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Obama’s Vietnam Syndrome

NEW HAVEN – There can be no military resolution to the war in Afghanistan, only a political one. Writing that sentence almost makes me faint with boredom. As US President Barack Obama ponders what to do about the war, who wants to repeat a point that’s been made thousands of times? Is there anyone on earth who does not know that a guerilla war cannot be won without winning the “hearts and minds” of the people? The American public has known this since its defeat in Vietnam.

Americans are accustomed to thinking that their country’s bitter experience in Vietnam taught certain lessons that became cautionary principles. But historical documents recently made available reveal something much stranger. Most of those lessons were in fact known – though not publicly admitted – before the US escalated the war in Vietnam.