Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Learning the wrong historical lessons: Giuliani edition

In his ghost-written piece for Foreign Affairs, Rudy Giuliani compares the situation in Iraq today to that in Vietnam in the early 1970s and draws the following historical lesson:
America must remember one of the lessons of the Vietnam War. Then, as now, we fought a war with the wrong strategy for several years. And then, as now, we corrected course and began to show real progress. Many historians today believe that by about 1972 we and our South Vietnamese partners had succeeded in defeating the Vietcong insurgency and in setting South Vietnam on a path to political self-sufficiency. But America then withdrew its support, allowing the communist North to conquer the South. The consequences were dire, and not only in Vietnam: numerous deaths in places such as the killing fields of Cambodia, a newly energized and expansionist Soviet Union, and a weaker America. The consequences of abandoning Iraq would be worse.
Let's take this apart sentence by sentence. I suppose few people would argue with the assertion that we fought the first years of the Vietnam War with the wrong strategy. The notion that we showed "real progress" in the early 1970s, however, is transparent nonsense. While the death rate for Americans dropped, the political legitimacy of the South Vietnamese government never came anywhere close to stability, and the carnage in the Vietnamese countryside only grew worse. Second, the North Vietnamese ability to impose political terms on Thieu in the South were only becoming more effective. Indeed, they had extracted a concession from the United States that denied South Vietnam's separate sovereignty from the North. When Thieu refused to accept this, Nixon felt compelled to commence the Christmas Bombing of North Vietnam. Rudy's ghostwriters may feel they can assert that by the early 1970s we had succeeded in defeating the North Vietnamese, but without getting into the details, suffice to say that engaging in a massive escalation in Year 7 of a war is an odd choice for a military that feels it has already won. Third, while it's true that American withdrawal of funding accelerated the collapse of the Thieu regime, the conquest of the South by the ARNV would not have happened so quickly if Thieu's regime was not politically collapsed to begin with. Fourth, the implied idea that if only we had stayed things would have turned out better for the United States ignores that dire moral impact that the heedless killing of millions of Asian peasants was having on American political culture, not to mention the fact that the price of the war was bankrupting the country. Fifth, the idea that the Soviet Union was "energized" by the U.S. defeat in Vietnam ignores already well down the path toward economic implosion that would eventually do it in, and shows the way in which the neocon right still doesn't understand that it was containment, not rollback, that won the Cold War. Sixth, the suggestion that "the killing fields of Cambodia" was part of the aftermath of our withdrawal from Vietnam carefully elides the fact that it the U.S. supported Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, who were responsible for those killing fields, whereas it was the Vietnamese Communists who opposed and eventually ousted Pol Pot. Finally, the notion that the consequences of leaving Iraq would be worse than those we faced after leaving Vietnam is (in addition to being bare, unsupported assertion) predicated on the (frankly, criminally insane) assumption that (a) things would have been better if we had stayed in Vietnam past 1973, and (b) that things turned out so bad for us. Wait guys, didn't we win the Cold War after we left Vietnam? Just checking.

I don't normally agree with Greg Djerejian on foreign policy, but his summation of Rudy's position as "Walt Rostow meets the Sopranos" is just right.

1 comment:

Olivier N. said...

Hello Nils
Recently someone told me that the real change in historical times was not 9/11/2001 but 2003, when the United States decided unilaterally to invade Irak. It created a shock among "evil" countries, rushing them to secure their territories with nuclear power.