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Is Kosovo another Vietnam?

stealth and ground troops
Painful memories of Vietnam loom as the U.S. engages in another battle far away  

April 6, 1999
Web posted at: 11:00 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT)

In this story:

Comparing conflicts

Comparing goals


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.

Comparing conflicts

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.

Faces of the present revive images of the past  

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.

Comparing goals

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
April 5, 1999
Clinton warns Milosevic against partial compliance
April 5, 1999
Clinton: NATO will 'persist until we prevail'
April 5, 1999
More explosions in Yugoslavia; civilian casualties reported
April 5, 1999
White House rejects new calls for ground troops
April 5, 1999
Voices of refugees
April 5, 1999

Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites
  • Kosovo

  • Federal Republic of Yugoslavia official site
      • Kesovo and Metohija facts
  • Serbia Ministry of Information
  • Serbia Now! News

  • Kosova Crisis Center
  • Kosova Liberation Peace Movement
  • Kosovo - from

  • F-117s arrive at Aviano to support possible NATO operations
  • NATO official site
  • BosniaLINK - U.S. Dept. of Defense
  • U.S. Navy images from Operation Allied Force
  • U.K. Ministry of Defence - Kosovo news
  • U.K. Royal Air Force - Kosovo news
  • Jane's Defence - Kosovo Crisis

  • Doctors of the World
  • InterAction
  • International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
  • International Committee of the Red Cross
  • Kosovo Humanitarian Disaster Forces Hundreds of Thousands from their Homes
  • Catholic Relief Services
  • Kosovo Relief
  • ReliefWeb: Home page

  • Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
  • Independent Yugoslav radio stations B92
  • Institute for War and Peace Reporting
  • United States Information Agency - Kosovo Crisis

  • Expanded list of related sites on Kosovo
  • 1997 view of Kosovo from space - Eurimage
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