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Peter Worthington Headshot

Obama's Vietnam?

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We've seen this before, and now we are seeing it again.

This time it was President Barack Obama's quick, unadvertised visit to Afghanistan to sign a partnership deal with President Hamid Karzai, and to assure U.S. troops and all Americans that "there is light on the horizon."

In other words, Obama is all but conceding defeat.

We saw it in Vietnam when then-President Richard Nixon assured that the withdrawal of American troops meant "peace with honour" -- and America's South Vietnamese allies were abandoned to the forces of Ho Chi Minh.

President Obama promises that U.S. forces will mostly be out of Afghanistan by 2014, except for those training the Afghan National Army. Already, negotiations are underway with the Taliban to "share power" while continuing to pursue al-Qaida.

The U.S. plans no permanent bases in Afghanistan.

There are several points that could be made from Obama's Afghanistan speech.

First of all, if one is intent on winning a war, or at least not guaranteeing one's own defeat, one does not give a timetable for leaving, and proclaiming that your fighting soldiers will cease fighting on such-and-such a given date.

Where, in that, is the incentive for the enemy to stop fighting?

And does one notice how Obama stresses that it's al-Qaida that is now the enemy and not the Taliban? While the U.S. invaded Afghanistan to rid the country of al-Qaida training camps, it was the Taliban who were the main enemy. And over most of the last decade, the casualties endured by American, and Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, were inflicted by the Taliban, not al-Qaida.

Again, the idea of "sharing" power with the Taliban, or even including the Taliban in some sort of regime of reconciliation, is nonsense. Of course the Taliban leaders may agree -- why not? Agreements mean little in that part f the world -- look at Syria where Bashar al-Assad assured the UN he'd halt killing Syrian citizens, and then continued killing Syrians.

The Taliban are capable of agreeing to anything that suits their interests, and then ignoring any deal, and grabbing all power. Little about the Taliban indicates willingness to share power. They want to win. Period.

It's understandable that President Obama wants the Afghan mission concluded, victory or no victory.

There have been some positive changes. A lot of money has been invested (or at least spent) in Afghanistan. But it's still a country where, if the Taliban have power, Sharia law will flourish, women will continue to be persecuted, niceties like amputations, stoning, honour killings and such will blossom.

Miscalculation has been a cornerstone of U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Ironically, Iraq (for which Obama blamed former President George Bush) has tamed down, while Afghanistan, which Obama adopted as "his" war, has become the disaster of the moment.

Perhaps "disaster" is too strong a word. Much of the country is pacified and has benefited from the presence of Western soldiers and aid agencies.

But positive gains are destined to fade if the Taliban again assumes power -- a reality to which President Obama (and certainly some Canadians) seem resigned after Alliance troops pull out, and leave the country to its own devices.