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Not another 'Nam: Obama blasts Vietnam analogy

Text by Leela JACINTO

Latest update : 2009-12-02

During his Afghan strategy speech, US President Barack Obama firmly rejected any suggestion that Afghanistan was, or could be, another Vietnam. FRANCE 24 takes a look at the differences and similarities between the two wars.

They're calling it the “V word” in the blogosphere. Hours after US President Barack Obama announced his much-awaited new Afghanistan strategy during a national primetime TV address, Afghanistan experts and ordinary online Americans noted the number of times the US president used the word “Vietnam”.

Over the past few months, critics of a US troop surge have been drawing analogies between the wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan, dredging up the ghost of America’s most shameful international military adventure to warn of future sores on the American psyche.

But in his speech before a sea of blue-and-gray clad cadets at the elite West Point Military Academy in New York on Tuesday, Obama plunged into the thick of the “not another ‘Nam” debate, using the “V word” four times in the course of his 33-minute address.

‘A false reading of history’

“There are those who suggest that Afghanistan is another Vietnam,” he said. “They argue that it cannot be stabilised, and we're better off cutting our losses and rapidly withdrawing. I believe this argument depends on a false reading of history.”

First and foremost, the US president noted, the war in Afghanistan is being jointly waged by “a broad coalition of 43 nations that recognises the legitimacy of our action”.

Historians note that on this front, Obama has a point. The US bore the brunt of the Vietnam War, which reached its heights during the mid-1970s, with some support from Australia and New Zealand and a small number of Asian allies, notably South Korea.

Secondly, Obama noted that “unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a broad-based popular insurgency”.

Recent nationwide opinion polls across Afghanistan appear to support Obama’s argument.

An Oct. 2009 poll by the Asia Foundation found that 70% of 6,400 Afghans polled across the country believed the Afghan National Army and police still needed the support of foreign troops and could not operate by themselves.

The al Qaeda or Communist bogey

But “most importantly,” said Obama, “unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan, and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border. To abandon this area now -- and to rely only on efforts against al Qaeda from a distance -- would significantly hamper our ability to keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and create an unacceptable risk of additional attacks on our homeland and our allies.”

While there was no threat of a Viet-Cong attack on the US soil, the primary purpose of the Vietnam War during the height of the Cold War was to stem a dreaded domino effect of Communist dominance in South East Asia.

It is unclear if Obama managed to convince his critics that Afghanistan will not be the 44th US president’s Vietnam. Certainly, it is the last thing Obama himself would want.

Date created : 2009-12-02


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