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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Sorry George, it ain't gonna work

by bert

Let me join other historically literate bloggers (Digby, for one) in piling on our president for all this crazy talk about Vietnam and Cambodia today.

The old saying is that truth is the first casualty of war. White House speech writers have just fragged historical truth in a new attempt to beat back criticism of the Iraq war. In a speech to veterans in Kansas City the president said we should not leave Iraq because when the U.S. left Vietnam that led to, among other atrocities, Pol Pot and his killing fields in Cambodia.
Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left. Whatever your position in that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like 'boat people,' 're-education camps' and 'killing fields.' "
I am especially eager to pile on because this nonsense has been popping up out there among defenders of the war even before this speech today. I in fact had drafted a rant responding to a letter by Bob Ash of Minocqua in Sunday's Journal Sentinel. And Charlie Sykes today also made a glancing reference to Cambodia in defending the war in Iraq.

As our president correcly highlights, there is a lot of debate about the Vietnam War even today. That debate happens in an arena that is open to interpretation. Why did we lose? What does it teach us about future military action? These are questions that can produce opposing arguments with evidence backing up both.

But past this arena of debate there are hard facts. To claim that the murderous regime of Pol Pot from 1975 to 1979 happened because the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam does not stand up to any scrutiny.

The history of the fall of Cambodia to the Khmer Rouge in 1975 is too complicated to cover here. Suffice it to say that Cambodia had a relatively prosperous and wholly noncommunist regime under Norodom Sihanouk before the U.S. started waging all out war in Southeast Asia in 1964.
The fact we waged that war, and the bumbling way we did so, undermined Sihanouk’s popularity and strengthened the communists. Here's a lesson: Invading a nationalistic country and killing lots of civilians in pursuit of an enemy may in fact make the problem worse.

Eventually the U.S. helped in overthrowing Sihanouk, which created a political vacuum that the Khmer Rouge could eventually fill. Pol Pot's purge of internal enemies in Cambodia killed two million, making that regime the worse killer of the largest share of its own people in the 20th Century, before communists in Vietnam overthrew him in 1979.

The one truth that you can apply to both debacles in Southeast Asia and Iraq is not that we shouldn’t pull out. It is that we never should have gone in in the first place. Like weapons of mass destruction, the domino theory was a rationale for war that was proved to be wrong.

But I think the White House is telling historical lies in order to later blame all of the problems in Iraq on those who will inherit the mess they created. Too bad for them and their ploy that many of us not only recall 1975, but 2003 as well.

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