WASHINGTON (CNN) – Massachusetts Democrat Sen. John Kerry, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a Vietnam War veteran, said he does not see parallels between the war in Vietnam and the U.S. engagement in Afghanistan.
“This is not Vietnam, in many respects,” Kerry said in an interview that aired Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.
Unlike the top commander in Vietnam decades ago, Kerry said he thought Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, “is asking the questions about the underlying assumptions” of the U.S. mission in the war-torn country.
“We are here in Afghanistan because people attacked us here in the most significant attack against the United States since Pearl Harbor,” Kerry told King while on a trip to Afghanistan, “We are here because there are still people at large who are plotting against the United States of America. And we are here because the stability of this region is a critical strategic interest to the United States.”
“So the basic assumptions here are very, very different from what we experienced years ago in Vietnam,” Kerry also said.
Kerry added that he thought McChrystal was very carefully looking at the capability of the Afghan government and at the need to get civilian assistance on the ground in Afghanistan once the U.S. military mission there was completed.
But Kerry said that after meeting in person with McChrystal, he was not yet convinced that the Afghan government was up to the task of maintaining order and security and of implementing necessary reforms to achieve better governance.
Kerry rejected a recent suggestion from former Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain that President Obama would make a decision based on politics when it comes to next steps in Afghanistan.
“I’m convinced that the review the president is going through is exhaustive, it’s thorough and I’m absolutely confident the president is not going to make a decision remotely connected to politics. He’s going to make a decision based on the national security interests of our country and of what he thinks it takes to achieve the mission that he defines to meet those interests.”
Asked about threats to the United States posed by the Taliban or al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Kerry said that the main threat was a failure of governance that could allow the Taliban to regain power, which in turn could lead to Afghanistan once again becoming a sanctuary for al Qaeda to use in launching terrorist attacks throughout the world.
“Al Qaeda is not essentially here today. It is in northwest Pakistan and in some 58 or 59 countries in the world,” the Massachusetts Democrat told King, before noting that the U.S. also has strategic interests across the border in Pakistan.
On the current political situation in Afghanistan, the Democratic senator said he accepted the views of authorities in the country that a run-off election between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his challenger Abdullah Abdullah could be done in two weeks.