Learning Vietnam's Lessons In Afghanistan

Former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel and Iraq Study Group Co-Chair, Lee Hamilton spoke with CBS Early Show anchor Harry Smith about presidential elections in Afghanistan and U.S. military involvement.
CBS
With only a few days left before presidential elections take place in Afghanistan on August 20, Taliban militants are threatening to attack polling centers and have warned people to stay away from voting centers.

The Associated Press obtained a letter from Ghulam Haidar, the Taliban's operational Kandahar commander stating, "You should not participate in the elections because you might be the victims of our operations."

Iraq Study Group Co-Chair Lee Hamilton expressed concern over the direction of the embattled nation's leadership telling CBS Early Show's Harry Smith on "Face The Nation", "I don't know much about the alternatives to Karzai. I have been disappointed in Karzai's leadership. But if our goal is to create a legitimate, reasonable, accountable, capable Afghan government, we are going to be there a long, long time, I believe."

Coupled with the upcoming elections, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently said there is a possibility of an increased military presence in Afghanistan, but warned that such action would stretch U.S. resources and could possibly lead to a backlash.

Hamilton noted that Congress will have to make tough choices.

"We get excited about a place, we are willing to put billions of dollars into it in the short term, but you cannot solve Afghanistan's problems in the short term. All of the experts are telling us decades. So the question is, are your former colleagues and mine willing to put billions and billions and billions of dollars over not a year or two or three, but decades into Afghanistan?"

Former Senator Chuck Hagel agreed, telling Smith he feared "that we could find ourselves bogged down, drifting dangerously deeper and deeper into a situation where it becomes very difficult to get out, and we become isolated."

"I mean, that was a difficult lesson in Vietnam," Hagel added.

Hamilton insists that the U.S. focus in Afghanistan should be to protect Americans, by defeating al Qaeda and loftier goals should be reevaluated.

"If you keep your focus on what I think is the core national interest, protecting Americans, dismantling al Qaeda, we have to achieve that objective. … I do not personally think we can modernize Afghanistan. There are historical political, cultural, economic forces that are massive in that country, and we can't turn them around."