March 29th, 2009
12:22 PM ET
6 years ago

Holbrooke: Afghanistan is no Vietnam

Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, appeared on State of the Union Sunday.
Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, appeared on State of the Union Sunday.

WASHINGTON (CNN) – Just days after President Obama announced his comprehensive plan for the next phase of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, a senior diplomat in the new administration sought to put to rest any comparison between Afghanistan and Vietnam wars.

Watch: Obama's 'Af-Pak' strategy

“I served in Vietnam for three and a half years and I’m aware of certain structural similarities,” Richard Holbrooke, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King Sunday.

“But there’s a fundamental difference - the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese never posed any direct threat to the United States and its homeland. The people we are fighting in Afghanistan and the people they are sheltering in Western Pakistan, pose a direct threat. Those are the men of 9-11, the people who killed Benazir Bhutto and you can be sure that as we sit here today, they are planning further attacks on the United States and our allies.”


Holbrooke was responding to concerns raised by some Democrats that the President’s decision to send more troops into Afghanistan opens up the possibility of an extended and ultimately unsuccessful military mission there comparable to the failed U.S. involvement in Vietnam decades ago.

Obama recently announced his plan for dealing with Afghanistan that includes more troops and more civilian aid. The president’s plan to inject more resources into the embattled country comes as polling suggests the American public is becoming wary of the war there.

Holbrooke appeared Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union with Gen. David Petraeus, U.S. CENTCOM Commander, to discuss U.S. strategy in the Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East.

soundoff (130 Responses)
  1. swin5

    Weren't the majority of the 9/11 terrorists from Saudi Arabia and not Afghanistan? Also, if the Russians, with one of the finest armies on the planet, could not win in Afghanistan, and the country was right at their doorstep, then how can we, a half a planet away, think we can?

    March 29, 2009 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  2. wishing

    We need to use a carrot and stick with the Taliban: hand over Bin laden and Al Qaida, and allow foreign assistance to turn opium production into agricultural production, or we will aggressively seek the elimination of both, Al Qaida and the Taliban.

    The difference between this war and Bush's war is that this will have an objective, resources and a will to succeed.

    March 29, 2009 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  3. Charles from Atlanta

    Yes. 9/11 must have a closure. We should deal with this problem long time ago. Unfortunately, Bush falied to do this. Actually Iraq is more like Vietnam.

    March 29, 2009 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  4. John Hart

    People who think Afghanistan is in any way comparable to Vietnam display an appalling misunderstanding of history. Here is one difference, amongst the hundred or so others there are. Half of Vietnam, like Korea, was off-limits to allied troops. Afghanistan has no such restrictions.
    So, geriatric hippies; keep your old guitars in their cases, go sing Kumbaya to your pet cat, there will be no need for it in the streets today.

    March 29, 2009 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  5. david

    It is a very good question, whether Afghanistan is another Vietnam. If only that question had been asked seven years ago when it would have been more useful.

    March 29, 2009 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  6. ken

    Ooo The President doesn't like it when a war is compared to Vietnam? That's news to me.

    March 29, 2009 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  7. Jane

    We will never find Usama Bin Laden. With all the technology and intel we have not succeeded in 8 years. You cannot find a ghost that the peoples and governments of Pakistan and Afgahanistan harbor and protect. All the Afghanistan wants is to line its pockets with the money that Obama is giving them and pave the streets with American troops blood.

    March 29, 2009 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  8. xenia

    BHO promised to withdraw all troops from Iraq then goes all in in Afghanistan. Not a good thing.

    March 29, 2009 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  9. Rich from New Jersey

    Americans see that 1) Poppies continue to be the industry in Afghanistan dispite our presence and 2) Al Queda seems to be more present in Pakistan..the combination of perceptions lead to a conclusion that does not merit support until we see real progress against enemies and unacceptable circumstances...burn the poppy fields and capture Bin Laden...no excuses

    March 29, 2009 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  10. Jimi NY

    The only reason we went into Iraq is because Bush was seeking vengeance for Saddam trying to kill the senior Bush. That is the only reason and I wish America would recognize that fact. Bush should be charged and held accountable for his war crimes. Along with Cheney and Rumsfeld. We were duped into going into Irag by non existent weapons of mass destruction. I can still remember Bush saying, "Sadaam tried to kill my daddy." Something really needs to be done because this crime should not be overlooked.

    March 29, 2009 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  11. Otto

    Afghanistan is and was ground zero. This is where the real war should have been fought and we should have not let up until we capture or kill all those responsible for 9/11; this includes Osama Bin Laden.

    Geroge Bush thought there was no need to see this war to it's completion; rather, why should he when Iraq proved more interesting and may have provided access to it's vast oil reserves.

    Bush made stupid mistakes and Americans will suffer for those mistakes. Make no bones about it; his daughters were never and will never join the fight and will not be harmed in any way.

    I tend to wonder if Bush and Osama are friends or is it that because Osama is from Saudi Arabia and he Bush are friends with the Saudi's?

    Why would he allow Osama to go free so that he and his minions can plan future attacks? This is an amazing question and the answer will not come easy but those responsible and their friends need to be eliminated.

    March 29, 2009 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  12. Jeff

    While the majority of terrorists participating in the 9/11 attacks may have originated from Saudi Arabia, the planning and financing began in Afghanistan. Also, the Soviets initially employed reservist troops, not front line forces like those stationed in East Germany at the time. Further, the Soviets were intent on full occupation of the country. The U.S. Armed Forces don't deploy mines designed to look like toys that blow off the fingers and hands of children. The Soviet/Afghan issue was quite different.
    Time will tell, but this is no Viet Nam, not by a long way.

    March 29, 2009 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  13. Randall

    Pakistan poses a threat to the US in that we don't have the right leader in there, and they have nuclear weapons. Benazir Bhutto wasn't playing ball with the US, and she paid the price for it. The Taleban pose a threat to the CIA in the Opium trade. Can't have that.
    As for Afghanistan being another Vietnam, it may well be. But then again, there's those jobs Obama promised (conscription)...God help us all.

    March 29, 2009 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  14. independent wonderer

    ahhh, I see the now getting old repub slogan is still at work, you know that one, "Divide to conquer"..and we the people are getting more divided every day, question is now, WHO will actually be the one to conquer?..there is no way afhganistan is remotely like viet Nam..it IS in our best interests to follow Pres Obamas plan to go back in there, finish what the Bush administration started..I am still concerned about bush's personal dealings with Osama and think that should be investigated fully..hmm, is it possible Bush himself was involved with 911 ???????

    March 29, 2009 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  15. jim Scheinle, Santa Fe, NM

    Beside that in VIETNAM the US defeated themselves by the subversive action of the US left, the same which compare any action they do not like with Vietnam, they blissfully ignore another two fundamental facts:

    1) In VIETNAM the majority of its people supported the insurgents

    2) They were actively supported by Russia and for some times, by China

    March 29, 2009 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  16. Art

    If Mr. Holbrooke spent three and a half years in Nam he was sitting behind a desk! All wars are similar, people die. As usual there's to much politics involed again. Either do the job right or go home. By the way, where's Bin Laden???

    March 29, 2009 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  17. Andy

    Not that he really knows who killed Benazir Bhutto....

    I can understand why Obama wants to do something constructive in Afghanistan, but I think it's a fool's errand and that we'd be better off spending the money on things other than a military campaign. The whole project of fighting al Qaeda with unmanned drone aerial vehicles is just too sci-fi, and it's bound to generate limitless resentment among the locals who stand to lose innocent loved ones right and left.

    March 29, 2009 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  18. 35% of Americans are TRAITORS for wanting America to FAIL and 65% of Americans to SUFFER!

    To all of you bashing President Obama because of Afghanistan, it was your ex-MORON-in-CHIEF that started that invasion years ago.

    Just another case, much like the economy, where President Obama must now clean up the damage left by the imperialistic neo-cons and their "empire building" efforts.

    I would also point out that while you may not support his domestic policies you should support the troops in this effort.

    You may remember all the name-calling such as "traitor and treason" hurled against the Dems.

    You are now doing the same thing, hypocrisy thy name is republican!

    March 29, 2009 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  19. Randy

    The only way that either Iraq or Aghanistan becomes anything remotely like Vietnam is if the people of the United States forget that we are at war. Vietnam's biggest problem was that our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines did not have the support at home because either a) people were against the war and protested against it or b) people did not feel that it was all that important because it was never called a war (police action, conflict, interdiction, etc). People did not have to sacrifice (other than the service members and their families) so they did not believe we were at war. We now see the current administration wanting to change our outlook from the "Global War on Terrorism" and call it an "Overseas Contingency Operation." When we start making changes like this people will forget. When people forget that we are at war our service members lose support which will cause us to lose the war.

    March 29, 2009 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  20. hildutus

    John Hart notes, "Half of Vietnam, like Korea, was off-limits to allied troops. Afghanistan has no such restrictions." Actually, half of Afghanistan is off-limits - it's called Pakistan. And yes, we're bombing there as we did in NVA, but not nearly as thoroughly.
    The big comparison between the two is that they are both wars in which a major power is trying to stamp out an insurgency. Historically, this follows a long series of bad precedents, including the American Revolution.

    March 29, 2009 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  21. Lai Khe Jim

    Once again politicos and military brass are not interested in history! Happened in Viet Nam, the Balkans and now Iraq and Afganistan. There are many similarities between Viet Nam and Afganistan and Iraq and as such it sure would be nice if the " Deciders" would admit such and bring our armed forces men and women home where they belong. History too often neglected most certainly determines our future.

    March 29, 2009 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  22. The Reality

    George Bush ignored the real problem (Afghanistan) for 7 years. And now the rest of us will have to clean up yet another of his messes.

    March 29, 2009 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  23. Joe

    It's impossible to win a war in Afghanistan. Can't we just learn the lesson the Russians did and save lives and $$$?

    March 29, 2009 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  24. Just another American

    If Osama Bin Laden family weren't Saudi Arabian OIL MONEY FRIENDS to the Bush family we would have gotten him long ago. Remember when Bush let Osama's Family leave the country after 911. An OUTRAGE! Then to make people think he was doing something about 911, he had the nerve to go into Iraq after "terrorist & WMD's" when we should have been going after Bin Laden! Iraq had nothing to do with 911 nor did they have and WMDS! Bush is responsible for letting him live this long.
    Remember "Half of Vietnam, like Korea, was off-limits to allied troops." If American troops would have been allowed to do their job in BOTH wars (yes they were wars), North Korea wouldn't be the threat it is now and Vietnam would have been over sooner. I don't think we have a president who will say "stop here".
    I agree with OUR President, hunt Osama DOWN AND KILL HIM!

    March 29, 2009 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  25. Mike Syracuse, NY

    Huge difference in the fact that our country was attacked in a Pearl Harbor-like manner by people trained and financed in Afghanistan. We 'lost' Vietnam when the American people abandoned the fight, not because our troops ever lost on the battlefield. As long as the traitorous peaceniks don't use their lies to brainwash the American public, we will win. The real battle is for public opinion.

    March 29, 2009 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
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