Hostname: page-component-77c89778f8-gvh9x Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-17T23:56:44.224Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

No, Afghanistan Is Not Really Vietnam All Over Again

Part of: The Soapbox

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 September 2020


On February 29, 2020, the United States and the Afghan Taliban signed an agreement in Doha, Qatar, bringing the United States potentially closer to ending the war in Afghanistan than at any point in the conflict's eighteen-year history. After months of military escalations, negotiations, and recriminations, the United States agreed to a token withdrawal of several thousand forces by August 2020 and to remove all remaining forces by May 2021. The Afghan government had been cut out of the talks, but the United States also vowed to encourage it to release thousands of Taliban prisoners and to enter into its own negotiations with the Taliban in order to pave the way to a permanent ceasefire agreement. For its part, the Taliban agreed to negotiate with Kabul after the troop withdrawals began and to halt cooperation with Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

The Soapbox
Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


The author would like to thank Fredrik Logevall, Ronald H. Spector, Gregory A. Daddis, and the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this article.


1 The full text of the “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which Is Not Recognized by the United States as a State and Is Known as the Taliban and the United States of America,” is available on the U.S. State Department website, (accessed Mar. 6, 2020).

2 Ambassador Ryan Crocker, “I Served in Afghanistan. No, It's Not Another Vietnam,” Washington Post, Dec. 12, 2019, (accessed Mar. 19, 2020).

3 Howard, Sir Michael, “The Lessons of History,” The History Teacher 15, no. 4 (Aug. 1982): 489501CrossRefGoogle Scholar, here 491–2.

4 For a systematic dismantling of the ideas that facts “speak for themselves,” see Becker, Carl L., “What Are Historical Facts?,” The Western Political Quarterly 8, no. 3 (Sep. 1955): 327–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 On whether states can "remember" or "learn," see J. M. Winter, Remembering War: The Great War between Memory and History in the Twentieth Century (New Haven, CT, 2006), 4.

6 For this and other famous phrases by the beloved coach, see “Yogi-isms” on the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center webpage, (accessed Mar. 16, 2020).

7 Turse, Nick, Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (New York, 2013)Google Scholar. On artillery, see Hawkins, John M., “The Costs of Artillery: Eliminating Harassment and Interdiction Fire during the Vietnam War,” Journal of Military History 70, no. 1 (Jan. 2006): 91122CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 CNN Staff Wire, “Petraeus Issues New Directive for Troops in Afghanistan,”, Aug. 4, 2010, (accessed Jan. 31, 2018).

9 These actions are described in Smyth, Daniel, “Avoiding Bloodshed? U.S. Journalists and Censorship in Wartime,” War & Society 32 no. 1 (2013): 6494CrossRefGoogle Scholar, here 81.

10 For a good summary of the problems with blaming "the media" for losing Vietnam, see Hess, Gary R., Vietnam: Explaining America's Lost War (Malden, MA, 2009), 133–53Google Scholar.

11 Cole, Ronald H., Operation Urgent Fury Grenada (Washington, DC, 1997), 46Google Scholar and (quote) 55.

12 Major Colleen L. MacGuire, “Military-Media Relations and the Gulf War: A Compromise between Vietnam and Grenada?” (M.A. thesis, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 1992), 6.

13 Ibid., 49–51.

14 On airpower, see Ian Horwood, Interservice Rivalry and Airpower in the Vietnam War (Fort Leavenworth, KS, 2006), 4, 175.

15 Cole, Operation Urgent Fury Grenada, 5, 53.

16 The changes to how the military has conducted joint operations since Vietnam are described well in General Martin E. Dempsey, “The Future of Joint Operations,” Foreign Affairs, June 20, 2013, (accessed Feb. 24, 2018).

17 The text of the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force is available at (accessed Mar. 20, 2020).

18 Daniella Diaz, “Key Senators Say They Didn't Know U.S. Had Troops in Niger,”, Oct. 23, 2017,, (accessed Feb. 24, 2018).

19 Richard Nixon, No More Vietnams (New York, 1985), 18.

20 David Fromkin and James Chase, “What Are the Lessons of Vietnam?,” Foreign Affairs 63, no. 4 (Spring 1985): 722–46, here 729.

21 Lewis Sorely, “No More Vietnams: Find the Will to Win in Iraq, as We Should Have in Indochina,” The American Enterprise (Mar. 2006): 32–5.

22 Nicholas D. Kristoff, “A War Hero or a Phony?,” New York Times, Sep. 18, 2004, (accessed Mar. 20, 2020).

23 For three examples of these allegations, see Secretary of State George Schultz, “The Meaning of Vietnam” delivered at the Department of State, Apr. 25, 1985, reprinted in the Congressional Record, 99 Cong. 1st sess., Apr. 29, 1985, 1789; Remarks by Rep. William J. Martini on the 20th Anniversary of the Vietnam War, Congressional Record, 104 Cong. 1st sess. May 2, 1996, 923; and Remarks by Rep. Louie Gomert, “Lessons of the Vietnam War,” Congressional Record, 114 Cong. 2nd sess., February 12, 2016, 813.

24 Bob Woodward, Bush at War (New York, 2002), 187.

25 Woodward, Bob, Plan of Attack: The Definitive Account of the Decision to Invade Iraq (New York, 2004), 331–2Google Scholar.

26 Woodward, Plan of Attack, 327.

27 Woodward, Bush at War, 168.

28 Bush, George W., Decision Points (New York, 2010), 195Google Scholar.

29 Woodward, Bush at War, 168.

30 Barack H. Obama, “Remarks by the President in Address to the Nation on the Way Forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Dec. 1, 2009, (accessed Mar. 19, 2020).

31 Nixon, No More Vietnams, 76, 87–88.

32 Remarks by Rep. Louie Gomert, “Lessons of the Vietnam War,” Congressional Record, 114 Cong. 2nd sess., February 12, 2016, 813.

33 Department of Defense, National Military Strategy of the United States (Washington, DC, 1992), 10.

34 Belasco, Amy, Troop Levels in the Afghan and Iraq Wars, FY2001–FY2012: Cost and Other Potential Issues (Washington, DC, 2009), 9Google Scholar.

35 Tsu, Sun, The Art of War (Mineola, NY, 2002), 81Google Scholar.

36 Komer, R. W., Bureaucracy Does Its Thing: Institutional Constraints on the U.S.–G.V.N. Performance (Santa Monica, CA, 1972), 67Google Scholar.

37 General George Casey interview with Ambassador Neumann, Ronald E., cited in Our Latest Longest War: Losing Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan, ed. O'Connell, Aaron (Chicago, 2018), 48Google Scholar.

38 Ibid., 49.

39 Melvin Gurtov noted the U.S. propensity to spend billions with little oversight in the early years of American involvement in Vietnam in Gurtov, Melvin, The First Vietnam Crisis: Chinese Communist Strategy and United States Involvement, 1953–1954 (Westport, CT, 1985)Google Scholar.

40 BDM Corporation, A Study of Strategic Lessons Learned in Vietnam: Omnibus Executive Summary, Volume II: South Vietnam (Maclean, VA, 1980), 11.

41 Jackson, Colin F., “U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan: A Tragedy in Five Acts,” in Our Latest Longest War: Losing Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan, ed. O'Connell, Aaron (Chicago, 2018), 71108Google Scholar, here 99–100. See also, Suhkre, Astri, When More Is Less: The International Project in Afghanistan (New York, 2011), 1516Google Scholar.

42 Special Instructor for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), Corruption in Conflict: Lessons from the U.S. Experience in Afghanistan (Washington, DC, 2016), 4.

43 Ibid., 11.

44 Asia Foundation, Afghanistan in 2017: A Survey of the Afghan People (Washington, DC, 2017), 99.

45 Komer, Bureaucracy Does Its Thing, 43.

46 Ibid., 48.

47 Nick Hopkins, “Afghanistan: Advances Made but Country Stands at a Perilous Crossroads,”, May 10, 2011, (accessed Feb. 24, 2018).

48 David S. Cloud, “Pentagon to Drastically Cut Spending on Afghan Forces,” Los Angeles Times, Sep. 12, 2011, (accessed Feb. 24, 2018).

49 General Juma Khan (pseudonym), cited in Atif, Pashtoon, “The Impact of Culture on Policing in Afghanistan,” in Our Latest Longest War: Losing Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan, ed. O'Connell, Aaron (Chicago, 2018), 131–56Google Scholar, here 143.

50 Komer, Bureaucracy Goes to War, vii.

51 United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations, Causes, Origins, and Lessons of the Vietnam War: Hearings, 92 Cong. 2nd sess., May 9–11, 1972, 5, 79.

52 Department of the Army, The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual (Chicago, 2007), 54, 67.

53 Ibid., 49.

54 Atif, “The Impact of Culture on Police Training in Afghanistan,” 145–7.

55 General Stanley A. McChrystal, Commander's Initial Assessment (Unclassified), Aug. 30, 2009, 2–5, 2–10; reprinted in The Washington Post, Sep. 21, 2009, (accessed Feb. 24, 2018).

56 Geoffrey Swenson, “Why U.S. Efforts to Promote the Rule of Law in Afghanistan Failed,” International Security 42, no. 1 (Summer 2017): 114–51, here 133.

57 Rod Nordland, “Karzai Orders Afghan Forces to Take Control of American-Built Prison,” New York Times, Nov. 19, 2012, (accessed Feb. 24, 2018).

58 Lieutenant Commander DeCoster, Jamie Lynn, “Building and Undermining Legitimacy: Reconstruction and Development in Afghanistan,” in Our Latest Longest War: Losing Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan, ed. O'Connell, Aaron (Chicago, 2018), 157–88Google Scholar, here 186.

59 Ibid., 188.

60 Vietnam ground troop levels are available from Department of Defense (OASD Comptroller), Selected Manpower Statistics (Washington, DC, May 1975), 63. For the statistics on ordnance dropped in 1965, see Col. Dennis M. Drew, USAF, Rolling Thunder, 1965: Anatomy of a Failure (Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, AL, 1986), 41.

61 For troop numbers in Vietnam, see Department of Defense, “US Personnel in South Vietnam, 1960–1973,” Selected Manpower Statistics (Washington, DC,1975), 63. For Afghanistan troop numbers, see Ian S. Livingston and Michael O'Hanlon, Afghanistan Index (Washington, DC, 2017), 4; Congressional Research Service, “Department of Defense Contractors and Troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan 2007–2018, updated May 10, 2019,” (accessed Mar. 16, 2020).

62 Colonel Harry G. Summers Jr., “The Army after Vietnam,” in Against All Enemies: Interpretations of American Military History from Colonial Times to the Present, eds. Kenneth J. Hagan and William B. Roberts (Westport, CT, 1986), 361–74, here 363; Lewis Sorely, “Creighton Abrams and Active-Reserve Integration in Wartime,” Parameters 21, no. 2 (Summer 1991): 35–50. Conrad Crane disputes both Summers's and Sorely's arguments in Conrad C. Crane, “Post-Vietnam Drawdown: The Myth of the Abrams Doctrine,” in Drawdown: The American Way of Postwar, ed. Jason W. Warren, (New York, 2016), 241–52.

63 Three of the counterinsurgency manual's principal authors wrote either PhD dissertations, books, or scholarly articles on the Vietnam War's operations, lessons, or misconceptions. See David H. Petraeus, “The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam: A Study of Military Influence and the Use of Force in the Post-Vietnam Era” (Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1987); Crane, Conrad C., Avoiding Vietnam: The U.S. Army's Response to Defeat in Southeast Asia (Carlisle, PA, 2002)Google Scholar; and Nagl, John A., Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam (Chicago, 2002)Google Scholar.

64 Department of the Army, The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, 270–1.

65 Ibid., 51.

66 Ibid., 270–1.

67 Ibid., 202–3.

68 The difficulties of Pentagon spending and turf wars with the Office of Management and Budget are explored well in Zakheim, Dov, A Vulcan's Tale: How the Bush Administration Mismanaged the Reconstruction of Afghanistan (Washington, DC, 2011)Google Scholar. See also Neumann, Ronald E., The Other War: Winning and Losing in Afghanistan (Dulles, VA, 2009), 126–45Google Scholar, 208.

69 The term “victory culture” comes from Engelhardt, Tom, The End of Victory Culture: Cold War America and the Disillusioning of a Generation (Amherst, MA, 1995)Google Scholar.

70 George M. Reynolds and Amanda Shendruck, “Demographics of the U.S. Military, Council on Foreign Relations,” Apr. 24, 2018, (accessed May 7, 2020).

71 Frank Newport, “Military Veterans of All Ages Tend to Be More Republican: Political Difference Highest among Younger Veterans,” Gallup Poll, May 25, 2009, (accessed Mar. 27, 2020).

72 Klingler, Jonathan D. and Chatagnier, J. Tyson, “Are You Doing Your Part? Veterans’ Political Attitudes and Heinlein's Conception of Citizenship,” Armed Forces and Society 40, no. 4 (2013): 673–95CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

73 Ibid., 685.

74 McAlister, Melani, Epic Encounters: Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East since 1945 (Berkeley, CA, 2001), 40, 80–3Google Scholar.

75 Bill Roggio and Lisa Lundquist, “Green on Blue Attacks in Afghanistan: The Data,” The Long War Journal, June 17, 2017, (accessed May 9, 2020).

76 Daddis, Gregory A., Withdrawal: Reassessing America's Final Years in Vietnam (New York, 2017), 9, 73Google Scholar.

77 Neumann, “Washington Goes to War,” 49.