Subscribe to the IHARE Blog

Afghans Are Not Kurds: Will They Become Vietnam?

"July 2020 marked the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the US and Vietnam. Once enemies, the two countries have now become strategic and economic partners. Amid the US – China trade tensions since mid-2018, Vietnam’s importance to the US’s economy has been rising, especially as an alternative for supply from China."

Vietnam is back in the news. As the American withdrawal from Afghanistan nears its end, images from Vietnam flood the media. Again and again, people compare and contrast what is occurring today with what happened 46 years ago.

On some level such comparisons are natural. It is easy to compare similar scenes of American planes and desperate locals seeking to escape in the two countries decades apart. While a picture is worth one thousand words it still may not tell the full story. One hopes that at some point we go beyond the gotcha games of the politicians and the media seeking political advantage from what is unfolding before their eyes. We should not confuse the moment in time of snap shot with the story in time of a movie.

VIETNAM 1975-2021  

Since Vietnam is cited so frequently, let’s begin with it. The Vietnam War was a one of great destruction and costs in Vietnam, through Southeast Asia, and in the United States. In some ways this country is still paying the price for the divisions which exploded across the American cultural landscape. They continue to divide us.

Putting our cultural issues aside, Vietnam routinely is considered a lost war. After years of brutal effort, the attempt to defeat the Viet Cong and North Vietnam failed. In response, we fled the country. End of story.

Not quite. Where is Vietnam today? Back then, the country was caught up in the Cold War. Our view of the events there were seen through the prism of that conflict. Now the Cold War is over. We won that war, a far more important war than the one in Vietnam. But while the Soviet Union no longer is a threat, Russia is. In other words, once the Communist prism was removed, the country of Russia remained. Our conflict with Russia today is not based on ideology. It springs from good old-fashioned national rivalries.

Similarly, once the Communist prism was removed from Vietnam, we began to see it as a country rather than as part of some global foe. Vietnam as a country has its own history. The country has no interest in being a vassal of China. It has no interest in being part of the Chinese Empire. It is quite open to partnering with the United States in manufacturing. Technically, Vietnam may not be an official ally like Germany and Japan, but certainly in the scheme of things our relations with the country are good.

Consider then what happened in the lifetime of John McCain. He was held captive in North Vietnam and beaten for years. He lived the rest of his life with the partially broken body North Vietnam had created. Then Vietnam became a tourist destination for Americans. How was that possible? Vietnam no longer was a foe. Times changed. The iconic photograph from 1975 fails to tell the story of what has happened since then.


Nation building is not easy. As we prepare to celebrate the 250th anniversary of our own birth as a country we should keep our own experience in mind. Our first attempt in the Articles of Confederation failed. There were rebellions which required the leadership of George Washington to quell. For decades people then talked about nullification and succession. Then it happened in a terrible Civil War. We know that we are not a unified country now. I will not go into the details of that division here except to note that nation building is a work in progress as the Founding Fathers of this country well knew.

We have the right to point with pride at the successes of England and Germany post-WWII and South Korea post-Korean War. Certainly we do not deserve all the credit but we can claim to have contributed to their successes. One thing all three countries have in common is that “there was a there there.” We were not starting from scratch. After all, in 1776, some of the colonies here already had over a century of experience in self-government.

The more there is a “there there,” the easier it is to nation build. The Kurds, for example, possess a strong sense of identity and cohesiveness. One practical result is that funding is less subject to the level of corruption as in nations that exist only on paper. The Kurds choose for practical reasons not to declare their independence from Iraq. However such deference should not obscure the facts on the ground of them operating much like an independent country.

The same cannot be said for Iraq, or for Libya and Syria. All three were colonial creations. They had no prior existence as countries except as lines on a map for administrative purposes. In this regard they are similar to many African countries such as in Sudan/South Sudan/Eritrea/Ethiopia. In America, all these people from all these countries are lumped together as people of color. That hardly is a useful description. Many peoples of different ethnicities, religions, and races are involved. What held these Arab countries together was brute force. Once that force was removed, it was Krakatoa, east of Java. The problem with putting these Humpties together again is that they were never together in the first place.

Afghanistan with its multiple ethnicities leans more towards these models than towards Germany, Japan, South Korea, and the Kurds. I am not knowledgeable to speak about Afghan history prior to separate from the British, the Russian, and the American involvement in the country. Suffice it to say there was a person called a king who emerged from tribal assemblies as the ruler. At this point that probably is not much of starting point for building a country.


The Taliban have decisions to make. There is no way to know what they will be now or in the years to go. The Taliban are like the proverbial dog running after a car. The chase is over. Now what?

On an immediate level, there are questions of food, water, electricity, finance, cell phone and internet access, and health care especially given the coronavirus.

The Taliban like Vietnam will have to make a decision about China. China wants to include Afghanistan in its global transportation and trade network. It also does not want Moslem militancy to spread into China. How willing will the Taliban be to be subservient to China and to abandon its values?

What of ISIS? It already is in conflict with this “purer” Moslem group. How much of a conflict will it become?

What about Iran, India, Pakistan and the other “Stans”?

How much are the Taliban a Pashtun-based entity?

Will Pakistan remain a single country?

I raise these questions simply to point out that now that the war is over, other issues will come to the fore. How they will be resolved or even addressed remains to be seen. Just as communism no longer defines our relationship with Vietnam so 9/11 will not continue to define our relationship with the Taliban. The current withdrawal by the United States is a phase in a story that is not yet over just as it was not over in 1975 in Vietnam.

The Trump Doctrine: Foreign Policy with THE DONALD Captaining the Ship of State

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

“40 Wall Street actually was the second-tallest building in downtown Manhattan, and it was actually, before the World Trade Center, was the tallest — and then, when they built the World Trade Center, it became known as the second tallest. And now it’s the tallest.” [Donald Trump in radio interview with WWOR as reported by Timothy Bella, The Washington Post: it’s always about him]

From time to time, Presidents of the United States become known for their foreign policy doctrines. Washington had “no entangling alliances.” Monroe had the Monroe Doctrine. Teddy Roosevelt spoke softly and carried a big stick. Truman had the Truman Doctrine.

Certainly, it is not incumbent on a President to develop a formal doctrine or set of principles by which he is guided in his foreign policy decisions. Sometimes it is only after the fact when outsiders seek to make sense of what has occurred can some semblance of a coherent doctrine be determined. On the other hand, sometimes people lurch from event to event as they occur simply reacting to the chance circumstances of whatever happens.

And then there is the Trump Doctrine. It wasn’t always clear that there was a Trump Doctrine. So much of his decision-making seems impulsive and happenstance devoid of any coherent principles. Perhaps the best known and most consistent policy has been his submissiveness to Putin and other alpha males plus his love of theatricality centered on him. He does love playing with his Hollywood-casted toy soldiers. At least until they think they are actual people with minds of the own with loyalties to the Constitution and have to be fired/resigned.

Foreign policy has not been a big part of his administration until now. As I have written, for THE DONALD except for Mueller much of his presidency has been playtime. Now he is operating in the adult world and he is out of his league. The continual revealing of his actions taken in the Ukraine and to cover up those actions are important for two reasons. One, they will lead directly to his impeachment. Two, they provide insight into how this President who eviscerated the State Department conducts foreign affairs. His actions in Syria are a beacon to the world: he can be rolled by dictators and abandons allies without any awareness of there being consequences to his actions – there are no adults in the White House.

What does this all mean?


Let’s begin with Mike Mulvaney, a former adult who regressed into being a babbling baby. He actually was a pretty good predictor of his own situation.

Mulvaney added he believed Trump’s emotional appeals and cavalier attitude might prompt him to try going around the Constitution.

“I wonder who is more interested in going around the Constitution in order to get things done. Barack Obama or Donald Trump,” Mulvaney said. [CNN, December 21, 2018]

We all know the answer to that debate! We all know that once Mulvaney became a member of this administration he had no qualms about circumventing the Constitution. Of course there was a quid pro quo! Get over it – perhaps the very words that will define him for all eternity on his tombstone.

In my blog entitled Mick Mulvaney Parachutes onto a Ship in Chaos the Rats Are Abandoning, written at the same time as the CNN article, I wrote the following about Syria then:

The more the real world presses in, the more the immature child president will lash out without any concern for the consequences. He lacks the mental necessities to understand the concept of consequences or even to care. He must give in to the impulse of the hissy fit not just in his tweets but in his decision-making. Consider his decisions to withdraw from Syria and half-withdraw from Afghanistan. Far from being well-thought decisions carefully implemented, they are case studies in the decision-making process of our immature child president who feels more and more trapped by the real world. Look at what has happened in just a tweet.

– He has granted Recep Tayyip Erdoğan the coveted 00 O.J, license to kill previously awarded to Putin and MBS.
– He has shown no loyalty to the Kurds who put their lives on the line to fight with us as allies against ISIS.
– He has shown that the very concept of “allies” has no meaning to the transactional President – unless you can offer something to him he could not care less about you.
– He has no interest in America being a world leader and does not care who fills in the vacuum.

All things considered, I think I nailed that one. While I did not exactly predict the current situation, I think I described a reasonable facsimile of what has and is transpiring.

What I did not formulate was the Trump Doctrine of foreign policy that now can be seen more clearly.

1. Be submissive to alpha males especially if there is the prospect of a business deal with them.
2. Actions 7,000 miles away do not matter.
3. There are no allies, everything is transactional.
4. There are no alliances, everything is individually transactional.
5. We should only help people fighting for their land if they were with us at Normandy.
6. We should only help people fighting for their land if they cover our costs.
7. We will ask you to provide dirt on political opponents even if it is not true.

Hard as I may seem to believe, these guidelines one day will be studied in school along with the other doctrines previously mentioned. Students will even be tested on their ability to recall and recite the Trump Doctrine.

In the present, countries have no problem understanding what the Trump Doctrine is. They may have grave fears about what it means for them but they have no doubts that as long as the current President remains in office, these guidelines remain in place.

Saudi Arabia can afford us even though it was not at Normandy. And it buys Trump properties. Yet we did nothing when Iran attacked it. One has to wonder what our President will do even if our troops are paid for when Iran attacks again.

The Baltic States cannot afford us and they were not at Normandy. If Russia ever decides it has the resources to invade the Baltics, we will do nothing. In this regard, the Ukraine imbroglio works to the advantage of the Baltic States. The longer Russia is bogged down there and the sanctions remain, the less likely it is to attack any Baltic State.

Taiwan can afford us but was not at Normandy. Even if it does not pay us now, China is probably too preoccupied at present to invade so there is no urgency to Taiwan paying us. However, if that moment of truth comes in the present administration, Taiwan better cough up the money fast if it wants our assistance.

Israel can afford us but was not at Normandy. Even if it does not pay us now, Iran is probably aware of what Israel would do in retaliation to an attack. In addition, Hezbollah is too busy trying to maintain control in Lebanon to attack Israel now even if it acquires sufficient precision missiles to eliminate Israel’s retaliatory ability.

The Trump Doctrine marks the end of the post-World War II era of international diplomacy. We have been in transition since the fall of the Iron Curtain and the “end of history.” Now a new doctrine has been implemented. Coalitions and alliances have been replaced by the rule of alpha males, transactional relationships, and foreign interference in American Presidential elections on behalf of the President. The old saying of “commander in chief and leader of the free world” is obsolete.

Allies are abandoned, enemies are emboldened. They don’t watch Fox, They don’t attend his professional political rallies. They don’t worship THE DONALD. They know the truth of the immature child masquerading as the adult THE DONALD. Trumpicans are still living the lie. Perhaps by the time of the impeachment and the trial to remove him, the Trumpicans finally will see the truth behind the act. Perhaps watching THE DONALD be rolled will achieve what the Mueller report did not. Perhaps the sacrifice of the Kurds will achieve what the Democrats have been unable to do. Perhaps the real world will expose the lie that is THE DONALD and bring this show to a close.