The crisis has come suddenly, almost without warning.
At the far edge of American power in Asia, things are going from bad to much worse than anyone could have imagined.
The insurgents are spreading fast across the countryside.
Corruption is rampant.
Local military forces, recipients of countless millions of dollars in U.S. aid, shirk combat and are despised by local villagers.
American casualties are rising.
Our soldiers seem to move in a fog through a hostile, unfamiliar terrain, with no idea of who is friend and who is foe.
This scenario is obviously a description of the Obama administration’s devolving relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul this April.
It is also an eerie summary of relations between the Kennedy administration and South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem in Saigon nearly half a century earlier, in August 1963.
If these parallels are troubling, they reveal the central paradox of American power over the past half-century in its dealings with embattled autocrats like Karzai and Diem across that vast, impoverished swath of the globe once known as the Third World.