Fear Of Vietnam?

I’ve seen several articles raising the concern that President Obama’s decision to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan is likely to result in “another Vietnam.”  This article from George McGovern, the anti-war candidate who was the Democratic standard-bearer in 1972, is pretty representative of the arguments that you see in such articles.  The points of comparison include propping up a corrupt local government, fighting an entrenched opposition that enjoys local support, and spending money on a war that would be better spent somewhere else.

I respect George McGovern, who served his country nobly and well in World War II and enjoyed a long career in the Senate, but I think his argument is fundamentally misplaced.  The essential difference between Afghanistan and Vietnam is that no one attacked the United States from Vietnam, whereas al Qaeda did attack the United States, on September 11, 2001, from bases in Afghanistan.  McGovern makes the point that al Qaeda is not in Afghanistan but is in Pakistan.  Even if that is so (and no one seems to know precisely where Osama bin Laden and his number 2 are at the moment) McGovern neglects to mention that the only reason that al Qaeda is not in Afghanistan is that the United States military drove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan and thereby eliminated al Qaeda’s safe haven in that country.  I question whether the other points of comparison that are cited really are comparable — for example, I don’t know that everyday Afghan citizens view the repressive Taliban as favorably as Vietnamese viewed the populist Viet Cong — but those points of comparison really are irrelevant and ancillary.  The main distinction is that our activities in Afghanistan are defensive, not the result of abstract Cold War geopolitical considerations.

I have no desire to see American soldiers fight and die on foreign soil, but we cannot quit until we capture or kill Osama bin Laden and render al Qaeda powerless to attack us again.

The House On Imperial Avenue

Anthony Sowell lived in a normal-looking house on Imperial Avenue in Cleveland’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood.  He is now accused of killing 11 women and burying them in shallow graves on his property.  During the last six weeks since Sowell was arrested, police have searched his house and its grounds and made horrific discoveries and the community has mourned and buried the dead.  Sowell is to go on trial for the crimes next year.  He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, which means that he will be evaluated by teams of psychiatrists who will render opinions on his mental state and his ability to understand that he was committing criminal acts.

The Sowell case raise many questions.   Given Sowell’s record as a convicted attempted rapist, why didn’t police and prosecutors more aggressively investigate a December 2008 incident in which a woman claimed that Sowell had attacked her?  When neighbors raised questions in 2007 about the awful smell in the neighborhood, which was described like the rotting of a dead body, why didn’t public officials do more to track down the true source of the smell?  Why weren’t neighbors made more aware of Sowell’s status as a sexual offender?  How could 11 women disappear without more attention being paid?   Did people just not care about these things because the neighborhood was poor and some of the women were troubled?

When crimes so horrible and senseless are committed — and the details of what was uncovered in Sowell’s home are grisly indeed — it is important to separate the prosecution of the accused killer from the more general societal questions.  The criminal justice system will deal with the defendant, but the community and its elected representative must address those broader issues.  They must look into the social conditions and processes that allowed the crimes to be committed in the first place and that allowed them to go undetected for so long.  Cleveland has started that process by naming a commission to look into the city’s approach to sexual assault and missing person reports.

In the meantime, the population of troubled women from whom the victims came — many of whom allegedly were lured by offers of alcohol and drugs — has reacted to the news story, and local agencies are seeing a spike in the number of women seeking treatment for addiction.  The inevitable question, and the great challenge, is whether the impetus for treatment will continue, and whatever new programs and processes will remain in place and fully funded, when time passes and the fresh horror of what happened at the house on Imperial Avenue fades into a dim memory.