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2021 Afghanistan is not 1975 Vietnam

Unlike in 1975, the U.S. now faces only the choice of whether to confront the enemy on their own territory or on American soil.

Afghanis run alongside a U.S. Air Force C-17 plane as it departs from Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 16, 2021. Source: Screenshot.
Afghanis run alongside a U.S. Air Force C-17 plane as it departs from Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 16, 2021. Source: Screenshot.
Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger

In 1975, the U.S. disengagement from Vietnam fulfilled the goal of the Viet Cong, thus ending the U.S.-Vietnam conflict. In 2021, the U.S. disengagement from Afghanistan advances—but does not fulfill—the goal of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, and therefore does not end the conflict between the United States and Islamic terrorism.

In 1975, the vision and strategic goal of the Viet Cong was limited to the territory of Vietnam, consistent with an eventual peaceful coexistence and cooperation with the United States. In 2021, the 14-century-old vision and strategic goal of Islamic terrorism are not limited to the territory of Afghanistan. It is driven by fanatic imperialism, striving to subordinate the “infidel” West—and especially, “The Great Satan,” the United States—perceived to be the key obstacle on the way to Islamic global domination.

Islamic terrorism is determined to establish a global Islamic society, ruled by the Koran and Sharia (“Divine law”). This is inconsistent with peaceful coexistence with the “infidel” United States, irrespective of its involvement in Afghanistan. In fact, it requires a decisive war against the United States, including terrorism on the U.S. mainland.

In 1975, the United States was involved in a civil war in Vietnam. It faced a choice: fight in the Vietnam trenches, or disengage. In 2021, the United States faces only the choice of whether to confront Islamic terrorists on their own territory or shift the war to American soil.

In 2021, U.S. policy-makers are reminded that the Taliban and all rogue regimes are not impressed by—and are not willing to adopt—the Western values of human rights, democracy, international law and peaceful coexistence. Moreover, rogue regimes are not impressed by U.S. diplomacy, but by U.S. strength. Islamic terrorists don’t seek popularity in the international community. They seek to intimidate the international community into submission, peacefully or otherwise.

Furthermore, the U.S. retreat in the face of Islamic terrorism has severely eroded U.S. deterrence, heating up the volcanic “Arab Tsunami” (mislabeled as the “Arab Spring”) that has traumatized the Arab street since 2010. This has recharged all rogue regimes (e.g., Iran’s ayatollahs, Muslim Brotherhood affiliates from Pakistan through the Middle East and Northwest Africa, Yemen’s Houthis, Hezbollah, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority), as well as the megalomaniacal aspirations of Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Thus, the U.S. retreat has intensified existential threats to every pro-U.S. Arab regime (e.g., Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco).

The U.S. disengagement from Afghanistan, along with its eagerness to reenter the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran’s ayatollahs, the enhanced ties with the Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East and the United States, and pressure the United States exerts on Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt, may drive these pro-U.S. Arab regimes closer to China and Russia, which are major beneficiaries of the current U.S. policy.

The U.S. retreat from Afghanistan has also jeopardized the national security of India—a pro-Western bastion of democracy, stability and effective capabilities—which is facing a multitude of threats from internal and external Islamic terrorism, a nuclear Pakistan and China.

The severely flawed Afghanistan-oriented assessments of the U.S. foreign policy and national security establishment were consistent with the systematic gap between State Department conceptions on the one hand, and Middle East reality on the other.

For example, in 1948, the State Department determined that the newly-born Jewish state would be helpless against a concerted Arab military assault, would be pro-Soviet and undermine U.S.-Arab relations. During the 1950s, the United States courted Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who downplayed the lavish U.S. offers and became an ardent pro-Soviet and anti-U.S. leader.

In 1978-79, the United States betrayed the pro-U.S. Shah of Iran and embraced Ayatollah Khomeini, assuming that he was pro-U.S., driven by human rights and democracy. In 1980-90, the United States collaborated with Saddam Hussein, assuming that “the enemy [Iraq] of my enemy [Iran] is my friend,” naively providing a green light for his invasion of Kuwait.

From 1993 to 2000, the United States hailed PLO chairman Yasser Arafat as a messenger of peace, worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize and annual U.S. foreign aid.

In 2009, the United States stabbed pro-U.S. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the back and embraced the anti-U.S. Muslim Brotherhood, which constitutes an existential threat to every pro-U.S. Arab regime. Until the eruption of the 2011 Syrian civil war, the State Department considered Bashar Assad a reformer.

In 2011, the United States led the NATO offensive against Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, which transformed Libya into a major platform of global Islamic terrorism and civil wars.

In 2015, the United States engineered the nuclear accord with Iran’s ayatollahs, irrespective of their fanatical, repressive and megalomaniacal ideology and track record. The United States assumed that the ayatollahs were credible partners for negotiations, amenable to peaceful coexistence with their Arab Sunni neighbors and willing to renounce their core ideology.

The U.S. and British track record in the Middle East was criticized by London University professor Elie Kedourie, a game-changing historian of the Middle East:

“The very attempts to modernize Middle Eastern society, to make it Western, must bring about evils, which may be greater than the benefits. … The Muslim theory of international relations recognizes only two possible situations: war on the ‘infidel’ or his subjugation to the ‘faithful.’ Peace with him de jure is hostility until he recognizes the authority of the Muslim ruler. … The comity of nations, or the sanctity of treaties, the rules of natural justice, or decent respect for the opinions of mankind, are quite alien and largely unintelligible to the Middle East (The Chatham House Version, pp 1-12).”

In 2021, Israel would be advised to study U.S. policy in Afghanistan and the U.S. track record in the Middle East when considering U.S. proposals on the Palestinian issue and the Golan Heights. Israel’s government must subordinate peace-in-our-time dreams to hard Middle East reality.

In 2021, in view of the Afghanistan and Gaza experience, and the Palestinian track record, Israel should resist the pressure to establish a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), lest doing so yield a mini-Afghanistan or a mega-Gaza on the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria, which dominate Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and 80 percent of Israel’s population and infrastructure.

In 2021, against the backdrop of a gradual U.S. withdrawal from the geo-strategically critical Middle East and the intensifying threats to regional stability, Israel stands out as the most effective, reliable and democratic beachhead and force multiplier for the United States, and the most effective “life insurance agent” for all pro-U.S. Arab regimes.

Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

This article was first published by The Ettinger Report.

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