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Why Afghanistan Won't Become Another Vietnam

There is reason for optimism among the many Americans who have lamented the near-decade-long U.S. war in Afghanistan (and the broader conflict in the Muslim world).

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It now appears that a parallel dynamic is taking shape for Election 2012, with these same elements of the Left determined to deny Obama a second term, almost as much as the Republicans are.  

In Obama’s case, where more sympathetic observers might see a liberal-minded politician trying to maneuver through the Washington mine field toward a more peaceful world, his critics on the Left see a committed imperialist who is just as much a warmonger as Bush ever was, if not worse.

Therefore, it’s not likely that Obama’s nuanced shifts toward disengagement in Afghanistan, along with his ongoing pullout from Iraq, will earn Obama much credit.

While the Left may view Kennedy more charitably in retrospect because of evidence that he was turning away from the Vietnam War, there is far less sympathy for Obama despite a similar pattern in his presidency.

Yet, Obama, like Kennedy, seems to have learned from some early mistakes and is now trying to tack the ship of state, against some strong winds, toward a more peaceful harbor.

Whether the President can accomplish this course correction – despite gusts from Washington’s still powerful neocons – remains to be seen. He also faces strong economic headwinds that could doom his reelection, and he can expect only spotty backing from U.S. progressives.

So, it is possible that Obama’s reversal on the Afghan War escalation might be reversed again, if a Republican replaces him in 2013 and restores the neocons to their prior dominant position in directing U.S. foreign policy.

Whatever a Republican presidential candidate may say now, the fact is that the neocons remain a key force inside the GOP’s foreign policy establishment, as witnessed by the failure of Rep. Paul Ryan’s austerity budget to make any significant cuts in military spending.

But today there is reason for optimism among the many Americans who have lamented the near-decade-long U.S. war in Afghanistan (and the broader conflict in the Muslim world). The trend is finally away from escalation, away from Vietnam Redux, and toward a possible (if imperfect) peace.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.

 
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