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

Holbrooke: Afghanistan is no Vietnam

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="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. Janice

    Now that President Obama is sending more troops to Afghanistan, isn't it ironic now that the republicans in Washington and their supporters around the country are the party of "cut and run"? I don't like our troops to be referred to as a paper tiger. They would be behind Bush 100% if he was the one making this move. Hopefully if Bin Laden wants to use that term paper tiger again, he will direct it towards the repubs of the U.S. I don't want this country revert back to being a safe haven for terrorists to conduct their training and launching attacks from, and the Taliban to take control again brutilizing women and girls. Besides Pakistan has nukes, and god forbid if Al Qaida gets their hands on them.

    March 29, 2009 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  2. mother of a soldier

    Killing Osama will not make any difference. There are many others to take over and the more dangerous would be his second in command who has eluded justice for 30 years.
    The only similarities between Vietnam and our current war is the lack of support and backbone of the american people. We have become a very week that only worries about our comforts. Did Vietnam make any world impact? The War College (and I agree with them looking at history) believes it was responsible for stopping the Russian advancement and communism. The last several years prove that Russia is returning to its old ways internally as well as internationally such as possible bomber base on Cuba. Will Obama recognize this before it is too late? Do I want Gitmo prisoners released particularly in this country....NO. They are ENEMY COMBATANTS.....our enemies captured in combat. I have been to many funerals of men who they killed. Get real america, they won't change and will be back to get us in this country.

    March 29, 2009 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  3. Denise Quinton

    You are missing the point of the are being an endless war with millions of dollars being spent which could be put to better use here to help our country. When will our goverrnment bring the troops home, promises, promises, all OBAMA empty promises. To be honest, as a former Democrat and parent of military members, I do not trust our government, the OBAMA administration or any so called experts. Don't spread the fear tactics, give us the truth, and get out of countries where they have been fighting for years and our involvement will never change that fact, just more loss of lives!

    March 29, 2009 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  4. Patriot Guy

    It may be a totally different scenario and a totally different culture. However, just because the situation is different does not, by default, make it a good thing. Instead of nation building, may be it would be a lot cheaper and easier to increase restrictions on people entering our borders. I've never bought the justification given by the Bush administration that "we have to fight them over there or they'll be attacking us over here."

    The reason 9-11 happened was because the restrictions for entering this country are far to laxed. We allowed the 9-11 highjackers into this country so they could go to aviation school even though there were perfectly adequate aviation schools in their own country. It made no sense. There is a lot that we can do to keep terrorists out of our country by having more secure borders and stricter criteria for entering the country.

    March 29, 2009 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  5. Justin

    My concern is that we will be bogged down trying to build Afghanistan into a viable nation. It's not, never has been and likely never will be.

    Personally I think we should pull back and constantly patrol the area with drones. Anytime someone we deem a threat sticks his head out blow it off. Let the tribes in that area fight it out over everything else, as long as we keep an eye on them and don't allow them to become a threat to us.

    March 29, 2009 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  6. robinhood

    Blah Blah Blah,,,, where have we hear this all before...

    March 29, 2009 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  7. Julie

    For people that think Obama can just take office and pull out of war are naive. It takes time. I am strongly opposed to the war, but i realize that we can't just pull out in a matter of days.

    I said a year ago that Iraq was another Vietnam. There is no cause, millions of dollars are being flushed, and we are never going to win. Just like in Vietnam, these people have nothing more to live for. They will fight to the death.

    March 29, 2009 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  8. Sea.gem

    35% of Americans want US to fail???...the person who wrote that needs context and to stay in school...during the Bush years (specifically 2006, during the height of the war) that number was 51% amongst do not be so quick with your "Hypocrisy" it for your high school teacher that may admire your attempts at discourse. I also do not recall any American of prominence wishing harm on our troops...even HArry "The war isLost" Reid has stopped bashing the troops.....btw, the wish for failure is attributed to the 10 trillion of debt Obama is trying to push us into...the only backinghe received (in Europe and don't blame the criticism on Limbaugh) was from the leader of the Socialist Party.

    Poor blogger, ignorance is thy bane

    March 29, 2009 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  9. Bill ~ Down on the Bayou

    Now we have obamas war, for eight years there was screams of bush and Cheney the "murdering war criminals." sending our "boys" to be killed.

    Where are the same complaints today? has there been some special despensation issued that "thow shalt not bsah the obama-biden bunch?

    And Holbrook, another frigging idiot.

    March 29, 2009 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  10. AJ in Fla

    Mr. President you have tallked too much before knowing all the fact

    March 29, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  11. marcus

    i think bill's been down on the bayou too long. first of all, bill, this fight in afghanistan is the ONLY war that should have been fought in the past 8 years. the fact that obama is there, is because the previous adminstration of idiots did NOT do their job. the people behind 9/11 and their training sites, and those planning the next attacks, have always been in afghanistan, and now pakistan. iraq was the waste of time that people complained about regarding the bush idiots. no one in the entire world said there wasn't a war to be fought. that war was with bin laden. holbrooke's being honest. vietnam was stupid. afghanistan is necessary. and, bill, you're actually the idiot.

    March 29, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  12. Jacque Bauer

    I cannot see any difference between the projected continuation of the Bush policy and this one. I, suprisingly, applaud the administration for this. However, the loony left must be spinning (and plotting).

    March 29, 2009 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  13. Scott AZ

    3ID wrote.. 'Has anyone who is posting stuff in here actually been over to the middle east?'

    I Lived in Riyadh for nearly 8 years and if you believe the Saudis are truly our allies, than you are as naive as our politicans. While they might speak out against terrorism, under the table they're funding it.

    March 29, 2009 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  14. barking dogs

    As long as we can make money having wars,we will find people to have them with.

    March 29, 2009 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  15. Akash Srinivasan

    I find it ironic how when ever the US experiences a transient national crisis or and extended national crisis that we always compare the current situations to past situations, even when substantial differences are visible. Such as the current economic recession to the Great Depression, of course both time periods experienced abominable pressures but the Great depression is nothing like the current situation. The magnitude was much worse back then if one does a comprehensive CPI test. Similar with Vietnam, current situations are completely different than situations in Afghanistan due to different tactics and values. Back in Vietnam, current situations from the S Vietnamese were atrocious but current situations in Afghanistan aren't as bad. Come on when have we heard something in drastic in the news about Afghanistan in the last few months. Afghanistan poses a long term threat when Vietnam didn't. Situations are just different and the media truly shouldn't bring up connections when ever the differences are extremely visible.

    March 29, 2009 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  16. Nate Hussein

    ib "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."
    Typical fear loving republican talking points, can you please provide sources as to "who" is talking about this? Didn't think so. Keep in mind that after WWII many Nazi prisoners were kept in American prisons, USDB at Fort Leavenworth comes to mind.

    March 29, 2009 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  17. chris

    folks there is a world of difference here, but some of the most glaring

    – potential compromise of nuke weapons involved, did not have that in the Vietnam war

    the above is important as there is no way we can ever let Pakistan nukes be compromised. We and the surrounding countries. I about 100% sure India will not allow that to happen and as China and Russia are close I doubt they'd be thrilled with those nukes in unfriendly hands.

    – someone else said it "3,000" people killed on American soil, did not have that in the Vietnam war

    – American weapons (Predator, etc) and tactics much better than Vietnam

    ********MOST IMPORTANTLY******

    – the goal has been significantly reduced from "Nation building" to "disrupting, disabling and defeating the goons that attacked us and continue to plan attacks against us and the rest of the world

    March 29, 2009 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  18. sam69

    People, What is the alternative. If you leave Afghanistan then whole region and world be in trouble. It will be the defeat of morden world by medival region and Islamic Harliners will be emboldened every where.

    O'bama is doing right thing by keeping Pakistan in the picture.
    Terrorism can be only be defeated, if you defeat them psychologically. It will be emblodened, if you flight from actual war.

    U. S. as a world leader has huge obligation to win this war and everybody, including Russia,China , Europe and pacific asian countries should join in this effort.

    March 29, 2009 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  19. Sue

    It's time to bring our troops home. We have accomplished punishing the people responsible for 9/11 and justice has been served. I'm not into nation building. The Arabs have very different ways and customs from us, you cannot change them all.

    President Obama–PLEASE bring our men and women home and please stop giving our hard earned money to the Arabs–enough already!!

    March 29, 2009 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  20. Fatima

    I agree with Emit R Detsaw. All the information is out there and now, the bloggers and analysts have become like the National Enquirer coming p with innuendos to solicit interest.

    March 29, 2009 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  21. Flo

    This administration had no honeymoon period like previous administration.............Obama has been criticized before he took the oath of office and there is a certain unfairness to all of this. Those who call this strategy or support to continue the war in Afghanistan like vietnam is hoping Obama fail in his efforts. And I say why not wait and see before injecting our failures on the president. This is not 1960's and we need to keep things in perspective and hold our tongues until more information becomes available.

    March 29, 2009 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  22. Shawn

    Obama has articulated the mission in Afghanistan very clearly, and it is focused and realistic. Vietnam (like Iraq) was a war of choice, based on paranoia and delusional ideology, with no realistic objective. Afghanistan is a just war that we were forced into. It has much more international cooperation and support. The two are nothing alike.

    But look for anti-Obama, anti-American Republicans to cheer for America's failure. The Taliban, al Qaeda and Republicans: all brothers in their anti-American extremism and desire for America to fail. It's sickening.

    March 29, 2009 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  23. sue69

    I'm Thai living in Brazil.Actually am a nationalized Brazillian.Was born in Bankok, 194o,I know quite a bit about a Vietnam war. I was working in Korat, a northeastern province in Thailand where ,at that time, was the US Air Base.I worked there from 1965 to 1968.The uncliamed Vietnam war was at its peak.Then I left Thailand to work on my Ms. and Ph.D in the US. I had an opportunity to visit this very airbase.
    I agree with Holbrook. and your President that thinks , however I wish you guys talk less and act more .JUST DO IT.Be very diplomat with The Pakistanian governent and its people till they are on your sideand let the US and allies troop get in their land to set out the us base.Just act DONT BOAST OR BRAG neither ARROGANT.just do it.

    March 29, 2009 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  24. steve d

    oh man,
    God give these guys wisdom.
    I did not vote for Obama, I don't agree with most of his social agenda.
    But if his intentions are to keep out country secure, God Speed.

    March 29, 2009 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  25. Larry B

    Beg to differ, but Afghanistan will be the equivalent of Vietnam in American body bags if we continue a troop surge. When the Russians fought in Afghanistan for 10 bloody years, they had a big advantage over the US current position, as the Russians had next door land access for its troops and armor. The Russians fought with 100,000 troops for over 10 years before they realized they could not win. The US will find itself in the same situation, or worse. Why is Afghainstan exactly like Vietnam? Because the enemy is embedded in the very fabric of the country. They are everywhere, not just in the Pakistani border region. The heroin profits fund the Taliban, the tribal war lords, the corrupt Afghan government, and Osama Bin Laden and Al Quaeda. It is the economic engine that makes this diverse group "partners" and unwilling to turn on each other. And let us not forget that Osama Bin Laden is the heroic Afghan freedonm fighter that liberated the country when he defeated the Russians ... of course, back then the US and Osama Bin Laden were allies.

    The US has no achievable end goal in Afghanistan, unless you call having 100,000 US troops constantly in harm's way for the next 50 years. No, Afghanistan is a bottomless pit of US lives, and we can achieve no heroic or meaningful victory there.

    March 29, 2009 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
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