Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Bush and the Real Lessons of Vietnam

The Vietnam War, started by Democratic President Kennedy and greatly expanded by Democratic President Johnson, has caused many liberals to try to rewrite history. Even as we were winning the Tet offensive, that great liberal commentator and grandfatherly figure, Walter Cronkite, was telling us on CBS that we were losing. A few days ago, President Bush reminded us of a few facts about Vietnam that have been trashed in the meantime. Here are excerpts from two articles that illustrate my point and reinforce the message of leadership that President Bush urges us to understand:

The Left Shudders And Bush leads

by William Kristol
09/03/2007, Volume 012, Issue 47 (Excerpts)

“Like a pig in muck, the left loves to wallow in Vietnam. But only in their "Vietnam." Not in the real Vietnam war.

Not in the Vietnam war of 1963-68, the disastrous years where policy was shaped by the best and brightest of American liberalism. Not in the Vietnam war of 1969-73, when Richard Nixon and General Creighton Abrams managed to adjust our strategy, defeat the enemy, and draw down American troops all at once--an achievement affirmed and rewarded by the American electorate in November 1972. Not in the Vietnam of early 1975, when the Democratic Congress insisted on cutting off assistance to our allies in South Vietnam and Cambodia, thereby inviting the armies of the North and the Khmer Rouge to attack. And not in the defeats of April 1975. As the American left celebrated from New York to Hollywood, in Phnom Penh former Cambodian prime minister Sirik Matak wrote to John Gunther Dean, the American ambassador, turning down his offer of evacuation:

Dear Excellency and Friend:
I thank you very sincerely for your letter and for your offer to transport me towards freedom. I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion. As for you, and in particular for your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty. You have refused us your protection, and we can do nothing about it. You leave, and my wish is that you and your country will find happiness under this sky. But, mark it well, that if I shall die here on the spot and in my country that I love, it is no matter, because we all are born and must die. I have only committed this mistake of believing in you [the Americans].

Please accept, Excellency and dear friend, my faithful and friendly sentiments.
S/Sirik Matak

The Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh a few days later. Sirik Matak was executed: shot in the stomach, he was left without medical help and took three days to die. Between 1 and 2 million Cambodians were murdered by the Khmer Rouge in the next three years. Next door, tens of thousands of Vietnamese were killed, and many more imprisoned. Hundreds of thousands braved the South China Sea to reach freedom.

The United States welcomed the refugees--but we were in worldwide retreat. It turned out that the USSR was sufficiently tired and ramshackle that its attempts to take advantage of that retreat had limited success. Still, the damage done by U.S. weakness in the late 1970s should not be underestimated. To mention only one event, our weakness made possible the first successful Islamist revolution in the modern world in Iran in 1979, in the course of which we allowed a new Iranian government to hold 52 Americans hostage for 444 days

The era of weakness ended with the American public's repudiation of Jimmy Carter in 1980…...

As the left shudders, Bush leads. In his speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars 27 years after Reagan's, Bush also told the truth about Vietnam. Now he has to be steadfast in supporting General Petraeus and ensuring that the war is fought as intelligently and energetically as possible. Not everyone in his administration is as fully committed to this task as they should be. Bush will have to be an energetic and effective commander in chief, both abroad and on the home front, over his final 17 months. Last week was a good start.” Weekly Standard

A Question of National Honor

By James Bowman
Published 8/28/2007 12:08:18 AM, (Excerpts)

Nothing that's happened in this summer's Silly Season so far has amused me half so much as President Bush's suddenly upsetting the media's whole rhetorical apple-cart by comparing Iraq to Vietnam. The media take that has now prevailed since the American-backed overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan in the autumn of 2001 -- that every further step in the War on Terror is further progress into a Vietnam-like "quagmire" -- has done a 180. Now they're dragging onto the stage one anti-Bush historian after another to proclaim that Iraq is nothing like Vietnam and that the President, as usual, has got it all wrong.

"What is Bush suggesting? That we didn't fight hard enough, stay long enough?" asks Robert Dallek in the Los Angeles Times. "That's nonsense. It's a distortion." Likewise, "Vietnam was not a bunch of sectarian groups fighting each other," Stanley Karnow told USA Today before asking: "Does he think we should have stayed in Vietnam?" Well, yes, I suppose he does think that. But I suspect that he also thinks we should have stayed not to keep on losing for even longer than we did but rather to win.

For in spite of all the differences between Iraq and Vietnam that the administration's apologists are right to identify, there is one salient point of similarity that the anti-war left is powerfully invested in denying. It is that American national honor is at stake in Iraq just as it was in Vietnam, and that a premature withdrawal of American troops from Iraq -- and what we know would follow for the Iraqis who have trusted us and been our friends -- would be a stain on that honor as great or greater than the stain it incurred from the abandonment of our friends in Indochina in 1975. Then, in the President's words, "the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like 'boat people,' 're-education camps,' and 'killing fields.'"....

Such reminders are particularly irksome to the media and the mainstream of academic historians, for whom Vietnam was merely the long-delayed triumph of youthful and journalistic idealism over a corrupt political and military establishment. That was the version of America's abandonment of her allies that was once again on sale a few months ago on the death of David Halberstam, but it's no more persuasive now than it was then. The media's belief in the glory -- at least their own glory -- in America's retreat, is also what blinds them to the irrelevance of the administration's mistakes in Iraq, which they also keep harping on -- as if those mistakes were of the slightest relevance now. What they can't understand is that it doesn't matter, even if the whole Iraqi invasion were a mistake, in terms of America's national honor. If President Bush has been right about nothing else, he is right about this. If American troops leave before the insurgency is defeated, it will be as much of a dishonor to us as it would have been had the administration been right about everything.

The anti-war crowd have never been able to understand this: war is always stupid, immoral, unjust, hateful, but once a country is engaged in one the national honor is also engaged, and the consequences of dishonor are incalculable. There is no way to "redeploy" American troops, to use a favorite euphemism of the Democrats, so long as there is still fight in the enemy, without surrendering
And surrender is always a dishonor. For us to surrender to the terror campaign -- whether "al Qaeda" or "civil war" makes no difference -- would be to devalue America's word in the international arena forever. This would be disastrous not only to us but to the world order that we uphold and must uphold in spite of the Buchananites and others who think we can simply refuse this role and go back to being Fortress America. They, too, fail to understand national honor.

For, it doesn't matter, either, if the American imperium is a good or bad thing, though we ought naturally to want to make it as good as it can be; it doesn't matter if we think it is primitive and immoral for the world to judge us by our willingness to go on making sacrifices of our young men and women on behalf of something as stupid as trying to make Iraq into even a vaguely Western-style democracy. For better or for worse, this is the task that we have undertaken, and it will be a shame and a disaster to us now to fail in it. It's encouraging to me to think that President Bush understands this, even if his critics don't.” American Spectator

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