Empire Note by Rahul Mahajan
It’s not very interesting to take apart the latest bizarre rhetorical gambit from the White House – analogizing Iraq to Vietnam in order, strangely, to argue against withdrawal, on the grounds that allegedly premature withdrawal in 1975 led to bloodbaths in Vietnam and Cambodia and that the same thing could happen in Iraq.
There was, of course, no bloodbath in Vietnam after the North Vietnamese victory – or if you want to term the reprisals after an utterly wrenching 25-year conflict so, then they constituted a bloodbath on the order of the carnage wrought by the United States in perhaps a month of the war. They were also of a similar order to the executions of an estimated 10,000 collaborators and suspected collaborators in France after its liberation in World War 2 – and the Nazi occupation of France was nothing compared to the U.S. occupation of Vietnam, even if you include the killing of close to 100,000 French Jews.
The bloodbath in Cambodia, of course, had nothing to do with U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam and a great deal to do with the savage bombing in the first half of the 1970’s that probably killed several hundred thousand Cambodians and drove many others into the arms of the Khmer Rouge.
And indeed it was not the wonderful West but the Vietnamese haters of freedom who liberated the Cambodians from the Khmer Rouge’s auto-genocide. In fact, afterward, because of our vicious refusal to forgive Vietnam for the wrongs we had done it, we supported the Khmer Rouge. That last, somehow, in all the moral posturing of cruise-missile liberals, we never quite hear. It’s as if we constantly justified our own aggression by invoking the evil of the Nazis and the spectre of Munich even though we worked with Nazis and even helped them into positions of power after the genocide they committed – oh, wait, we did that too.
What’s particularly strange about the argument is that the case for a bloodbath in Iraq after the U.S. leaves is far stronger than the nonexistent case for a bloodbath that didn’t happen in Vietnam. After all, there’s already a bloodbath in Iraq.
Anyway, refutations of Bush’s absurd argument have been pouring in from journalists, historians, and virtually anyone with functioning brain-cells and a laptop.
Although for the most part they are ably done, soberly and sensibly reasoned, reading them my first reaction is to say that I agree with Bush: Iraq is almost exactly the same as Vietnam, in one crucial way that all the commentariat have missed – and that Bush epitomizes in his own person.
With Vietnam, we struggled hard and mostly successfully as a nation to make sure we didn’t learn the true lessons of the war. And with Iraq, we are on track to the same achievement, although this time it seems the path will be much easier.
This is a similarity that George Bush, a man who seemingly has never learned anything from anything or anyone in his entire life, is well positioned to appreciate.
It is true that the mainstream of the intelligentsia did learn some things from Vietnam and some even from Iraq. For example, I have recently found out that we know now that Vietnam was not, in fact, a central front in the cold war – much as we apparently learned that Iraq is not the central front in the war on terror.
What this means I cannot imagine. Maybe the cold war and the war on terror are actually ethereal entities, abstract Platonic Forms that are not to be sullied by contact with reality.
Perhaps we could have learned instead that the cold war and the war on terror were not just mis-executed but misconceived?
We have apparently learned, from both of these wars, that America’s legendary good intentions are apparently not enough to ensure a good outcome.
Perhaps we could have learned instead that it’s very easy to assume you have good intentions, but that, on close examination, it often turns out that you really don’t?
Although respectable opinion will have nothing to do with Bush’s analogy, the fact that he could even dream of making it, what to speak of the fact that almost all of the refutations were based on pragmatic rather than moral arguments, speaks to a continuing moral idiocy with regard to Vietnam – and a lot of other things — that spreads far beyond the revolting right wing.
And Bush the moral idiot was not wrong about that.