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. ib

    Randy; I agree with you 100%. People are also forgetting that everyone thought Iraq had WMD's even Clinton. Bush did what he thought was right at the time which proved out to be wrong. I don't like what I'm seeing from Obama; I feel like this president is putting this country in greater danger of another attack and I still can't get over the fact that they are talking about releasing Gitmo detainees in the US.

    March 29, 2009 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  2. But what is the exit strategy.....

    Obama criticized Bush for having no exit strategy in Iraq-yet here is Obama doing the same thing-sending moe troops to Afghanistan with no announced exit strategy--

    This is not change we can believe in--

    Remember how Obama promised a tax cut for 95% of Americans--we got $ 8 a week-–how come you never asked him about the amount-what a joke-is $ 8 a week the change I can believe in????

    March 29, 2009 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  3. Sea.gem

    it is in similar in that politicians still screw it up...we left Vietnam then millions were slaughtered across the region. Then Hollywood makes a movie about it (The Killing Fields) and gives itself an Oscar...the hypocrisy is astounding...but if they didn't have double-standards they would have no standards at all...

    March 29, 2009 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  4. ex-obama supporter

    how can we win, when we fund the enemy, through the drug trade and our addiction to oil? who cares ? obama would just rather make a big joke about the prohibition question, and ridicule those who participated in his online townhall. he is not the 'PRAGMATIST' he claims to be. where is the common sense on this question?

    March 29, 2009 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  5. Kevin

    What is our exit strategy from Afghanistan? If there isn't one, its time to leave.

    What is our exit strategy from Iraq? If there isn't one, it's time to leave.

    We were supposed to be out of Iraq already or at least have set a time table for a pull out. I voted for Obama over the Libertarians because Obama beat the anti-war drum through his entire campaign, and now he ends up as just another Bush.

    What happened? The same lobbyists that bribed Bush to put us in there are the same lobbyists bribing Obama to keep us there is what happened.

    March 29, 2009 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  6. Just another American

    BTW, Iraq was really invaded because certain people thought that they would be able to get their hands on all of Iraq's oil AND it would help pay for Americas presents there.. HHHmmmm?
    Never happened.........

    March 29, 2009 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  7. Charlie in Maine

    I am okay with defeating the Taliban and Al Queda in Afganistan. After all, even though the 9/11 attackers were of Saudi oriigin theirs was an attack on civilized countries including Saudi Arabia. They should have been delt with by Bush & Co, and might have been were the mission not diverted towards Iraq.

    I thinl the best way to keep this from becoming like Vietnam is to learn the lesson.

    Obama should take his case to congress and ask for a full Declaration of War and he should approach our allies to doe the same. A real war against the Taliban. Not some "action" or excursion. A real one with War bonds and everything.

    March 29, 2009 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  8. Michael

    Afghanistan is far different than vietnam. though i wasnt born till way after vietnam, from what i understand from studying about it was that it was a useless war we didnt need to go to and had many chances to leave but the central government were too stubborn to come to a truce without a total unconditional surrender from North vietnam. plus politic were too involved in messing up the war making it go nowhere and developing more problems at the same time.

    I dont know who was polled about afghanistan comparing it to veitnamn, if anything that would be Iraq. We had no searious reason to go there yet we did and politicians messed it all up, costly war, bbut at least some progress made at huge cost financially and great casualties though not as great as vietnam. Like we took out resourses from afghanistan before we finished it to fight bush's stupid war in iraq and the taliban reemerged there and more problems redeveloped. Our last administration made a terrible mess of things which our new one needs to fix

    March 29, 2009 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  9. Hugh

    If the U.S. had concentrated UNIQUELY on wiping out extremists and safe havens in Afghanistan since 2001, Mullah Omar, Bin Laden and all their croonies would be long gone (dead) or in prison.

    It isn't too late to go after them, and more seriously this time.

    March 29, 2009 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  10. keep up the good work pres

    I am seeing the 'change you can believe in' and am proud you are our pres

    these groups in Afgan and Pakistan need to be found and dealt with, harshly

    you are doing a fine job, you have our thanks

    March 29, 2009 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  11. Ken K.

    Everyone just remember one important fact... President Obama is not a low I.Q. moron on a religious crusade. We now have a president that thinks. So, lets tone down the negative rhetoric a little and give our president a chance.

    March 29, 2009 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  12. Just another American

    Michael
    Vietnam was about oil too!

    March 29, 2009 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  13. StuM

    Short answer is that Afghanistan does not equal Vietnam. But, it is getting closer every day and may eventually get there.

    And as far as the example above that we couldn't go into half of Vietnam...if you think of the hard reality that Pakistan and Afghanistan are a dual headed problem...that statement becomes much less true.

    March 29, 2009 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  14. barking dogs

    This is all about "positioning" for the coming battle against Pakistan.Radicals will soon takeover that country and have their hands on the big red button.

    March 29, 2009 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  15. Roger

    It is now clear. Obama is following the exact same policy in Iraq and Afghanistan as Bush would have. The only difference is that Obama is widening the war into Pakistan. Johnson did the same thing widening the Vietnam War into Laos and Cambodia.

    March 29, 2009 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  16. Scott AZ

    Clamp down on the Saudi funding of the Taliban and we just might get somewhere. Also have anyone ever wonder how a poor country like Pakistan came up with the billions to develop their nuclear arsenal? Someone ought to follow the money trail which will probaby lead right back to Riyadh.

    March 29, 2009 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  17. dina levine

    Obama doesn't have another Viet Nam – he is going to make one. He is going to make the same mistake and not put enough of our troops over there. Either do it right or don't do it at all!!!

    March 29, 2009 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  18. Theo

    Obama is seeing what Bush saw and suddenly his campaign rhetoric looks silly. His supporters ought to be livid b/c he sold them down the river, and has been doing so since 1/20/09. As a moderate conservative I love what he's doing on the Nat'l Security front. BTW, where are the code pink folks and their "War Criminal" crowds?

    March 29, 2009 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  19. Walter J Smith

    EVERY war (including the cover and brush fire and all the other martial actions) the US has conducted since WWII has been a war based on the politics of fear, and a war initiated on behalf of the insatiable economy of greed. Meanwhile, we ordinary citizens act as if we cannot shake our denial of these fundamental, historically demonstrated facts. It is our denial that will destroy us. Al Queda could not have even come close to 9/11 but for the bureaucratic scurryings that ignored known intelligence. While it is true the republicans let 9/11 happen out of bizarre distractedness, it is foolish to suppose the democrats would have done better just because they are democrats.

    How long will we let ourselves be distracted by corporate propaganda machinery instead of getting oriented with a little help from our neighbors and friends and librarians right where we live?

    March 29, 2009 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  20. Emit R Detsaw

    Where to begin:

    1) The war on terror should have always been against Bin Laden and his band of cowards, but Bush wanted to be distracted by Iraq.

    2) The Russians were defeated and driven out of Afghanistan because it was during the Cold War and the USA was funding the Taliban and furnishing them with weapons and intel.

    3) Obama promised to set a time table to get our troops out of Iraq and to go after Bin Laden, even if that meant having to go into Pakistan. He is doing exactly what he said he would do.

    A lot of people listen to the news media for their source of information and the news media has become nothing more that an expanded version of the National Enquire.

    The facts are out there if you want them, but looking at history and doing real research is too time consuming for most folks. Short attention span theater at it again.

    March 29, 2009 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  21. Butch Dillon

    Holbrooke's "direct threat" rationale needs to be investigated for accuracy. Yes, eight years ago al Qaeda operated in Afghanistan at full strength as they planned and executed the 9/11 attack. But now the ranks of that organization in Afghanistan seem to have been depleted to very few, if any at all. Do we need 50,000 troops armed with bags and bags of money to root out what might simply be a motley crew of has-beens? The government is engaged in lying to continue waging a war it lost in 2003. Let's not blindly follow Holbrooke's myth without verification of every detail he uses to justify paying to continue this war.

    March 29, 2009 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  22. Anonymous

    It never ceases to shock me how spoiled and selfish Americans are. You want all the wonderful thing life offers but don't want to pay for them. Grow up Americans and be thankful we have an intelligent man in the white house now. Stop wanting the GOVERMENT to baby you every time you fall down. GROW UP PLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.

    March 29, 2009 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  23. Dave

    Why the hell is this even a title, CNN? Did the Vietnamese kill 3000 innocent Americans that couldn’t defend themselves? No. Afghanistan was where this war started and it’s going to be where it ends. This title is and should be offensive to every American.

    March 29, 2009 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  24. 3ID

    Has anyone who is posting stuff in here actually been over to the middle east?

    March 29, 2009 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  25. Tristan

    Why would they attack us now? They already destroyed us (economically) by suckering Bush into a no win religious war in Iraq. Maybe if we stop killing their kids they will stop hating us. Just a thought...

    March 29, 2009 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
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