Monday, January 15, 2007

Been There, Done That

Yelling "Munich!" (or even "Carthage!" for the more historically inclined -- and for them, why isn't it enough to yell "Sicily and the Athenians!" in response to any idea of escalation?) isn't the proper response to questioning whether to keep throwing good money (and lives) after bad.
I would have only used the first line as the headline, but it did ask a lot of the reader not to put it into context. On the other hand, this may be the first recorded instance of a publication using the phrase "lessons of Vietnam" to refer to a Republican.
East Valley Tribune, Jan. 14, 2007

One of the last bills passed by the lame-duck GOP Congress "normalized" U.S. trade with Vietnam. Permanent normal trade relations took effect with President Bush’s declaration on Dec. 29.

Vietnam then notified the World Trade Organization of the country’s ratification of WTO requirements, and formally joined the WTO on Thursday.

Trade normalization and WTO membership complete a process that began in 1994 when the U.S. lifted its trade embargo against Vietnam. We re-established diplomatic relations in 1995, exchanging ambassadors in 1997. In December, 2001, Congress and the Vietnamese National Assembly both adopted the U.S.-Vietnam Trade Agreement. U.S. trade with Vietnam increased to more than $6.4 billion in 2004. The State Department estimates that foreign investment in Vietnam, much from U.S. companies, will exceed $9 billion in 2006.

Last November, Vietnam hosted the 14th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Meeting in Hanoi. President Bush attended, along with the leaders of 20 other APEC members. You probably remember that picture of Bush in a colorful traditional silk tunic, called ao dai.

So, given President Bush’s call to expand the war in Iraq, it’s worth asking: What did we gain from the last few years of the Vietnam War?

We know what we lost; you can read the names of the dead and wounded. Vietnam certainly didn’t liberalize immediately, and refugees fled the country -- but more war imposed additional suffering, too. Cambodia fell apart, but we helped destabilize a regime we disliked, which got replaced by a genocidal one -- and we stood by until the Vietnamese took out the Khmer Rouge.
Thirty years later, with direct flights between San Francisco and Ho Chi Minh City, with Intel building a $1 billion plant, how did the U.S. benefit from the last years of that war?

How would today’s world be different if we’d withdrawn from Vietnam once we recognized the futility? For we did withdraw, but what did we gain by not cutting our losses and instead trying to accomplish politics by means other than war?

The "domino theory" held that if Vietnam fell, so would its neighbors, and before you knew it, the Commies would be at our shores. The national honor theory said that we had to keep fighting, even when pointless, or nobody could trust the U.S. ever again.

Instead, about a dozen years later, the Berlin Wall fell and freedom was on the march. So even if we actually could increase our troops in Iraq, what good will it accomplish -- and can we really trust the people who were so wrong about both Iraq and Vietnam to finally get one right?

President Bush’s "new strategy" is neither new, nor a strategy. We’ve been there, done that. Doing about 10 percent more of the same, at this late date, won’t change anything. It isn’t a new strategy, just a refusal to face facts. And based on our Vietnam experience, what, exactly, will additional sacrifice gain us?

We shouldn’t look back in 30 years and realize that many died simply to avoid admitting a mistake. President Bush visited Vietnam and wore an ao dai, yet he still learns nothing from history.

It’s fair to attack Democrats in the 1990’s as irrationally devoted to welfare. We refused to reform or change it, despite the evidence, clinging to the hope that if we just put enough money into the effort, it theoretically could work. But in the real world, it never did; welfare needed to be scrapped, and eventually even Democrats had to recognize reality.

But why do Republicans have the same irrational devotion to a badly planned, poorly executed, and fatally flawed war? Bush refuses to change course, despite the evidence, clinging to hope that just a bit more money and lives will make a difference. Iraq is his welfare system, and he just won’t admit failure -- or that 30 years from now, we’ll have gained nothing from his folly.


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