Some excerpts from Juan Cole's analysis on Afghanistan. Whole article is linked above.
"Obama ... rejected any analogy between Vietnam and Afghanistan: “You have to learn lessons from history. On the other hand, each historical moment is different. You never step into the same river twice. And so Afghanistan is not Vietnam.” Obama may be the first American president to quote pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus."...
"the process of decolonization after WW II, while it unfolded differently in different colonies/ countries, did have some common or at least widespread characteristics. One of the reasons the Project for a New American Century and the Bush administration failed in their attempt to reinvent 19th-century empire in the 21st century is that peoples of the global south are now politically and socially mobilized en masse in a way they were not in 1850. Some 15,000 British troops could no longer hope to hold all of India. In some important respects, "Vietnam" partook of characteristics of decolonization and one could compare it to Algeria, e.g."...
"On Wednesday morning, MSNBC's "Morning Joe" had as a guest Jamie Rubin, an adjunct professor at the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia U., and a "kitchen" adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the president (also husband of CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour). Rubin also took up cudgels against the Vietnam analogy.
"I think that Vietnam is a terribly debilitating analogy for our country. Every time something is difficult, we say, oh, it's Vietnam."...
Afghanistan and Vietnam have nothing to do with each other. The whole world is on our side in Afghanistan; the whole world was clearly not on our side in Vietnam."...
Here is Juan Cole's answer to Professor Rubin:
Afghanistan differs from Iraq in the following respects:
1) The Pashtuns from whom the anti-government forces derive are some 44% of the population, not a 20% or less minority the way the Sunnis of Iraq are. While most Pashtuns still reject the guerrillas, so did most Sunni Arabs reject the extremist guerrillas; the latter still controlled significant swathes of Sunni Iraq. The Taliban and kindred groups are a significant presence everywhere there are large Pashtun populations.
2) The Tajik and Hazara militias have largely been demobilized and are not available for deployment against the Taliban and other fundamentalist groups. The pro-Kabul Pashtuns typically do not have militias.
3) The pro-Karzai Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazara Shiites and Uzbeks that form the ruling clique are not united, and the government they dominate is extremely weak and poverty-stricken (the GDP in international currency [not purchasing power parity] is only about $9 bn a year, and the government budget is a little over $1 bn.). Iraq has something close to $70 bn. in reserves from oil sales. The Afghan government controls only 30% of the country. The country is resource-poor and there is no prospect of it having a proper tax base for a competent bureaucracy and army any time soon.
4) The Pashtun plurality is backed by the enormous Sunni country of Pakistan, whereas the pro-Kabul Pashtuns have no regional foreign patron to speak of; Iran generally supports the Tajiks and Hazaras, but it is hard to discern that they have pumped very significant resources into the country. In essence, Washington's regional ally, Pakistan, is ambivalent about the Tajik/Hazara/Uzbek takeover of Kabul and not close to Karzai's faction of Pashtuns.
5) In the aftermath of the recent election, probably a majority of Afghans and of Pashtuns sees the Karzai government as corrupt and illegitimate.
6) The Afghan army has faced extreme difficulties in training and expansion. Some 90% of the troops are illiterate, which limits how much they can be trained and even their ability to read street signs when they are sent into an unfamiliar city. (Iraq's literacy rate is 76%). Many Afghan troops lack discipline and some proportion regularly use recreational drugs during work hours. There is no evidence of any great esprit de corps or attachment to the Karzai government, in contrast to the Iraqi army's willingness to fight for PM Nuri al-Maliki and his ruling coalition.
7) US troops have proven unable to disarm the Taliban, Hizb-i Islam, or the Haqqani group. The number of fighters attached to these guerrilla groups has grown from 3,000 a few years ago to 15,000- 20,000 today. They are local, know the terrain, and receive patronage and support from Pashtun tribes who resent the foreign troop presence.
8) Pashtuns are not for the most part secularists, and a combination of religious and nationalist rhetoric such as is deployed by old-time guerrilla leader Gulbadin Hikmatyar and his "Islamic Party" has a great deal of appeal to them. Although the Taliban are only thought well of by 5% of Afghans in polls, that is probably 10% of Pashtuns. And many of the guerrilla groups opposing Karzai are not properly called Taliban (Pashtuns in Kunar Province are not thinking of Islamic Party when they denounce Taliban). Virtually no Pashtuns, who are a plurality of the country and the largest single ethnic group, want US or NATO troops in their country.
So Afghanistan is not very much like Iraq (there are other differences, as in the organization of the tribes), and if Rubin advises H. Clinton and Obama to depend on a "surge" plus a "Sons of Afghanistan" artificial militia policy, I think that would be dangerous advice.
Afghanistan is more like Vietnam than Obama and Rubin suggest. And, it is becoming more like it all the time."...
"By the way, Mr. Rubin, we Americans don't call "anything that is hard" Vietnam. We don't call keeping up a space station "Vietnam" or getting universal health care "Vietnam." We invoke Vietnam against long, costly Asian land wars, the objectives of which are murky and the medium-term and long-term success of which is in significant doubt. And by these criteria, Afghanistan has "Vietnam" written all over it."