A new CNN poll has found, for what I think is the first time, a majority of Americans opposed to the war in Afghanistan. Pentagon officials and Afghanistan-watchers have thought for months that this moment was inevitable: public support for Afghanistan, those people thought, was broad mostly because of media neglect. Now, with Marines dying in Helmand Province, soldiers dying in the east, and reporters covering the war more than ever since 2002, the numbers have met their inevitable date with gravity.
So what do Richard Holbrooke and Gen. Stanley McChrystal do? Consult Stanley Karnow, one of the best living U.S. chroniclers of … Vietnam. Karnow is an opponent of the war, so good for Holbrooke and McChrystal for talking with someone who questions the wisdom of the whole enterprise. And when members of McChrystal’s strategy review are conceding parallels between Afghanistan and Vietnam, that’s a rather necessary intellectual enterprise.
But wouldn’t it be better to consult with more historians of Afghanistan? McChrystal’s review was heavy on security experts and light on regional ones. It’s a fine line between learning lessons of prior wars and reasoning through prior experience. The difference is properly adjudicated through actual, local knowledge.