Friday, April 29, 2005

Lessons From the Fall of Saigon

On the 30th Anniversary of The Fall Of Saigon - a date of rare American failure and dishonor - Stephan J. Morris has penned the MUST READ ARTICLE. (Morris is a fellow at Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC.)


Here are a FEW extended excerpts; (READ THE WHOLE THING!):

Thirty years after the fall of Saigon the received wisdom among large sections of Western academia and journalism is little changed. The successive U.S. administrations that intervened in the Vietnam War are widely portrayed as foolish or immoral, while the activist opponents of the war are seen as wise and morally courageous. This simple picture is transposed to the Iraq war by many of today's antiwar generation. Yet the widely held image of the two sides is a crude misrepresentation. The Vietnam War provides few analogies for the Middle East, except as a demonstration of how so many in the West are willing to champion the cause of totalitarian states and movements that the U.S. opposes. [...]

Tragically for the South Vietnamese people, and for the South Vietnamese and U.S. soldiers who had fought so bravely, the Johnson administration's failed policies also generated a cynicism among the American public that imposed severe constraints on the foreign-policy options available to President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Yet, despite the difficult hand they were dealt, Messrs. Nixon and Kissinger did well. Their counterinsurgency policies were sufficiently successful that by 1972 the guerrilla insurgency had been defeated. Moreover, after years of training, the South Vietnamese army became responsible for all ground combat, and was able to defeat a massive North Vietnamese conventional offensive in 1972 with U.S. air and logistical support. The end of the draft and removal of American combat troops from Vietnam drastically reduced public opposition to administration policies. [...]

Lacking mass public support for their goals, but encouraged by weakening of the White House by the emerging Watergate scandal, the antiwar left took their battle from the streets to the corridors of the U.S. Congress. Guided by leaders lobbying in Washington, the small force of some 6,000 antiwar activists in major states, were able to pressure substantial number of congressmen into legislating against the military options available to the U.S. Inflamed with a hatred of American foreign policy, and a romantic infatuation with America's communist enemy, young activists like John Kerry spoke of systematic atrocities being conducted everywhere by U.S. forces, actress Jane Fonda warned of U.S. bombing North Vietnamese dikes to drown hundreds of thousands of civilians, while New York Congresswoman Bella Abzug spoke of hundreds of thousands of political prisoners in South Vietnam.

These tales were false and the reverse of reality: systematic atrocities were being conducted by the communists, and hundreds of thousands of political prisoners were rotting in the North Vietnamese gulag. But in the radicalized atmosphere of the times, many academics, journalists and congressmen inhabited a fantasy world. Many, like Sen. George McGovern, believed that the South Vietnamese government was the enemy of peace, while the North Vietnamese were merely victimized advocates of peace. Legislation to cut back U.S. aid to South Vietnam soon followed. This took place in a time of world-wide inflation, which meant that the South Vietnamese army that had repelled the Soviet supplied North Vietnamese army in 1972, was in need of more aid not less. But after the massive U.S. aid cutbacks of 1974, the South Vietnamese military could not defend its territory. Defeat in 1975 was thereby ensured. [...]

During the 1980s the cause of Third World totalitarian revolutions was transposed from Vietnam to El Salvador and Nicaragua. The congressional lobbying tactics learned during the Vietnam War were reapplied by the American left, to try to ensure communist victories in Central America. But greater world events conspired to defeat the "Sandalistas." The collapse of the Soviet Union pulled the military and economic rug out from under their friends. Democracy prevailed and the communists lost freely contested elections they wished to avoid. [...]

In the Middle East the task for the Left of finding a political cause to serve has been made more difficult by the weakness of communism and the ostensibly religious nature of so much anti-American politics. Radical Leftists prefer their utopian and messianic totalitarian movements to have a secular cast. Prosperous and democratic Israel today is the main enemy, as it was even before the expansionist settlement movement evolved. That is why the cause of some Palestinian factions has been embraced. But the bottom line for the radical Left everywhere is the undermining of American global power, and undermining rule by America's friends. If local people have to live under repressive movements or regimes as a consequence, such as the Baathists tyrannies in Iraq or Syria, this can always be rationalized or justified.

From such people policy-makers can expect no wisdom on how to pursue the war against Islamic terrorists, nor how to encourage political orders compatible with human freedom. Thirty years after the Left celebrated the American retreat from Southeast Asia, this much is clear.



Robert Elart Waters said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Robert Elart Waters said...


C'mon. Give it up. We went into Vietnam with the most noble of motives, but it was an ill-conceived war we could never have "won-" for the simple reason that the people of South Vietnam were either on the other side, or didn't care enough to fight.

David Halberstam tells the definitive Vietnam story in *The Best and the Brightest,* about how Walt Rostow asked a glum junior staffer at the NSC why he seemed so depressed despite the up-beat
body counts. "Well, it's like this, Dr. Rostow," he explained. "No matter how completely we defeat the enemy on the battlefield, someday we're going to have to go home- and he will still be there."

After spending a moment with a blank look on his face, Rostow replied, "That's an interesting point-" and chanced the subject.

Ignoring the question of how the Saigon government, despite its vast superiority to that in Hanoi, could ever have been regarded as representing "freedom," what that NSC staffer had to say was more than just "an interesting point." It was the *central* point of the whole war! Even now, decades later, it amazes me how many people refuse to swallow the bitter pill of historical truth, and admit that the war in Vietnam was a well-intentioned mistake.

You can't win a counter-insurgency war in which practically the whole population is either on the other side, or doesn't care. That's a lesson we should have learned from Vietnam. God help us if we didn't. We can *help* another people win such a war for themselves. But we can't do it for them. That's why the encouraging signs where the new Iraqi military and police forces are concerned are so important.

In the war against terror, we're fighting for our lives. *Not* fighting is not an option. Please don't undermine that effort by comparing it to the rightly-discredited Vietnam debacle!

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