The reaction is coming in fast and furious to Bush's "Iraq is Vietnam" speech. The emerging consensus is that the speech was an unmitigated disaster and will contribute to eroding public support for the war. Vulnerable Republican incumbents in Congress are no doubt gnashing their teeth over this one (Norm? Susan? Mitch? We're coming to get ya!). Raw Story has the transcript of Bush's Vietnam remarks. Below is an excerpt from the speech that pretty well sums up the new marketing campaign that the administration has come up with to perpetuate America's involvement in the quagmire of Iraq:
Bush: "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 like 'boat people,' 're-education camps' and 'killing fields,'"
This argument is a popular one among neoconservatives embittered by the disaster in Iraq and seeking to shame the American people into supporting a continuation of this debacle until a Democrat occupies the White House and can be blamed for losing the war. But it is historically inaccurate as I am more than happy to explain.
The Vietnam War lasted from 1959 until April 30, 1975 when Saigon fell to invading North Vietnamese forces. The final death tool was estimated at 1.5 million. Another 500,000 were killed in the aftermath of the war. What many people in this country don't understand however is that the Vietnam War and the First Indochina War that preceded it didn't have to happen at all and were only the result of meddling by Western powers in Indochina after World War II.
When the Japanese surrendered, the US, Britian and France along with China made a deal to restore French colonial rule to Indochina even though Ho Chi Minh and his Viet Minh forces had already seized control of the country. This led to the First Indochina War during which the French sought to reassert their control over Vietnam. In 1948, the French set up a separate political entity in southern Vietnam under former emperor Bao Dai. Consequently, it was the French along with their American supporters, who created the artificial division that lead to North and South Vietnam and laid the groundwork for the Vietnam War (aka the 'Second Indochina War").
The Vietnam War itself might have ended in the mid 1960's had then President Lyndon Johnson not order a massive escalation of US forces in the country. The South Vietnamese government was widely viewed as corrupt and incompetent (just like the Maliki government in Iraq), and steadily lost the support of the South Vietnamese people as the war progressed.
It's no surprise that the North Vietnamese conducted brutal reprisals against South Vietnamese officers and officials who had facilitated the US in conducting the savage bombing campaigns that killed hundreds of thousands of people and completely obliterated the economic infrastructure of the North. It's also no surprise that two million Vietnamese who were involved with the regime felt it necessary to flee Vietnam with about half losing their lives on the open seas.
But again, none of this, the First Indochina War, the Vietnam War, the escalation by Lyndon Johnson with the resulting casualties, none of this ever had to occur if the Western powers had simply allowed events to take their natural course in Vietnam after World War II. Millions of lives could have been spared, and there would never have been any re-education camps and boat people.
Bush also referred to "killing fields" in his speech. This is a reference to the sites in Cambodia where the communist Khmer Rouge slaughtered about 2 million people from 1975 to 1979. Once again, upon closer inspection, this analogy falls apart.
Cambodia was never occupied by the United States. While we did drop millions of tons of bombs on the country and engaged in skirmishes with Viet Minh forces who used bases on Cambodian territory to fight the South Vietnamese government we never established a formal and permanent presence. Cambodia was ostensibly neutral in the Vietnam War and we "respected" that neutrality.
So, our withdrawal from Vietnam was in no way responsible for the killing fields of Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge and its predecessors were in existence long before the Vietnam War began heating up. Our intervention in Cambodia did, however, succeed in increasing support among the Cambodian peasantry for the Khmer Rouge. Our savage bombing campaigns drove the enraged populace into the arms of the Khmer Rouge which had never enjoyed widespread support before then. This turned out to be a key factor in the rise of Pol Pot who eventually overthrew the Cambodian government and began the mass slaughter of millions of people.
And we all know who eventually toppled the Khmer Rouge and put an end to the killing fields. Not the Americans. Not the French. Not the British. That's right, it was the Vietnamese Communists who invaded Cambodia and toppled the Khmer Rouge putting an end to that genocidal regime.
President Bush, because of his ignorance of the actual history of Vietnam, has clearly drawn the wrong conclusions with respect to Iraq. The conclusion we should draw is that civil wars in foreign countries are best settled by the people in those countries themselves. In Vietnam, our meddling greatly extended the conflict and increased the number of casualties on both sides.
In Iraq, we will have the same influence given that we are now arming and organizing Sunni militias which will most likely one day violently engage with the Shiite-dominated Iraqi army and police. By perpetuating our involvement in Iraq, we are only increasing the final death toll of this misguided and unnecessary war that didn't have to happen. There didn't have to be a civil war in Iraq, and there might not have been if we had just allowed events to take their natural course. We don't know what will happen if we leave, but we do know that our continued presence will be a source of conflict for years to come just as it was in Vietnam.
Note: Wizbang Blue is now closed and our authors have moved on. Paul Hooson can now be found at Wizbang Pop!. Please come see him there!