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. Nick, Rochester, NY

    I am a Republican, normally critical of this president. However moving aggresively in Pakistan is the right thing to do! I support him in this effort not because I believe in BI-PARTISANSHIP (it is an oxymoron, why would we need two parties in that case?) but because I believe some issues are NON-PARTISAN.

    March 29, 2009 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  2. jeff

    The UN needs to arrest Obama for warcrimes for bombing Pakistan they didn't attack us during 9/11

    March 29, 2009 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  3. jaye

    Why does everything have to have a label?
    This is NOT Vietnam. Period!
    Get over the nonsense and get over the past...these wars will be over soon.

    March 29, 2009 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  4. dennis

    I heard time after time in his campaign that he will not send any more troops over seas and what is he doing, going back on yet another thing that he said he was not going to do. Yet the taxpayer is going to get it in the end. Lies lies lies....

    March 29, 2009 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  5. SoupSandwich

    To Shawn @ 1154 am ET:

    You mean like those that were cheering for Iraq to fail just because of politics? That was sickening, too...

    March 29, 2009 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  6. Eric

    To Jeff @ 11:58 AM. Totally moronic of you. The lack of any effective Afgan Government in gave the Taliban and their Saudi friends a place to train and hide. These Tribal people living in the 10th century need to leave the USA alone or DIE. Any questions, moron ???

    March 29, 2009 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  7. scott

    I'm impressed with the Obama strategy of more civilian aid while we
    win the war! Let's call it "winning hearts and minds"

    Perhaps a visit to Letterman this time and we can sell it with a town hall or online meeting...

    change we can believe in.........

    March 29, 2009 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  8. Marc T

    Anyone with any sense at all would realize that historical references are for "learning and leaning". You look at the facts, the failings and successes of history, compare them to where we are now, then make a NEW decision. The point is that nothing is as simple as the naysayers and critics claim them to be. Whether he ends up right or wrong, the important thing is that Obama gathered a great deal of facts, took in a great deal of opinion and advise, then made the best, weighted decision he could. If he hadn't done all that, he could have easily just followed the politics and bailed on Afghanistan.

    This is a whole new game. Its not a vietnam and its certainly not a continuation of the Bush policies.

    March 29, 2009 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  9. Independent Mike

    I love this! Now the Republicans here are against war and the Democrats are for it. You are all just a bunch of sheep to who ever is sitting in the oval office. PATHETIC! And now I'm sure all I'll see on CNN is how good the war is going and on FOX how bad it's going.

    March 29, 2009 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  10. Simmy

    The fearful and the unbelieving will not enter heaven.

    March 29, 2009 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  11. pac

    Larry B and swin5, the difference with this war, unlike Russia's war to conquer Afghanistan, is that we are actually helping Afghans to defeat the taliban and al qaeda.

    March 29, 2009 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  12. strong

    Well, did you expect this guy to say anything different? Of course he's going to defend our presence in Afghanistan, and who knows where next.

    No country (in modern times) has conquered or won a war in Afghanistan. Just ask the Russians, for a start. More lives will be lost.

    March 29, 2009 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  13. Garp

    Can't we just ask John McCain how to get Bin Laden?

    March 29, 2009 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  14. Jim in Colorado

    Ask the British and the Russians about Afghanistan. It is where empires go to die.

    March 29, 2009 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  15. Los Angeles Independant


    You need to learn your facts. Before the election Obama never said he would not send troops overseas. Matter if fact he said the opposite.

    He said he would end the war in Iraq and add more troops to Afghanistan to go after the people who attacked us on 9-11.

    So who lies? You or Obama?

    March 29, 2009 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  16. Tim

    Any comparison of Afghanistan to Vietnam is merely hysteria to my mind. The two wars are dramatically different in their cause, geography and goals. Unlike Vietnam, the U.S. was directly attacked by Afghanistan (or at least forces inside Afghanistan protected by the Taliban, which is a close equivalent).

    These same forces and the Taliban are reconstituting themselves. To turn our backs on this situation would be like allowing the Nazis back into Germany in 1950.

    March 29, 2009 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  17. Tony

    At this time, it is probably a good idea to prove competencies in simply managing the flow of drugs north and flow of arms south of border instead of starting another game 10,000 miles away. Folks, we are already on borrowed resources.

    March 29, 2009 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  18. yasmine

    President Obama never said he would NOT send troops to Afghanistan/Pakistan... he has always said... we need to finish what was started there.. and not loose sight of why that war was started...

    if I am not mistaken

    March 29, 2009 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  19. manhandler

    And where is the direct threat in Afghanistan??? Some old man hiding in a cave on a kidnet dialysis machine? You can murder as many people as you want in Afghanistan and it will NEVER remove the threat of terrorism by doing it. Terrorists are NOT in any one place. Amazing how many supposedly intelligent officials get up there and spout this crap as if there's any logic behind it.

    March 29, 2009 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  20. T

    Apparently you did not pay attention to Pres Obama's campaign. He stated many times over that our emphasis should be in Afghanistan not Iraq. He also said that as President He would send troops to Afghanistan to go after AlQueida and those that would do harm to our country.
    I supported him for Preisdent and I am glad for all the work that he has done so far in that role because he has followed up on what he has said!

    March 29, 2009 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  21. Maggie

    Thank you for saying all that. I do not think our current president has a clue as to what kind of threat this country poses for the USA. He does not have the ecperience nor knowhow to plan a stragedy let alone excute one. He is all for a "let be buddies" over a few drinks. tha is his mentality and I do not forsee it changinf since he is well into his age when "CHANGE " could have been made.

    March 29, 2009 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  22. Ed

    One of the questions needed to be asked or to have the guts to be confronted with is in order for someone to want to do terroristic harm, is there a reason? Is there something someone's doing to someone or is there a grotesque structural defect somewhere that is assisting the build up of heated bad blood? In order for a fanatic to direct efforts in a certain area there has to be a reason or reasons. The flaw may be somewhere else and can possibly be corrected without costing more innocent lives. No matter how you look at, it does pose a danger to many at any given moment.

    March 29, 2009 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  23. RR

    as long as we're depending on our so called ally Pakistan to clear out the taliban/al quaida bases in their country and we just use drones instead of B52s and B2s, our enemies will have safe bases of operations to train, re-arm, regroup, and plan attacks on US GIs.

    It's time to tell Pakistan to get our enemies out of their country or we'll do it for them.

    LBJ made the mistake in Vietnam to not fully go after our enemies wherever they were, and Obama is making the same mistake.

    March 29, 2009 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  24. mar

    this is bully against our long time allies we need mor frind not enyme

    March 29, 2009 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  25. Lorax

    Iraq was a mistake. Afghanistan is just it is the interest of the entire world to defeat these murderers. Whoever thinks we should give up is as naive as the people who started the Iraq war.

    March 29, 2009 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
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