After a speech he gave last week at the National Press Club, [Webb] was asked about parallels between Iraq and Vietnam, and said that he must be the only guy in town who didn’t really see any: “I don’t believe there are parallels between Vietnam and Iraq. I may be one of the few people serving who still believes the Vietnam War was sustainable; it was important that South Vietnam not fall to the communists.” Whereas in Iraq, “we have tied down our troops in what I called years ago a strategic mousetrap.”
The Vietnam war was not sustainable because it had energized the entitled Baby Boom generation to become the first group of young people to mobilize politically. In a military sense, we probably could have garrisoned Saigon for a long, long time.
One problem with these discussions is mixing up hindsight with foresight. In 1973, it wasn’t clear that we would win the Cold War, or that it would ever end. (It wasn’t even clear in 1989!) One thing that should have been clear by then, though, was that in our fight against Stalinist regimes (I’m careful to use the term Stalinist because it reflects the totalitarian version of “communism,” a descriptor you wouldn’t apply to “socialist” France or Sweden) was the terrible allies we chose.
At least somebody knew we had to do better. The CIA funded Castro after Batista had the Mexicans imprison most of his guerillas, and, again later after he returned to Cuba. (Castro was a member of the anti-communist “ortodoxo” party at first.) And we finally turned our back on Diem. But at the same time we supported a whole Rogue’s gallery of tinpot dictators who weren’t Stalinist, but Fascist. Somoza, Pinochet, etc.
Minus that mistake, I think it was the right thing to do, even though they weren’t Europeans, to keep half of Korea out of the hands of Kim Il Sung and his psychopathic son. I think it would have been important to keep South Vietnam out of a similarly brutal regime–except Ho wasn’t worse than Diem!
It’s important for our generation to have a deep understanding of the Cold War. Enough so that the nuances are known to people. Because I believe that the number one mistake (of an overall successful policy) was the strange bedfellows we chose.
We are repeating that mistake in the “war on terror.” We prop up Musharraf to the point where we won’t go get bin Laden. We prop up Mubarrak, the Saud family, et al. Meanwhile, we are barely paying attention to the democratically elected governments in Lebanon and Palestine because someone with those same party names once was a suicide bomber. Imagine if we had tried to rebuild Germany not just by de-Nazification, but by denying the vote to anyone who had been a nazi!
I believe the USSR was a real threat. I believe Stalin and Mao were just as big of monsters as Hitler, if not bigger (just by sheer body count). I also believe that Iran is a real threat today. I am even less comfortable with a bunch of shiite ayatollahs on the nuclear trigger than I am with a bunch of KGB men. But if we are going to win this one, we can’t make the same mistakes.
If I was President, I would support Lebanon and Palestine (and Israel!), demand democratic reform in Saudi Arabia, get a pan-Arab force to keep some peace in Iraq, get the US troops out of there, turn up the heat on that dipshit in Pyongyang (assassinate him), and do something to get leverage over Iran.
It’s like the Bushies are trying to make the world be full of nuclear armed terrorists!