Why Afghanistan Is Similar To Vietnam – And Why It Is Not
There are some important distinctions between Afghanistan and Vietnam as the Taliban makes rapid inroads across the country in the aftermath of the American military pullout amid fears of a “high-speed Saigon” retreat.
For one thing, democratic elections were not tolerated in South Vietnam. Elections, on the other hand, are welcomed by the Afghan government, not the Taliban, as a means of bolstering its credibility.
Whereas Vietnamese nationalists sought to unite the country, the Taliban, according to Afghanistan’s First Deputy President Amrullah Saleh, seek to “split Afghanistan.” The Viet Cong were popular, but the Taliban were never.” And, as he points out, while the North Vietnamese had no choice but to fight for their freedom, “the Taliban are afraid of fading away without fighting.”
However, the American attitude toward their allies is similar in both cases. Washington’s moral authority is being eroded as a result of these actions.
In both cases, the US negotiated a separate peace with their adversary that excluded their former friend. As a result, Saigon and now Kabul are battling the same enemy. This settlement was terribly timed: instead of negotiating with the Taliban when it was weak, it did so when it was strong.
At its core, the international world failed to grasp the political nature of Afghanistan’s struggle until late in the day. After 9/11, the United States was in no mood to make peace with the Taliban and reach an inclusive settlement.
A Vietnam veteran, Rufus Phillips, described the gap between American views and local goals as a “fog of incomprehension.” The same chasm of misunderstanding exists in Afghanistan, not least in terms of defining a political cause other than Taliban elimination that Afghans could agree on and Americans thought was worth fighting for.
Both wars have a significant human component. Outsiders in Afghanistan have generally failed to appreciate the Afghan ability to forge bargains that allow them to vie for power while also cooperating to generate money.
These failings reflected a lack of understanding of the Taliban and Afghanistan in general, as well as a proclivity towards caricature, as well as a lack of planning and patience. On his arrival in Afghanistan in 2002, General Stanley McChrystal observed, “I felt like we were high school students who had strolled into a Mafia-owned pub.” Washington’s proclaimed stance was that it did not engage in nation-building. As a result of this, Brief News from Washington Newsday.