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Holbrooke: Afghan Is No 'nam (but Swat Is East Hampton!)

Another interesting riff from Holbrooke's AfPak testimony that I had missed on Wednesday:

I've heard people including people in this body compare this to Vietnam. I served three and a half years in Vietnam as a civilian alongside the United States military in the Mekong Delta and in the American Embassy, and then I served another four years in Vietnam as a member of President Johnson's staff and the Paris Peace Talks. And I wrote one volume of the Pentagon Papers.

And I want to say to you today and to your colleagues as clear as I can that, while there are obvious structural similarities between the war in Afghanistan and the war in Vietnam, in both countries the problem of the sanctuary was critical; and the sanctuary area is the area we're here to discuss today. The core difference is: that the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese army never posed a direct threat to the American homeland. And the people who are in this area who we are fighting pose a direct threat, having committed 9/11, having done Mumbai, having killed Benazir Bhutto, and they have publicly said they are going to do more of the same. That's al Qaeda of course and its allies the Taliban.

So we need to be very clear that we are talking today about an issue that is of direct importance to our national security.

I certainly take Holbrooke's larger point, although should US public opinion ever swing against the Afghanistan war, I wonder whether pointing out that we are fighting the killers of Benazir Bhutto is really the best argument to a confused American public.

MR. HOLBROOKE: When Swat fell and the deal was made, the concern that was expressed was not initially in the United States. It was among the people of Peshawar and Lahore and Islamabad who understandedly felt threatened. Swat is not just another location. It is a very symbolic location. It's not part of the tribal areas. It is a vacation place. I like to point out to my New York friends that it's the same distance from Manhattan as East Hampton is from New York, and it bears the same psychological relationship to the people of Islamabad as a vacation spot, although real estate prices were not quite as high. And the --

REP. BERMAN: And we won't talk about the parties.

MR. HOLBROOKE: No. Please. But all joking aside, the fall of Swat created an air of panic....

(Frankly, I wonder whether the fall of East Hampton might not create an air of celebration in many non-rich New York circles.)

--Michael Crowley