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CLINTON CONFIRMATION: Is AfghaniPakistan Vietnam?

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) takes another bite at the Afghanistan apple. He says he doesn’t want to compare anything to Vietnam, but he’s worried Afghanistan is too close a parallel: “The night often rules, with insurgencies. The complications are profound in Pakistan and Afghanistan … That is the center of the war on–” he stops himself before he says “war on terror” and replaces it with “global insurgency.” There are “inherent contradictions” in the “structure we have been trying to impose in Afghanistan” politically. (He recommends two books that I also like: Rory Stewart’s “The Places In Between,” which I read in Afghanistan,” and Dexter Filkins’ “The Forever War.”) What to do about tribalism? “We’re on the wrong track, and unless we rethink this very, very capably, we could … wind up pursuing a policy that is frankly unpursuable, unachievable.” The original goal was “to go in there and take out Al Qaeda … it was not to impose a form of government, no matter how much we believe in it and support it, but that is the mission, at least as it is being presented today.”

Clinton: “Your cautions are extremely well-taken.” She returns to the strategy review under Gen. David Petraeus, that is “criss-crossing Afghanistan, trying to determine, as I understand it, what is and isn’t feasible. We’re in close communication with Gen. Petraeus.” She says she and President-elect Barack Obama share Kerry’s concerns, and that any strategy “presupposes a set of discrete goals we are trying to achieve. That is in the process of being analyzed.”

She remembers her trips to Afghanistan — the terrain, the history, from Alexander The Great to the Soviet Union, “it calls for a large dose of humility when it comes to what we are trying to accomplish.”

Kerry urges that there be more than just the strategy reviews and raises the question of targeting Al Qaeda. “There has been a considerable blowback … in terms of the collateral damage” in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas” by U.S. attacks on terrorists. “I think we’re making some enemies,” he warns.

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