An Open Letter to President Obama— the lessons of History

posted by GeoT
“I see an opportunity to accomplish American objectives while avoiding a course of action that could derail plans for your presidency, just as the Vietnam War ruined the presidency of Lyndon Johnson.”

By William R. Polk

Although we were separated by more than a decade, we lived a few steps apart in Hyde Park and were both professors at the University of Chicago. There I established the Center for Middle Eastern Studies and was also president of the Adlai Stevenson Institute of International Affairs. Before going to Chicago, during the Kennedy administration I was the member of the Policy Planning Council responsible for the Middle East and Central Asia. A Democrat, I was an early supporter of yours. So I hope you will accept the following analysis and proposals as being from a friend as well as a person with considerable experience on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In recent events I see an opportunity to accomplish American objectives while avoiding a course of action that could derail plans for your presidency, just as the Vietnam War ruined the presidency of Lyndon Johnson.

What actually brought all the insurgencies, including the one in Vietnam, to a halt was the withdrawal of the foreigners. Some foreigners left in defeat, but others left in ways that achieved their most important objectives. I believe you have an opportunity to achieve America’s important objectives in Afghanistan.

Read the full text here:

Official: Obama won’t take any current war options


President Barack Obama meets with his national security team to discuss Afghanistan in Situation Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2009

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama does not plan to accept any of the Afghanistan war options presented by his national security team, pushing instead for revisions to clarify how and when U.S. troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government, a senior administration official said Wednesday.

Obama is still close to announcing his revamped war strategy — most likely shortly after he returns from a trip to Asia that ends on Nov. 19.

But the president raised questions at a war council meeting Wednesday that could alter the dynamic of both how many additional troops are sent to Afghanistan and what the timeline would be for their presence in the war zone, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss Obama’s thinking.

Read more here:

Related Story:

Weak allies limit Obama’s options
Afghanistan, Pakistan may prove unreliable

In the final stages of its deliberations over a new war strategy, the administration’s attention has shifted to the two governments whose cooperation and competence are considered essential to success — Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Read more:



Filed under Afghanistan, Military, Pakistan, Uncategorized, War

6 responses to “An Open Letter to President Obama— the lessons of History

  1. ogenec

    Damn GeoT, this is excellent stuff. It’s really got me thinking — this guy clearly knows the area quite well. I need to read it through again (and again), but his recommendations sound like common sense to me.

    But he hasn’t answered the question that nags me and many others. What makes us so certain the Taliban is going to stop at an effective ceasefire in Afghanistan? They have many sympathizers in the ISI, and there is a long history of military coups in Pakistan. If ISI takes over the Pakistan government, that then inflames the Kashmiri situation, and you’ve got two nuclear powers at daggers drawn. Which scares the bejesus out of me.

    I’ll see if this guy has spoken about this concern anywhere else. I’m very impressed by him.

    • well the one thing that he seems to make clear is that our presence, with boots on the ground is a net negative… and this estimation:

      “My hunch is that the real cost to the US economy will be $3 trillion to $6 trillion, calculating overall, not just Congressional appropriations. So the Afghan campaign could derail your plans for America, as Vietnam derailed Johnson’s Great Society. ”

      that would be suicide for the U.S. economy.

      so we can’t afford it, and it won’t work anyway.

    • Ogenec:

      this is the book he references in his article:

      Violent Politics: A History of Insurgency, Terrorism, and Guerrilla War, from the American Revolution to Iraq (Hardcover) Click image for link:

  2. audiegrl

    Its very comforting for me to know that the President is taking his time and really trying to review all his options, before he decides what is best for Americans and soldiers on the ground. These are the actions of a ‘real’ commander-in-chief, and not just someone playing a global game of cowboys and indians.

    And yes, this is the ‘change’ I voted for. 🙂

  3. SouthernGirl2


    I couldn’t agree more with your comment. Finally, we have a commander-in-chief who is not rushing into a decision that is going to affect people’s lives. I can’t imagine that God would be so gracious to America and give us this wonderful President.

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