It’s baaaack. Actually it never left. The ghost of Vietnam, that is. Except this time it’s the administration and defenders of its Iraq policy that are raising the zombie of Vietnam from its uneasy slumber in the dead sleep of history.
Okay, history is a Rorschach test for everyone to read their own meanings into. It’s yesterday’s tea leaves being used to predict tomorrow’s events. Fair enough. Everybody does it. But as subjective as history is, can we at least get the history straight that everyone basically agrees on. And in the right chronological order?
Take, for example, the claim made by the administration and echoed by its rah-rah Iraq media chorus that American withdrawal from Vietnam resulted in, amongst other calamities, added to our vocabulary new terms like “boat people,” “re-education camps,” and “killing fields.”
The killing fields of Cambodia were a huge humanitarian horror, no doubt, the Pol Pot regime one of the most ideologically genocidal in history. But the killing fields of Cambodia did not occur because of US withdrawal from Vietnam. They occurred because the Nixon administration saw the bombing—and subsequent destabilization—of Cambodia in the early 1970s as acceptable collateral damage in its goal to drive North Vietnam to the peace table. The US actually never directly intervened in Cambodia – no US troops were committed to a strategy of permanently occupying the country, unlike in neighboring Vietnam.
The Killing Fields were a consequence of American intervention, not American de-intervention. And, for the record, it was the communist Government in Hanoi that intervened to stop the killing in the killing fields. Communist Cambodia was allied with China and was actually hostile to the Viet regime which suited American purposes just fine, thus the US did not seek to intervene to overthrow Pol Pot. That would be Realpolitik written large in real blood.
As for the reeducation camps and boat people, both horrors were consequences of American failure to plan for its withdrawal rather than the actual withdrawal itself. Nixon’s grand strategy on Vietnam was simple: bomb the hell out of the North Vietnamese to drive them to the negotiating table, then negotiate a gentlemen’s agreement in which we pull out in exchange for the North withholding a final invasion and conquest of the South until a decent interval of time had transpired. After we were gone, what happened in Vietnam stayed in Vietnam. If the South couldn’t hold on, it was their own fault. (Which is a rhetoric one increasingly hears in regards to Iraq today, least anyone miss it.) Nixon’s (and Ford’s) failure was to not realize the North Vietnamese might cheat and invade the South with its straw man army before the last Americans were safely away. The North wanted to humiliate the US as payback for twenty years of American meddling in their affairs. (And killing at least a million of their people, bye the bye.) And payback is a bee-atch.
The US cut and ran in Vietnam with little consideration of the impact on former erstwhile allies left behind. There was no systematic policy in place to relocate American loyalists in South Vietnam during the phase out period of 1973 to 1975. There was not a sufficient policy in place to deal with the two million pro-American refugees who predictably fled the country when it was overrun by the communist north.
And whose hands were on the tiller when this horrific debacle ensued –- the very same debacle President Bush now uses to justify continuing the debacle in Iraq? That would be current war architects Dick Cheney and Donny “Youngest Secretary of Defense in History and, Boy, Did It Show” Rumsfeld. Having botched the end of the Vietnam War, Cheney now seeks redemption in “winning” the war in Iraq. Except, having botched this war, too, winning (establishing a viable, stable, pro-American multi ethnic and sectarian democracy with a minimal continued cost to America in terms of money and men) seems less and less of an option.
Geez. How many times do you have to lose before everyone understands you are a Loser. Dick “0 & 2” Cheney?
Meanwhile his Loserness seems committed to repeating every mistake made in Vietnam, right down to having no contingency plan on how to avoid a sectarian blood bath should the US pull out of Iraq.
This has been this Administration’s fatal weakness since George W. decided to run for the Presidency: a systematic, deliberate distortion of history to support current political objectives, no matter what objective history says. The truly tragic (though perhaps the term “criminal” might be more apropos) irony in all of this is that, in their deliberate misrepresentation of past history, the Bush gang has held true to the old adage that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.
Unfortunately they are dragging the rest of us along for the ride.