Is Kosovo another Vietnam?
April 6, 1999
From CNN Correspondent Jeanne Meserve
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In this month 33 years ago, U.S. bombers carried out their first strikes against North Vietnam. The shadow of that unwinnable conflict is hanging over the U.S. warplanes participating in NATO's Operation Allied Force.
The very mention of Vietnam conjures up death, division and defeat for many Americans.
Even Belgrade is aware of the power the name of the Southeast Asian conflict has on the United States.
Yugoslav Ambassador Branko Brankovic used it in issuing a warning about NATO ground troops.
"In case any single soldier wants to put a foot on a single inch on my country, Vietnam is going to be zero compared to what all those who dare will face," he said.
Kosovo is another massive commitment of U.S. forces to a conflict in a faraway place, and certainly some images overlap.
There were Americans in captivity then and now.
The domino theory was invoked then and now.
There was a concentrated use of air power and a reluctance to use ground troops both then and now.
"We tried to bomb the communists into submission," author Stanley Karnow said. "And one of the things that is similar (in Yugoslavia) is that it doesn't seem to be working."
In Vietnam, the United States built up its military commitment slowly. A former U.S. military official sees a similar pattern in Kosovo.
"There is always a risk in gradualism. It pacifies the hesitant and the tentative," former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said.
"What it doesn't do is shock and awe and alter the calculations of the people you're dealing with," Rumsfeld point out.
The United States had trouble extricating itself from Vietnam. And some predict the same in the Balkans.
"In Vietnam, we had a somewhat more clear goal about what victory would mean," Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution explained. "Protecting the South Vietnamese government from Communist infiltration and attack.
"In this case, we haven't even been that specific," O'Hanlon said. "So here we're actually doing a worse job of developing an exit strategy than we did in Vietnam."
Sen. Charles Robb (D-Virginia), who served in Vietnam, says in many respects Kosovo is not comparable.
"The most important difference here is with NATO, with the unity and firepower of NATO, the vested interest in an operation that is taking place right in their back yard," said Robb. "And a far more sophisticated weaponry that is far more devastating to Milosevic than anything we were able to bring to bear on Ho Chi Minh."
Demonstrations against Vietnam defined a generation. Protests against NATO action in Yugoslavia have thus far been small and scattered.
Ultimately, the question of whether Vietnam and Kosovo are comparable rests on whether the operation in Yugoslavia succeeds. If it fails, chances are it will be branded another Vietnam.
Clinton makes appeal for Kosovar relief donations
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites
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