October 18th, 2009
02:15 PM ET
13 years ago

'This is not Vietnam,' Kerry says of Afghanistan

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/10/18/art.2kerry1018.cnn.jpg caption="In an interview that aired Sunday, Sen. Kerry said 'the basic assumptions in Afghanistan are very different from those during the Vietnam War."]
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.

Filed under: Afghanistan • John Kerry • State of the Union
soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Anonymous

    John McCain can't lead or follow but he can get out of the way.

    October 18, 2009 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  2. No Hillary = No Obama

    What the world needs to understand about Afghanistan is that it is one big corrupt country. You can't have a corrupt country without corrupt citizens – it should be known at the Kabul Syndrome – you become one with your oppressor in order to survive. This is what the USA is up against – no matter what decision is made – it is not going to change that culture of corruption. So, I say throw in the habib now.

    October 18, 2009 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  3. JonDie

    It's true, Sen. Kerry, it is not really certain if North Vietnam ever attacked us in any way so we NEVER should have been in Vietnam.

    But as far as what the situation on the ground in Afghanistan right now, Vietnam and Afghanistan are pretty much the same with one exception:

    1) Afghanistan has a corrupt national government that most of the citizens do NOT support.

    2) The Afghani military takes our money but it doesn't want to fight so most of the money is going down the corruption rat hole (see 1).

    3) Afghanistan has a home-grown resistance that wants the foreign invaders that are propping up the corrupt national government out.

    4) The U.S. military has NEVER had any real plan to fight the resistance (which would be tough given 1) and 2) in any case).

    5) And the Bush administration, like the Johnson administration, successfully covered up most of what has been going on until it was too late to do anything except lose and withdraw.

    However, there is one BIG difference: In Vietnam the media eventually did serve the national interest by uncovering what was going on. In Afghanistan the media has colluded with the government to cover up the war (the recent stories about an escaped NY Times only serve the interests of the NY Times).

    October 18, 2009 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  4. Randi L.

    What's the difference between Vietnam and Afghanistan? One is a jungle and one is a desert.

    Whether we leave now, or 10 years from now, Afghanistan will still be full of rival factions fighting for control. The Soviets with their superior weaponry got run out 20 years ago, and we learned nothing, absolutely nothing, from that.

    I predict we will spend billions more in Afghanistan without much financial support from the rest of the world, and without a real plan, before we just turn over our 10% of the country to the mullahs who already control the other 90%.

    October 18, 2009 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  5. JT the concerned College Freshman from MO

    “Peace is not a relationship of nations. It is a condition of mind brought about by a serenity of soul. Peace is not merely the absence of war. It is also a state of mind. Lasting peace can come only to peaceful people.”
    Jawaharlal Nehru quotes (Indian Prime Minister. 1889-1964)

    This quote has a very good and very well thought out point. The Taliban and Al Qaeda never had an intention of being a peaceful people. Personally, I hate war with a passion, but in this case we need to isolate Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The only way we can do that is if we send more troops. If I was in charge, I would tell the troops to go to Taliban and Al Qaeda strong points and holds, and slowly but surely come up with a strategy to make Al Qaeda and the Taliban declare "check mate" upon them selves and eachother. We ingored the Taliban once before, and look what happened due to carelessness on our part. To change subjects, I believe that Iraq was a mistake. They never attacked us. We should have focuses on Afganistan and Pakistan only, no place else. CNN, please post this!

    October 18, 2009 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  6. They call me "tater salad"

    Kerry has it right! This is not like Viet Nam! Viet Nam didn't have any oil infrastructure that America was looking to steal and control for its own benifit! So, I guess, technically he's right!

    October 18, 2009 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  7. Ed

    Does anyone really listen to Kerry anymore?

    October 18, 2009 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  8. Four and The Door

    John Kerry has presented yet another lousy argument here.

    Does he forget that we are already involved in this war, that there are already tens of thousands of dedicated servicemen in Afghanistan today fighting the Taliban? How about considering these facts and doing what is necessary to support our troops in their current effort?

    This administration is turning out to be very good at becoming distracted from the issues at hand. The economy, unemployment, the war. These are the issues at hand. Deal with them first before going off with second and third tier distractions. Accomplish something first!

    October 18, 2009 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  9. Wanderer

    “ …. people attacked us here in the most significant attack against the United States …”
    Mr. Kerry, then why people attacked us here?
    “… We are here because there are still people at large who are plotting against the United States of America. …”
    Mr. Kerry, then who are they?
    ‘Why’ and ‘Who’ are the underlying problem. Unfortunately, like Vietnam War, we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq without knowing precisely ‘why’ or ‘who’. Therefore, Afghanistan and Iraq wars are even worse and it will not matter if we stay or pull out from both countries i.e. Afghanistan and Iraq.

    October 18, 2009 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |