Transcript: Sec. Gates and Sen. McCain

STEPHANOPOULOS: An agonized Lyndon Johnson talking to his mentor, Senator Richard Russell, on May 27, 1964. At that time, there were about 20,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam. A year later, about 200,000. When LBJ left office, more than 500,000 troops in Vietnam. It leads to the question: Are there parallels between Afghanistan and Vietnam or is that kind of thinking perilous? We're going to talk about it on the roundtable.

I am joined, as always, by George Will, by the foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times, Tom Friedman, Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, and our chief foreign affairs correspondent, Martha Raddatz.

And -- and, George, you actually write about this, this week, as well, with a different parallel between Afghanistan and Vietnam.

WILL: In 1966, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February held very important hearings about the national argument that was then raging. George Kennan and others said, Don't do this. We don't know how to do this. It's nation-building. It's beyond our capacity. And besides, Vietnam is peripheral to our national interests.

At that time -- you're right -- there were 200,000 troops there already. But of the 58,000 Americans who died in Vietnam, 55,000 of those deaths had not yet occurred. It all came after that. And I think that's why some people think we're at a similar inflection point.

No one thinks that there would be the kind of carnage in Afghanistan, but a slow bleed could be equally costly to the nation in terms of -- of its morale, if you will, and particularly to the Democratic Party, which will split on this issue.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yet, Bob Woodward, you've talked to a lot of people in the military. And I was struck by the lesson that General Petraeus says he learned from Vietnam. He says the biggest lesson is not to be a prisoner of lessons you may have learned.

WOODWARD: Exactly. And the good news in all of this is, I think President Obama and his national security team have decided to have a real serious series of discussions about this and there will be real options on the table.

As we all know from covering George W. Bush, all you had to do was find out what his gut was and then they would have meetings about how to implement what his gut was.

In this case, I don't think Obama has a gut, and he has opened the door very aggressively to other options, and they're not going to be rushed. I talked with...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you agree he doesn't have a gut on this?

FRIEDMAN: Yes, I would disagree a little bit with Bob on that. I think he does have a gut, George, and his gut is that this is not going to be his Vietnam. He is not going to let his Great Society ambitions and aspirations be hauled down by Afghanistan, and I think that is where he starts.

I think the relevant analogy right now though is actually Iraq, because that's really what you heard from both Secretary Gates...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Secretary Gates said that.

FRIEDMAN: ... and from John McCain. And -- and here I would point to, I think there are four critical differences, George, between where we were in Iraq and where we are now pre-surge.

First of all, in Iraq, the surge began with the Iraqis, began with indigenous communities wanting to throw out the extremists within both the Shiite and Sunni communities.

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