It's almost always a mistake to 'learn the lessons' of the previous war so thoroughly that you forget why you made them and fight it over again in the next one. Given my two posts yesterday about the AfPak war, I have been thinking about the way the American war in Vietnam 'ended'.

It may well be that Vietnam represented in American history a globalisation of a domestic form of American warfare that traumatised the country, but which was mistakenly dismissed as past once the Gulf war ended. We may have forgotten about it just when people need to remember it.

First, America realised that it could not continue because of a dollar collapse--which is a real and present danger at the moment, though America is not on any gold standard now, as in a sense it was in Bretton Woods. This led it to refuse to commit more men; this led to political turmoil at a time when the enemy, during and after the Tet offensive, were being degraded and engaging in ever more futile attacks.

We're three years out from an American presidential election this time, and the Taliban and Afghans are not the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese, and I deal with a great many of them, are goal-directed, driven and, frankly, civilised. Their culture does not harbour death-cults.

Once elected as a consequence of the turmoil, Richard Nixon proceeded to escalate the war; then to 'vietnamize' it; then to reach out, via Pakistan and others, to China. An endgame for America of withdrawal then commenced.

We've already tried to Vietnamize. The Afghan National Army do not, on the evidence of British and American soldiers, seem up to the fight. It is difficult, but not impossible, to see people embracing the strategic logic of an alliance with Iran, since that would bring with it its own special sort of moral crazy.

Nixon fell, and the collapse of the American-sponsored state in Vietnam commenced; extreme bloodshed, followed by a Chinese invasion, rode on after.

For the reasons I set out yesterday, I think contained bloodshed is far less than the worst that could happen with a collapsed Afghanistan.

We are committed to an unthinking policy of blood in a lunatic war. bombing mountains and killing people who are committed to killing. Those women and children we protect are not going to be taken with us, and so any withdrawal will abandon them. The consequences of staying in are terrible. Those of withdrawal to Pakistan or out of the zone would be worse.

I find myself asking if those mountains and hills are a Teuteborg Forest, an Adrianople, or an Allia. A disaster that marks the limit; a defeat in which the initiative passes; or the beginning of the end?

Of course, to continue the theme, that such a question could be asked just means that the writing of decline is on the wall; not that it is imminent at all. The evidence for that, as they say, is entirely other....


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