If I hadn’t been so angry about Vietnam for 30 years, stuff like this would really set me off:
Henry A. Kissinger quietly acknowledged to China in 1972 that Washington could accept a communist takeover of South Vietnam if that evolved after a withdrawal of U.S. troops — even as the war to drive back the communists dragged on with mounting deaths.
President Richard M. Nixon’s envoy told Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai: "If we can live with a communist government in China, we ought to be able to accept it in Indochina."
[. . . ]
Kissinger’s comments appear to lend credence to the "decent interval" theory posed by some historians who say the United States was prepared to see communists take over Saigon as long as, to save face, that happened long enough after a U.S. troop departure.
[. . . ]
The meeting with Zhou took place in Beijing on June 22, 1972, during stepped-up U.S. bombing and the mining of harbors meant to stall a North Vietnamese offensive that began in the spring. China, North Vietnam’s ally, objected to the U.S. course but was engaged in a historic thaw of relations with Washington.
Kissinger told Zhou that the United States respected its Hanoi enemy as a "permanent factor" and probably the "strongest entity" in the region. "And we have had no interest in destroying it or even defeating it," he insisted.
So, American troops were still being sent in to die, "to defeat communism," while Kissinger was in China telling the chief thug there that we respected our Hanoi enemy as a "permanent factor" that we had no interest in destroying or even defeating. Kissinger can do all the Realpolitik backtracking and self-justfication he wants to now, but he was and is a scumbag, a high-stakes poker player who loved the excitement of the game, no matter what the chips were. That he followed the "best and brightest" of McNamara’s ilk just shows how bipartisan arrogant, criminal incompetence can be. We entered into war, the most serious step a country can take, then fooled around with it instead of seriously trying to win it, squandering 55,000 lives in the process. At the end, we just left, in effect telling the Vietnamese people who believed us, "Sorry, just kidding, didn’t mean it," creating one of the most ignoble days in American history.
It is a great temptation to extrapolate our Vietnam history into lessons that should be applied in Iraq, but that is a risky business. Most of the people so vehement on one side or the other seem to be merely reacting to Iraq based on their own preconceptions. The history of that conflict is still being written, and it might be decades before we know the wisdom or folly of it. History’s judgment will come, I think, not because of whether, with 20-20 hindsight, we determine it was right or wrong to enter the war — it was the best estimate of most of the world’s military analysts, not just Geroge Bush’s neocons, that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction; he had already used them. And that was not the only justification, in any case.
The thing that really matters is whether the war in Iraq will, in the long run, have added to the world’s stock of civilizing influences — democratic principles, the rule of law, the primacy of the individual over the state — and diminished its savagery. The jury is still very much out on that. It is true that we are fighting the enemy — militant Islamofascism — on its own turf, diminishing its credibility every day, and that we have had no attack on our soil since 9/11. It is also true that one major argument for the Iraq engagement — that we would be on the ground and seen as committed, thus being better able to handle developing crises in the Mideast — is not exactly proving out. We don’t have a clue what to do about Iran, and we are still cozying up to despots for short-term expediency and calling it long-term diplomacy (thank you, Dr. Kissinger).
Democratic principles are still the best hope for the world, and most people in the world still yearn to be free, no matter how the apologists for tyranny keep deluding themselves. As long as America supports democracy and freedom, its people will forgive a lot. We will forgive mistakes in judgment about starting wars — no matter how Vietnam turned out, our instincts to support a people striving for freedom were honorable. We will forgive blunders in the execution of a war, even if they needlessly cost lives; war is unpredictable, and anything can happen.
What we should never tolerate is war recklessly entered, then half-heartedly pursued by people who didn’t really mean it in the first place. War should be the last option, declared after all other options have been exhausted, then prosecuted to a swift conclusion with as few casualties as possible. Whatever part of President Bush’s dismal approval ratings can be traced to Iraq, I suspect the major reason is not that Americans think the war was wrong but that they suspect the administration is just fooling around with it, trying to let go of the tiger’s tail without losing too much face.
There is such a thing as a "decent interval." The war is over, so we invite the draft-dodgers home from Canada, all sins forgiven. The war is over a little longer, so we enter into trade agreements with Vietnam. It’s time to heal the wounds and get on with life. We’re not saying we were wrong about what we were doing — we will still support democratic movements and people yeanring to be free — but we didn’t get that one quite right, and we will regroup to fight another day.
It is NOT a decent interval to say one thing to Americans — including the Americans you are sending into battle as poker chips in your high-stakes game — while you are telling the allies of America’s enemies another thing, especially when what you tell Americans is the lie and what you tell its enemies is the truth. Jane "Here I am standing by the anti-aircraft guns that shoot down American troops" Fonda never did as much to destroy America’s credibility at home or abroad as that kind of duplicity has.
So the worst thing of all, in trying to bring freedom to the Mideast, one of the last places in the world to experience it and the one place the world needs it most right now, would be just to walk away, saying, "Sorry, just kidding, really didn’t mean it." That’s what I would say to George Bush and Cindy Sheehan and everybody in between. That, to me, is the real lesson of Vietnam.
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