Friday, September 07, 2007

Good Morning, Vietnam!

From the Washington Post

By Eugene Robinson
Tuesday, September 4, 2007; Page A17

The most fascinating aspect of George W. Bush's no-holds-barred campaign to keep Congress from meddling in his foolish and tragic war is the way he has begun invoking the Vietnam War -- not as a cautionary lesson about hubris and futility but as a reason to push ahead (whatever "ahead" might mean) in Iraq.

Say what you want about the man, but he's full of surprises -- and I'm not talking about the unannounced visit he made yesterday to Anbar province. With the pivotal report from Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker due to land next week, and with the Iraqi government having made zero progress on political reconciliation, it's no surprise that the Decider would decide to be photographed touring the one part of Iraq where he can claim any measure of success.

But seeking support for the war in Iraq by reminding the nation about Vietnam? I'd feel better if I thought this was just some exquisitely subtle, deeply cynical gambit, yet I have the sinking feeling that Bush actually believes the nonsensical version of history he's peddling. I fear the man is on a mission to rewrite the past.

Last month, Bush told the Veterans of Foreign Wars at its Kansas City convention that "one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms such as 'boat people,' 'reeducation camps' and 'killing fields.' "

He added: "Here at home, some can argue our withdrawal from Vietnam carried no price to American credibility -- but the terrorists see it differently."

Lest anyone think this was merely a random rhetorical spasm, outgoing White House political czar Karl Rove wrote an article in the conservative National Review last week that included this passage: "If the outcome [in Iraq] is like what happened in Vietnam after America abandoned our allies and the region descended into chaos, violence and danger, history's judgment will be harsh. History will see President Bush as right, and the opponents of his policy as mistaken -- as George McGovern was in his time."


For the record, the illegal U.S. bombing of Cambodia destabilized that country and boosted the Khmer Rouge, who eventually took power and exterminated those "millions" in the "killing fields." The monstrous Khmer Rouge regime was finally ousted by . . . none other than the communists who took power in Vietnam after the American withdrawal. Oh, and it was Richard Nixon who negotiated and began the U.S. pullout. Gerald Ford presided over the fall of Saigon. Both of them were Republicans, as I recall.

And George McGovern, who never got to be president, was right.

Bush, Rove, Dick Cheney and the other principal architects of the Iraq war never served in Vietnam -- in fact, they went to great lengths to put distance between themselves and the military adventure they now describe as both necessary and noble. At the moment, though, I'm less concerned about their hypocrisy than their distortion of history.

To say the United States should not have withdrawn its forces from Vietnam is to say that there was something those forces could have done -- something beyond napalm, carpet-bombing, destroying villages in order to save them -- that would have led to some kind of "victory." Of course, Bush and the others don't say what that special something might have been, because they don't know. They're seeing nothing but a historical mirage.

Bush seems to want to return to a golden age when America confidently threw its weight around wherever, whenever and however it pleased. The problem is that no such golden age existed. American power has always had its limits, and there have always been some wars that simply couldn't be won.

Bush and his enablers seem to forget that it was Dwight D. Eisenhower -- a man with a bit more experience in running a war than the tinhorn generalissimos now occupying the White House -- who realized that the most we could achieve in Korea was a stalemate.

George W. Bush wants us to remember Vietnam? Fine, then let's remember those iconic images -- the Viet Cong prisoner being executed in cold blood with a pistol shot to the temple, the little girl running naked and screaming from a napalm attack. Let's remember how little we really understood about Vietnamese society. Let's remember how wrong the domino theory proved to be. Let's remember how much damage prolonging an unpopular war did to our armed forces and our nation, and how long it took us to recover.

Thanks for the reminder, Mr. President. When you talk about "victory" in Iraq and the Petraeus report discerns a light at the end of the tunnel, we'll think of Vietnam.


RoseCovered Glasses said...

I am a 2 tour Vietnam Veteran who recently retired after 36 years of working in the Defense Industrial Complex on many of the weapons systems being used by our forces as we speak. I believed another Vietnam could be avoided with defined missions and the best armaments in the world.

It made no difference.

We have bought into the Military Industrial Complex (MIC). If you would like to read how this happens please see:

Through a combination of public apathy and threats by the MIC we have let the SYSTEM get too large. It is now a SYSTEMIC problem and the SYSTEM is out of control. Government and industry are merging and that is very dangerous.

There is no conspiracy. The SYSTEM has gotten so big that those who make it up and run it day to day in industry and government simply are perpetuating their existance.

The politicians rely on them for details and recommendations because they cannot possibly grasp the nuances of the environment and the BIG SYSTEM.

So, the system has to go bust and then be re-scaled, fixed and re-designed to run efficiently and prudently, just like any other big machine that runs poorly or becomes obsolete or dangerous.

This situation will right itself through trauma. I see a government ENRON on the horizon, with an associated house cleaning.

The next president will come and go along with his appointees and politicos. The event to watch is the collapse of the MIC.

For more details see:

FrereUntel said...

Though some would attribute the concept of a MIC to President Eisenhower, surely it dates back to Shaw's "Major Barbara" (recently updated in the film, "The Lords of War," and in Carre's "The Night Clerk").

A big difference in Iraq from Vietnam was the large numbers of unarmored vehicles and defective weapons the Bush administration purchased, paid for, and passed on to our troops.