistan War: What Richard Holbrooke Really Thought

  1. Chumanist says:

    By all reasonable accounts,it seems a very comprehensive and lucid brief by Steve regarding Mr Holbrooke’s vision of America’s war in Afghanistan. Yet by all warranted justifications and exigencies, prescience has to be given to learn from the core wisdom– left by Mr Brooke in his far-sighted approach– as he was not an ardent believer of extending/ regulating a ‘military solution’ to the Afghan problem.


  2. DonS says:

    John Huntsman for president? Challenging Obama ‘from the left’ on foreign policy:


  3. Mike says:

    Good article and good food for thought – I just wish the first sentence hadn’t stuck in my craw. Like the other poster mentioned above, it’s Democratic Party, Steve. Generally, I find it extremely difficult to take seriously political commentary from anyone who can’t at least use the proper name of one of the two major political parties.


  4. David Billington says:

    “But you miss an important detail. It is a fundamentally different situation when people behave in a crude
    and immoral manner while performing a movement that had validity, such as Europeans coming to the
    shores of North America. And certain people setting up an action that was immoral and contrived from
    the very beginning; such as the Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq wars; each done solely and only to satisfy
    some illicit need of the president in power during those conflicts.” (Warren Metzler)
    European governments were responsible for the settlement of North America before 1783, but afterwards
    the extermination or dispossession of Native Americans became the official policy of the United States
    until the survivors were all confined to reservations.
    I do agree with you in condemning the efforts of US leaders to commit us to undeclared wars on terms
    that made the conflicts practically impossible to resolve short of defeat. However, I think that is a
    separate problem from the question of what the electorate would have tolerated at the time each decision
    for war occurred. If I follow your last post, you are asking whether the electorate bears responsibility for
    American wars and interventions.
    I think this depends on one’s frame of reference. I may be misunderstanding you but it seems that you
    perceive some form of diminished responsibility on the part of the American electorate consistent with
    the view that the electorate has been disempowered.
    My own reference frame begins with the view that the electorate is responsible for how the federal
    government acts, especially in the longer run. It is not the duty of the voters to conduct foreign policy, as
    you note, but it is their responsibility to choose those who do. This is not to argue that the electorate is
    wise or moral; only that it has this responsibility. When I hear calls to hold government officials
    accountable, it usually means a failure of government, and in my view if there is a failure, responsibility
    for that fact in the end rests with the voters.


  5. Paul Norheim says:

    And it’s also making top headlines at the NYT and WaPost. I can’t count all the articles I’ve seen
    anticipating this speech and speculating on the content.


  6. Paul Norheim says:

    At CNN International, BBC, and al Jazeera, they’re discussing Obama’s upcoming speech nonstop right now.


  7. DakotabornKansan says:

    Kathleen writes,


  8. DonS says:

    So why is Glenn Greenwald reminding us that the war — the Lybian war — is illegal?
    He’s so yesterday, even pre-Bush. Thinks the Constitution is a document of the people, not an annoyance for the imperial president. He really needs to be more au current.


  9. Kathleen says:

    President Obama gives his speech on the middle east in less than an hour. Amazing that the MSM is not focused on his upcoming speech. Just listened to the Diane Rehm show they are not touching it. In fact all week on the Rehm show, MSNBC etc everyone avoiding the Israeli Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu’s visit etc. Basically total silence. One used to be able to bank the Rehm show going where other mainstreamers will not. No longer
    Why not focus on this upcoming speech. What he should and should not say?
    Odd that folks are avoiding middle east issues during this critical week
    Hopefully Obama does not keep repeating this


  10. DakotabornKansan says:

    When Roger Clemens went to Washington and denied taking steroids, he was indicted.
    Yet the Justice Department shows no such prosecutorial zeal for the Bush criminals nor the banksters who crashed the economy.
    Friday will be the 60th day of the illegal Libyan war. Our lawless empire.


  11. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “The American people (the army included) should thank the Iraqi resistance movements for fighting them and screwing up the plans of their leaders”
    Actually, it was Sistani that saw through the deception, determined our motives, and derailed the efforts of the Bush criminal’s front man, Bremer.


  12. Paul Norheim says:

    “Of course there were political alternatives. 9/11 was a CRIME, not an act of war. It should have been treated like a crime. If
    it had been so, we probably would have accepted the offer to turn Bin Laden over, and we probably would have indicted side
    players like the ISI general, Mahmud Ahmed.” (POA)
    I agree, principally. But I’m not absolutely convinced that this was politically possible in the climate after 9/11. I suspect
    that the majority of Americans wanted something big in response to 9/11, like bombing a country.
    But certainly not two, three, or five countries. I remember that in the weeks after 9/11, Bush stressed several times in his
    public speeches that they would hunt not only “the terrorists”, but also “those who harbor them”. That meant states (plural);
    and that’s when I realized that they were up to something on a much larger scale than just invading Afghanistan, and that
    Afghanistan was intended as a modest prelude. I remember thinking, at that time, that it was a waste of energy to oppose
    the invasion of Afghanistan, compared to being vigilant as to what other invasions they were planning.
    I’m still almost shocked that the mainstream media didn’t notice this. Everybody, from the Washington Post to the New York
    Times, from CNN to BBC, bought the false evidence that proved a link between Iraq and al Qaeda, and were focused on the
    diplomatic theater and rituals in the United Nations.
    The American people (the army included) should thank the Iraqi resistance movements for fighting them and screwing up
    the plans of their leaders. If things had seemed better on the surface (in Iraq) some months after the invasion in 2003,
    Bush/Rumsfeld probably would have attacked both Syria and Iran, eventually being bogged down in four-five countries
    simultaneously. That would probably have been the end of America as we know it. Their hubris in those years knew no


  13. Warren Metzler says:

    David Billington, I accept the sincerity of your efforts to add depth to the discussion. But you miss an important detail. It is a fundamentally different situation when people behave in a crude and immoral manner while performing a movement that had validity, such as Europeans coming to the shores of North America. And certain people setting up an action that was immoral and contrived from the very beginning; such as the Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq wars; each done solely and only to satisfy some illicit need of the president in power during those conflicts.
    There are so many contradictions in blaming 9/11 on Al Queda, that I fail to grasp how any intelligent person could from 9/11 on accept the White House obviously flawed views. Such as the example I give above (May 17, 11:26 am). There is no way that all the people who have access to classified information regarding Afghanistan and Iraq; among which is Richard Holbrooke and Obama; don’t know that almost all that we have been fed about those two situations is deliberately contrived lies.
    It is not the American people’s responsibility to conduct viable foreign policy, it is the responsibility of our elected officials and they people they hire. When the American people have to step in and insist that those elected officials behave properly is always a situation where those elected officials have been immoral, irresponsible, and deliberately deceitful for way too long. And they should be prosecuted in each and every case; but haven’t been in a single case.
    I admit there is a need for elected officials, and for people to operate the many aspects of our government, including how we interact with the officials of other countries. But what happens over and over again, throughout our entire history, is that presidents have an entirely different modus operandi for their foreign endeavors then they do for all their domestic endeavors.
    Just one example being Reagan’s willingness to support the Nicaraguan Contras, when he knew (or if he didn’t, he was an irresponsible idiot; because his national security staff sure knew) that every one of their leaders were former high cadre of Somoza’s secret police. An endeavor he would never have taken in this country.
    If we don’t hold our government officials accountable; try and punish them each time they behave in a deliberately illegal manner; than our country can only progressively descend into chaos and disruption, and eventual destruction; which I am clear is happening now in a fairly rapid manner. Currently, most Americans are doing a great job of repeated the final days of the Roman Empire.
    Holbrooke is not the only scoundrel who served in our government. Oh no!, not at all. But most of what he did foreign policy wise was immoral, and contrary to what was being fed to the Americans for public consumption. One example. Dayton. If our government was honest and interested in justice and fairness, we never would have created the arms embargo against the Bosnian Muslims; knowing full well that Serbia was shoveling arms across the border to the Bosnian Serbs.
    And when do we have the push to Dayton? Just when our arms embargo fails, and the Bosnian Muslims and Croats have joined forces and are rapidly pushing back the Bosnian Serbs back to Serbia. That Dayton exercise was created to ensure that the Bosnian Muslims and Croats didn’t create a final solution on their own, one the US didn’t control. And back here we, mainly because of the efforts of Holbrooke, were sold a bill of goods, that we were doing this out of humanitarian concerns. I say truly despicable behavior.


  14. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “The question is whether there was an alternative that might have been politically possible after 9/11”
    The false narrative created the political necessity.
    Of course there were political alternatives. 9/11 was a CRIME, not an act of war. It should have been treated like a crime. If it had been so, we probably would have accepted the offer to turn Bin Laden over, and we probably would have indicted side players like the ISI general, Mahmud Ahmed. And it would have been impossible for the CRIMINALS known as “The Bush Administration” to use 9/11 as an insinuated rationale for the invasion of Iraq.


  15. David Billington says:

    These comments are in response to Warren Metzler:
    “I find it interesting, and probably unintended, that a profile on Richard Holbrooke comes right after one on
    Strauss-Kahn. Because I find both of them to, in a way, be two peas in the same pod; in that both are people
    who never need to learn from real life, living in a world of abstract political theories.”
    I assume that you are not arguing moral equivalence in light of the recent charges against the latter. The
    problem of abstraction in policy is a good point to raise but it is rooted in social science, which has certain
    strengths as well as certain limitations. The trouble is that neither the strengths nor the limitations are
    acknowledged very clearly or very well.
    “The US should have never have gone into Afghanistan.”
    This can be said now. The question is whether there was an alternative that might have been politically
    possible after 9/11.
    We did not want to escalate the Vietnam war, so we fought a war of attrition on terms that allowed the other
    side to replace its losses indefinitely. The American people eventually tired of a conflict on these terms and we
    withdrew. In Afghanistan, once we decided to stay, we did not want to escalate against Pakistan, so we
    accepted a war of attrition with the Taliban and al-Qaida on terms that allowed the other side to replace its
    losses indefinitely. The American people have tired of a conflict on these terms and we are now beginning a
    long withdrawal. Barack Obama is playing Richard Nixon to George Bush’s LBJ, and the result for Afghanistan
    will probably be the same as it was for Vietnam.
    Things might have gone differently. We could not have tolerated an open sanctuary in Afghanistan for the
    people who attacked us on 9/11, but once we evicted them our purpose was accomplished. We could have
    withdrawn from the country in 2002, once a new government had formed, and left that government to organize
    its own security. The message to everyone in the region could have been (1) that we would return in greater
    force if al-Qaida returned to Afghanistan and (2) that if we came back we would not stop at the Afghan-
    Pakistan border.
    The reason we didn’t leave Afghanistan in 2002 was that we did not want to have to escalate if OBL returned to
    Kabul. The subsequent assumptions that we held about nation-building there were mistaken, although our
    ideals may in the end accomplish what boots and money could not, if democracy spreads because the people
    of the region themselves want it.
    “…the US where it acts oppressively, and so forth.”
    The problem is deciding where to draw a line as to what constitutes oppression that must be resisted. The
    European settlers of what is now the United States acted oppressively in taking land from Native Americans, but
    I don’t think you would argue that we settlers must now go home. It is hard to see a principle that we can apply
    to other national cases that somehow exempts us. To argue that there is a line beyond which one is culpable
    for a policy also raises the question of how far one should go to oppose it.
    These are really important questions, though, and you speak with the credibility of someone who has served
    and tried to find his own way through extraordinary events and unusual personal circumstances. My own
    questions are not criticisms as much as comments intended to underline the depth and therefore the difficulty
    that anyone would have answering yours.


  16. PissedOffAmerican says:
  17. DonS says:

    The posturing over aid to Pakistan escalates (per my comment upthread about who will win the mantle of most ‘anti-foreign aid’, to Pakistan and Afghanistan anyway):
    “At the Senate hearing, lawmakers raised questions about continuing multibillion-dollar military and economic aid programs in Pakistan.


  18. Warren Metzler says:

    @DonS “…at what point does any individual who becomes a significant policy (or other) player in a large institution become morally culpable for the work of that institution(?)…”. Excellent question. I suggest the following.
    Every situation has an essential goal, there is a specific outcome it is headed for. And the point you become a participant, and therefore reasonable to be held accountable, is when you realize what is that essential goal. If it is valid, you stay and support it. If it is invalid, you get out at the first opportunity; such as after your previous contract (enlistment) is over.
    I refuse to believe that any reasonable person couldn’t recognize that Bush was pushing for Afghanistan with an ulterior motive; thereby making that enterprise invalid right away. But certainly once in Iraq, and there are obviously no wmd’s, than that enterprise has no value, and promoting it or facilitating it is immoral.
    I consider it irrational to claim you can cause a country which has never had democracy to have democracy, so to stay in Afghanistan after it is obvious Bin Laden has left is unavoidably invalid.
    Take Israel for example. If you control a geographical area, you are responsible for all who live in that area, and have a moral obligation to do all you can to have the residents of that area have all the rights you offer your citizens. If you don’t want those responsibilities, give up your control of that country. Israel is absolutely not doing this with the West Bank and Gaza, and actually doing the exact opposite. So any person who works for an organization that supports or facilitates Israel is behaving in an immoral manner.
    Or another example, Saudi Arabia. Which operates in a very oppressive manner toward women, migrant labor, and any one who lives in an obviously non-Sunni Islamic manner. Anyone who works for an organization that supports or facilitates Saudi Arabia is behaving in an immoral manner. Like-wise for China, Russia, Vietnam, Yemen, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, the US where it acts oppressively, and so forth.
    If you work in a job that facilitates anti-democratic, or anti-human rights actions, you are an oppressor, and should be labeled as such. This situational ethics approach to world affairs is never ever going to move the world toward a place where all humans have peace, democracy, free enterprise, and all the rights God has given ever human.


  19. DonS says:

    Warren and DBK, you possibly are each trying to describe a different part of the elephant. I have no idea how much ‘formulating’ of policy Holbrooke did, but just using the materials posted from the New Yorker, if he was 21 years old in 1962, I don’t care how bright he was, he could have been nothing but a junior staffer. Even at 26 in 1967, his memo thru Katzenbach might have been precocious (and serving what purpose?) but still the work of a junior staffer There can be no doubt of the scores and hundreds of budding careerists who were, by default, part of the war machine that we now look back on as quasi-criminal. And exactly how much responsibility or leverage any one might bear is really something I’m not able to know or fit to judge.
    I wouldn’t know enough to paint Holbrooke as saint or sinner, or exactly how big a cog he might have been at any time in his career, or what policies he eventually might have been party to significantly weighing in on, or when he transitioned from being mere staffer to key person. Anyone who was around as long as he was in sensitive positions has a history that must be difficult to unravel, especially with much of it done behind the scenes. Of course, one could condemn anyone who is any part of an enterprise; even you Warren, doing your bit. Right? We all had a “choice”. Sounds like you were a convinced ‘patriot’ at one point, but with the background you describe, it’s not at all surprising.
    The larger question perhaps is at what point does any individual who becomes a significant policy (or other) player in a large institution become morally culpable for the work of that institution, IF one recognizes the output of the institution to be immoral. Slippery slope perhaps. Better to work from the inside than the outside (or is that a rationalization)? Put food on the table? Co-opted by the system?
    It’s a real dilemma. My own growing disenchantment with what the US stands for these days is pretty depressing if I think about it too much.


  20. Wayne says:

    With all due respect, Mr. Clemons, you seem to have fallen into the Republican habit of refering to Mr. Holbrooke’s political party as the “Democrat Party.” It is called the “Democratic Party.”
    Thank you,


  21. Warren Metzler says:

    DbK, I am having real trouble understanding how you can present what you did, and disagree with me.
    Your own link states that he was stationed in Ba Xuyen, and wrote,


  22. DakotabornKansan says:

    Warren Metzler writes,


  23. Warren Metzler says:

    This is for POA. I served in Vietnam. I came from a Mennonite background, which have been pacifists from their beginnings in the 1500’s Reformation. And had during wwii gained automatic CO status if requested. But my experience with my CO peers, was that few if any did it out of conviction. Also, I was raised as a son of Mennonite missionaries in Jamaica, West Indies, and had meet many Cubans escapees, who gave me (what I later realized was a totally false impression) that Cuba under communism was a very bad place. My father was a very right wing person, so I grew up exposed to much John Birch and Texan communist world domination theories. My childhood taught me that all the Christian leaders I met, and I met many, including my parents, were hypocrites: they didn’t practice in their personal lives what they preached in religious environments. So I came back to the States totally opposed to all religions.
    Once back in the States I did encounter anti-war activists, but saw all of them primarily not wanting to be drafted and go to Vietnam. So I believe the domino theory, enlisted, went to officer candidate school and then to flight school, and eventually off to fly a small reconnaissance plane, the Bird-dog, for a year. Because of flying that plane, and where I was stationed, I was exposed to several high level officers, and eventually realized as the war went on, that the war was a scam. It was being fought in a way it never would have been fought it the military was serious about actually winning the war. They were obviously using it is a battlefield experiment to develop new tactics, since it was clear to all the Korean war was the last traditional war we were going to ever fight.
    It was also clear that the politicians back home were in on this scam, through numerous observations, including the massive corruption that was present on our side could only exist with high level Washington cooperation.
    By the time the major antiwar demonstrations were occurring in Washington, I was, along with others, wearing a black arm band from time to time. I must admit that most of my fellow officers were swallowing the official line, hook, line and sinker.
    After I returned, I repeatedly notice the large number of Viet. vets who were seriously incapacitated. And after talking to a number of such, it was clear that each one had sufficient exposure to know the official line was nonsense, but each had been unwilling to articulate that to themselves. I finally concluded the biggest part of the PTSD was really an internal fight to avoid admitting they had been sent under totally false pretenses. They just couldn’t bring it upon themselves to admit their leaders in Washington were totally corrupt criminals who had lied to them, and sent them off to fight in a useless war. And they suffered immensely.
    Don’t get me wrong. I firmly believe that Johnson, much of his cabinet, a lot of civilian officials and a number of senior military officials should have been convicted and imprisoned for extreme criminal corruption. And I also agree that they treated most American troops there like cannon fodder. But I did want to present information about the source of the so-called PTSD.
    I suspect most of the PTSD out of the first Gulf war, the Iraq war and Afghanistan stem from the same phenomenon, because all three of those wars were obviously criminal distortions of fact by the Administrations who created those wars.


  24. Brett says:

    Steve – I think you may have meant to use the word “dissent” in the second Holbrooke paragraph, not “descent”.


  25. Tank Man says:

    The Pentagon has always been a power to be reckoned with, but they have gained far too much power and influence not only over FP and Nat


  26. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Well, one thing about Viet Nam that is NOT open for debate is how screwed up, abandoned, and betrayed our Viet Nam vets are.
    Ironic, is it not, that we will be saying the same thing about our Iraq and Afghanistan vets in the decades to come? Send them to war, then shit in their hand.
    Anyone else following the denials from the Pentagon about Gulf War Syndrome, DU, PTSD, and a number of other afflictions our vets acquire while our despicable warmongering cowards in DC assure themselves that their OWN kids go to COLLEGE, not WAR???
    Chew ’em up, and spit ’em out. The war machine’s contribution to to our nation’s youth.


  27. DonS says:

    Let’s just look at A/P from a domestic political standpoint, which we assume Obama does all the time, and which the Republicans certainly do.
    If I were a Repub strategist, I would be cranking up the propaganda machine to skewer Obama on his failure to respond to the exigencies in the region, especially in light of fiscal crisis at home. The Afghan government is corrupt; we have to stop subsidizing that waste and corruption. The Pakistanis are unreliable and questionable allies. We have to stop subsidizing that too (for the moment, recognize that it is important to conflate dollars flowing into the region as “foreign aid”, even though we know it goes down the rathole of the military enterprise).
    In times of economic crisis we cannot afford to keep subsidizing all this waste and corruption we will be told. We have to cut the deficit, by God — and we have to do that by cutting spending, first and foremost in wasteful foreign subsidization of corrupt governments. Obama keeps pumping money down this rathole.
    These are winning populist themes. And I don’t think anyone here is naive enough to think Obama could even dream of countering by mounting a strategy that the Republicans are ‘soft on terrorism’; they are totally and completed inoculated from that putative disease of the left.
    Now none of this means a Republican president would actually realign the military footprint very much. It never means that actual changes are made in the juggernaut called ‘pax Americana’. There is always some scenario that preserves the glacial movements of the endless war machine — notably, of course, the two faced deception of crying “cut wasteful spending” and “project anti-terror American force everywhere or you will be killed in your bed”.
    [Neither, too, does any of this mean, even if overseas spending were cut, that any resources would be redirected to actual domestic infrastructure needs because, as we know, being a Republican (or an Obama dem these days) means never having to say that Americans deserve anything from their government. Reducing the deficit is king!]
    Would that Obama might be smart enough to figure out by now that he can neither co-opt, pander, finesse, or out-strategize a political force that thinks only in terms of the aggrandizement of power and creating the conditions to foster that.
    Anyway, with the tide of US opinion turning against the Afghan enterprise, and already down on Pakistan, it’s only a matter of time before the Republicans shape that emerging anger into an anti-Obama message and a potentially winning electoral strategy. Perhaps it’s a bit early to roll it out, but it’s coming; all that rising ‘anti-foreign’ sentiment is pent up political gold. IF Obama had sufficient social conscience and political courage to do the right thing, now would be the time. Not incidentally, he could play the deficit card though, for him, it might come back to bite.
    It is probably a stretch to think that Obama can suddenly reverse field and do something decisive about the groaning military burden. But, IMO, there is now the domestic window for such a move.


  28. Warren Metzler says:

    I find it interesting, and probably unintended, that a profile on Richard Holbrooke comes right after one on Strauss-Kahn. Because I find both of them to, in a way, be two peas in the same pod; in that both are people who never need to learn from real life, living in a world of abstract political theories.
    Let us not forget that Holbrooke did his share to FORMULATE the disastrous US Vietnam policies, part of that effort being a writer of some of the Pentagon paper documents, that were used by Ellsberg to show what idiots the US was in Vietnam. And in Kristal’s article, he explicitly states that Holbrooke pined for a Dayton like accord; which I emphatically claim was total garbage, not in the least favorable to a just and fair outcome in Bosnia.
    The US should have never have gone into Afghanistan. The US cannot do a darn thing to “stabilize” Pakistan, the people of Pakistan themselves being the only people who can stabilize Pakistan.
    DonS is good in his presentation above. But he doesn’t present why the US under Eisenhower was messing with Vietnam. It was because we gave ourselves the right to have a foreign policy, gave ourselves the right to believe that we as Americans could have an opinion as to what should occur in another country, which was not bothering us in the least, and then carry out that intention. The invincibility Holbrooke claims was at the root of Vietnam was just a smokescreen. It was not the reason we went there in the first place. The reason we went there in the first place was our foreign policy sickness, coupled with our leaders being so juvenile they were willing to play the male pre-adolescent game “king of the hill” with the leaders of the USSR, in regard to the whole world.
    Foreign policy is not the only fallacy under which Americans flounder, but it is certainly one that provides us with huge problems that are totally avoidable. Holbrooke is one of many people who spend their careers formulating “brilliant” comments keeping us in the silly game of having a foreign policy.
    I repeat a dictum. If you don’t act in a certain way toward your fellow citizens, it is totally irrational to pretend your country can act in that manner toward other countries, without getting itself into deep and repeated morasses.
    In regard to the “justifiable” reasons for us to be in Afghanistan, I am just going to give you one thing to intellectually chew on. It is well known that never did the FBI present that it was looking for Bin Laden in reference to 9/11; claiming to have no direct evidence he was involved. Well who told Bush and his cronies that Al Queda people did 9/11, if it was not the FBI???? And how can the FBI know that 19 Al Queda adherents do 9/11 and not know that the person who sent them on that mission was equally guilty?
    Only one way. Acquiesce in the deceit the Bush White House wanted, so Bush could put us in Afghanistan, because he knew that once there it would be relatively easy to get us to support Iraq, so he could go there and exact revenge on Saddam, who he and his family had insanely imagined was the reason Bush daddy lost his re-election; that entire family being incapable of recognizing the real reason for the loss was daddy was incompetent as President. Then the FBI itself, in terms of it personally searching for Bin Laden, could present they didn’t consider him personally responsible for 9/11, giving themselves the false impression they at least had some integrity.
    I look fondly for the day we Americans grow up and manifest our true destiny: working full time to show the world that each person has inalienable rights, that should be enshrined in law and vigorously adhered to.


  29. DonS says:

    Vietnam is still being fought, though mostly as a surrogate for the evolving cultural splits in the nation. It’s a convenient metaphor for those who don’t know the facts, seeks to twist the facts and, usually, have no first hand recollection. The twisted version has the US ‘winning’ Vietnam if the generals had been ‘allowed to fight’, with the blame for that twisted interpretation, in one dimension, being laid a the feet of those who would dare to question the meaning and utility of the notion of American “exceptionalism”. That’s a general statement, but it’s also true that such marginalization occurs all the time, and seems to be fostered by the same ilk that propelled Vietnam and found a convenient scapegoat in labelling the ‘other’ as weak hippies (think back to the parallels leading up to Iraq and how voices of sanity were totally ridiculed).
    But even Robert McNamara eventually was able to grasp the scope of the debacle.
    Now Obama is alleged to be a smart cookie, but he has, to my knowledge, generally avoided speaking of Vietnam, but some say he rejects the analogy. That, in my view is not smart since, while it may avoid the stigma of associating with a “left wing” view of the lessons and parallels with Afghanistan, it seems a merely reflexive position.
    [here’s a reference to Obama-Vietnam I quickly googled — from Newsweek I think — ]
    Obama will no doubt have to take the lead if he is to move the perceptions and actions in a radically different way than he is now seemingly endorsing. He has shown himself a person trying to woo all quarters, offend no one, and generally not able to take the kind of forceful position that would be required to blunt the forces of endless war, or even of this particular war.
    within a meaningful timeframe. He has also shown himself a person willing to appeal to progressives and progressive ideas to get elected but then marginalize or even reject to same ideas, except as boilerplate. He may not have the vision or courage to tackle this problem, even if he becomes convinced it’s right to change direction.


  30. DakotabornKansan says:
  31. non-hater says:

    Interesting stuff. I think Holbrooke was right on negotiating with the Taliban. Keeping that organization conflated with al-Qaeda has been a mistake, since the goals of global jihadists and Pashtun nationalists overlap only in a small portion of the world.
    Maybe Kristof’s column will influence the right people, but it seems to me that the military and the intelligence services and other parts of the DC power structure have too much of their collective ego wrapped up in defeating “the enemy” which in this case is the Taliban/al-Qaeda construct. If Obama makes a major change, he’ll have to force it on his national security principals and infrastructure. That will be tough to do, which means it will be put off until after the 2012 election.


  32. DCPundit says:

    These are important insights Steve. I think it is now more clear why you were so close to Richard Holbrooke whom you constantly defended and intermediated for. You must have known that you were on the same team.


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