WASHINGTON -- I had a flashback recently when I read a Washington Post news story about how the U.S. commander in Afghanistan thinks he may need many thousands more troops to win the war.
Shades of Vietnam. Do we ever learn?
It brought back memories of the late Gen. William C. Westmoreland, the U.S. commander in Southeast Asia, who kept escalating the troop numbers after the 1968 Tet offensive in Vietnam. His strategy produced a debacle for us.
Fast forward to Afghanistan, 2009.
Now seven years into the war there, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the new U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is in the middle of a 60-day assessment of the war, due next month. But a Washington Post article says he has been giving Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates weekly updates about the need to bolster the size of the Afghan army and police force and the likely deployment of thousands more U.S. trainers and advisers.
The present Pentagon plan calls for about 68,000 U.S. troops to be in Afghanistan by late this year.
Afghanistan, which once harbored Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaida training camps, has been on Obama's agenda since his presidential campaign. Now it's his war -- big time -- even as it takes on the appearance of another quagmire for U.S. forces in their effort to quell the Taliban and Al-Qaida fighters.
Gates is expected to go along with whatever McChrystal concludes is necessary. So is Obama, a neophyte who has taken on the mission defined by the Bush administration, apparently without hesitation.
Maybe the president should have asked the Russians on his recent journey to Moscow how it was that a superpower like the Soviet Union could have been forced to retreat from Afghanistan in the 1980s, despite its modern military might.
Granted the United States was supporting the Afghans with arms and training but the war proved to be too much for the Soviet forces.
The late Defense Secretary Robert McNamara in the Kennedy and Johnson eras delivered public mea culpas in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. I don't expect the same kind of acknowledgement from the neoconservatives who got us into Iraq. That would be the day.
Nor will former President George W. Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney or their hawkish team of architects show any remorse for their terrible mistake in attacking Iraq.
The buck now stops with Obama, who is making a big deal about how he doesn't want to look back at past mistakes.
He could end up repeating those mistakes.
Helen Thomas is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers. Her column is distributed by New York Times News Service.