There are More Lessons Than Vietnam, Mr. President

It was courageous of President Bush to draw a comparison between the wars in Vietnam and Iraq during his speech Wednesday at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Kansas City. It is a theme he will probably pursue further next Tuesday when he addresses the American Legion in Reno.

The anti-war movement has long drawn a connection between the two conflicts, but from their own perspective. They are convinced that they can once again mount enough public pressure to force the politicians in Washington to withdraw from Iraq just as they forced the U.S. surrender in Vietnam over 30 years ago. And you’ve got to give them credit. Led and heavily financed by extremist groups like, they have already succeeded in capturing every major Democrat candidate for the presidency and a vast majority of the Democrats in Congress. Polls continue to show, however, that 2/3rds of the American people – while insisting that there be progress on the political front in Iraq — are opposed to withdrawing our troops before their mission is accomplished.

In his speech, Bush pointed to the “catastrophic consequences” of America’s failure in Vietnam. Estimates of the number of Vietnamese that ended up in prison camps range as high as 400,000, and, as the President noted, tens of thousands of them died. Over 1.5 Vietnamese became refugees. In neighboring Cambodia, 1/5th of the total population (1.7 million Cambodians) were slaughtered by the brutal Pol Pot regime. Bush concluded: “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’.”

There is a further comparison that could be made to Vietnam, and even to the Korean War, which may be even more relevant than the one drawn by President Bush. We can be certain that today’s militant Jihadists who are dedicated to our death and destruction have examined American conduct in these past conflicts in hopes of discovering both our strengths and our weaknesses.

If I were Osama bin Laden, I would certainly be a student of American history. I would highlight the Korean and Vietnam war experiences where America suffered huge losses but failed to pursue the wars to a victorious conclusion. I would note that, in every instance, America’s failures were the result of decisions by her political leaders who lacked the will, courage or stamina to persevere until victory was achieved. While being fearful of the awesome capabilities of the U.S. military, I would gain confidence and optimism from the weaknesses of the U.S. politicians and diplomats.

If I were the leader of Syria or Iran, I would have learned that American political leaders — in both Korea and Vietnam — showed a clear unwillingness to prevent men and material from being imported from adjacent nations that were friendly to her enemies. The Red Chinese were granted full sanctuary for their bases above the Yalu River, despite the fact that it was from those bases that hundreds of thousands of Red Chinese troops supported by MIG jets attacked the U.S./U.N. forces in Korea. The same situation prevailed in the Vietnam conflict with U.S. politicians forbidding the interception of supplies being shipped through the Gulf of Tonkin by the Soviet Union, and by land from Communist China, into North Vietnam. And then Americans were handcuffed from conducting full-scale attacks against the Ho Chi Minh trail where it passed through Laos and Cambodia. Cannot Syria and Iran now assume that they will be able to send support across the border to help the terrorists fight the Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan without suffering serious reprisals? Of course they can … and do!

If I were in charge of the terrorist campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, would I be encouraged by statements like “The war is lost” from the leader of the U.S. Senate? Could I take heart from the fact that virtually all of the Democrat candidates for President of the United States are committed to an early withdrawal of American forces from Iraq? Could I surmise that if my efforts in Iraq are successful that they would also work in Afghanistan and elsewhere? Of course I could!

And if I were an Iraqi living in the besieged city of Baghdad, would I want to identify myself with or assist the U.S. forces when each day the news carries reports that those troops might be withdrawn by the Congress in a matter of only months? To be closely associated with the Americans would carry an enormous risk of reprisals from the anti-U.S. forces that would surely occupy Baghdad soon after the U.S. departure.

During the past century, U.S. foreign policy has demonstrated our strength, but it has also revealed our weaknesses. It is not only possible, but likely, that our enemies have learned and benefited more from our past mistakes than we have.

The debate in our country seems to have centered on how soon we should withdraw from our war effort, and not what the consequences of withdrawal will be. The question that never seems to be asked to the anti-war activists: “What happens then?”