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Peace With Honor: What Vietnam Can Teach Us About How to Leave Afghanistan

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tags: Vietnam, military history, Afghanistan, war



Clarke is the author Honorable Exit: How a Few Brave Americans Risked All to Save Our Vietnamese Allies at the End of the War. He is also the author of nine widely acclaimed works of fiction and nonfiction, and has written for Vanity Fair, Glamour, Outside, Travel Holiday, Condé Nast Traveler.

President Richard Nixon promised Americans that the Paris Peace Accords ending the Vietnam War would bring “peace with honor.” They brought neither, and it now appears that the Afghan War is headed for a similar denouement.

The Paris Accords required the United States to withdraw its military forces from South Vietnam within sixty days, but allowed North Vietnam to keep 100,000 troops on South Vietnamese soil. The reported “outline” of an agreement discussed by American and Taliban negotiators in Qatar in January requires the United States to withdraw its remaining 14,000 military personnel from Afghanistan, while leaving the Taliban in control of over 50% of the country. In exchange for the U.S. military leaving South Vietnam, the Communists freed 591 American POWs; in exchange for an American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban is promising to prevent terrorist organizations from using the country as a base of operations—a pledge as unenforceable as North Vietnam’s pledge to participate in “free and democratic elections.”

South Vietnam experienced a two-year “decent interval” between the signing of the Accords and the fall of Saigon. During Afghanistan’s decent interval the Taliban are certain to gain more power in whatever coalition government follows a peace agreement. Tanks will not crash through the gates to the Presidential Palace in Kabul, as they did in Saigon, because by then the Taliban may control the palace. But as was the case in South Vietnam, the fall of Kabul will likely create hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees. These will include Afghans who fear for their lives because of their associations with the U.S. and former Afghan governments and military, and Afghans who are as unwilling to live in a radical Islamic state as many South Vietnamese were to live in a communist one.


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