Publisher's Note — December 18, 2009, 12:35 pm

On Afghanistan: George McGovern Replies to Joe Klein

John R. MacArthur is the publisher of Harper’s Magazine.

On December 13, George McGovern published an opinion piece, “With Obama’s Strategy, Afghanistan Looks Like Another Vietnam,” in the Washington Post. He wrote:

I am astounded at the Obama Administration’s decision to escalate the equally mistaken war in Afghanistan, and as I listen to our talented young president explain why he is adding 30,000 troops– beyond the 21,000 he had added already– I can only think: another Vietnam. I hope I am incorrect, but history tells me otherwise.

Joe Klein promptly replied, in his “Swampland” blog at Time, in a piece entitled “McGovern on Afghanistan”:

George McGovern was a world war II hero, a principled politician and absolutely right about the foolishness of the war in Vietnam. He is thoroughly wrong about Afghanistan, though. As President Obama painstakingly explained in his West Point speech, Vietnam is a false–indeed, a facile–anology [sic]. The war in Vietnam was based on lies–the Tonkin Gulf incident–and a false premise, the notion that Vietnam would be the next domino to fall in a communist campaign to conquer Asia. (The total wrongness of this theory was soon demonstrated by the China-Soviet split and subsequent, tacit U.S.-China alliance against the Soviets–as well as a thousand years of tension between the Vietnamese and the Chinese.)

Here’s McGovern’s reply to Klein, emailed to me today. It’s worth a careful read:

The reporter Joe Klein deserves a response to his critique of my objection to President Obama’s decision to send another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. With the 21,000 the President ordered there earlier plus the 50,000 sent by President Bush, we now have over 100,000 troops assigned to Afghanistan and another 50,000 mercenaries.

I had stated that our growing Afghan involvement reminds me of the Vietnam tragedy. Mr. Klein contends “Afghanistan is different.” I agree that there are differences between the two situations, but there are worrisome similarities.

In each case we have assumed that the complicated political, ideological, ethnic, and nationalistic cross purposes can be straightened out by American troops. It has further been assumed in both Vietnam and Afghanistan that their problems are primarily the responsibility of the US with only token support from other countries.

The people of Afghanistan have occupied a strip of mountainous territory in Central Asia for many centuries. If they are unable to resolve their internal conflicts, how likely is it that even the best soldiers from our distant land can put things aright?

If our country which we all love is to become the world’s policeman, where will we recruit enough troops? Some of our regular army and reservists have been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan for nearly a decade– longer than WWI and WWII combined. There is a limit to what even superb soldiers like ours can withstand. If we are to play the role of a global police force we should all be involved and that means we should restore the draft and pay higher taxes. We can’t keep using the same soldiers war after war while borrowing money from the Chinese.

Mr. Klein expresses grave concern about tensions and dangers in Pakistan if we were to “abandon the region” by bringing our troops home from Afghanistan.

I am not advocating that we abandon any region of the world (indeed I have long favored normalization of relations including trade and travel with Cuba as I did with China long before that happened). We have competent, fully staffed embassies in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India to help us keep informed of developments in these countries and to pursue our interests. We also maintain economic aid missions in these countries. We are not abandoning a country simply because we don’t have our army there doing battle.

One final point: Even if Mr. Klein were right in calling for us to continue waging war in Afghanistan, we can’t afford it. Thanks to the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan we’ve built a national debt of 12 trillion dollars. We’re also in the middle of a serious recession. Not a good time for another deepening war.

Share
Single Page

More from John R. MacArthur:

Publisher's Note June 12, 2015, 10:53 am

Nonsense Brokers

“Rep. Kathleen Rice last week reversed her opposition to fast-track the TPP. If history repeats itself she won’t be the only member of Congress to betray her working class and labor-union supporters.”

Publisher's Note April 16, 2015, 3:51 pm

The Grind and the Gun

“Attributing white-on-black violence entirely to racism misses the larger problems that poorer people face in this country. They suffer a thousand cuts that never get talked about, except when the victims bleed to death.”

Publisher's Note March 19, 2015, 4:05 pm

The Mayor and the Machine

“Emanuel’s position in the local party is insecure because he was not raised in the machine, or, for that matter, in a working-class city neighborhood.”

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

July 2015

One Day Less

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Dressed to Kill

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Wrong Prescription?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Travel Day

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Fugue State

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Avian Voices·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The mockingbird’s bath is an orgy of thrashing and writhing about. When he has finished, one of the innocents alights on the rim of the basin and looks with disbelief at the thimble of water remaining.”
Illustration by Eric Hanson
[Browsings]
Before the War·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I’m worried that what the Houthis did to push Yemen into a civil conflict in September 2014, the Saudis may end up doing again when they end their campaign by eliminating the Houthis.”
Photograph by Alex Potter
Article
The Speakeasy·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In order to understand how Marty’s could survive as an institution, I returned a year after my first visit to spend a week at what was sure to be the world’s bleakest comedy club.”
Photograph by Mike Slack
Post
The Lost Land·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I had first encountered some of these volumes—A Swiftly Tilting Planet, The Giver—as a child, and during adolescence, they registered as postcards from a homeland recently abandoned.”
Photograph by the author
Article
Wrong Prescription?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Whatever the slogans suggested, the A.C.A. was never meant to include everyone.”
Illustration by Taylor Callery

Estimated cost of the environmental damage caused each year by the world’s 3,000 largest companies:

$2,200,000,000,000

Two thirds of U.S. teenagers experience uncontrollable rage.

Beekeepers began extracting 1 million honeybees living beneath the siding of a house in New York State.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today