EYELESS IN INDOCHINA & IRAQ: PETER RODMAN & WILLIAM SHAWCROSS COMES TO BUSH'S RESCUE?
"The sirens who call for us to abandon Iraq would do well to turn an eye to history. In the careless partition of India in 1947 around a million people died. When America was defeated in Vietnam in 1975 the bloodbath theory proved true --- horror engulfed all of Indochina".
"Now more than ever, Britain must stay in Iraq", William Shawcross, The Spectator (London), 25 August 2007, pp. 10-11.
"The president is absolutely right to include the Khmer Rouge genocide in his recitation of the Vietnam endgame. When Congress, in the summer of 1973, legislated an end to U.S. military action in, over, or off the shores of Indochina, the only U.S. military activity then going on was air support of a friendly Cambodian government and army desperately defending their country against a North Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge onslaught. "Cambodia is not worth the life of one American flier," Tip O'Neill declared. By 1975, administration pleas to help Cambodia were answered by New York Times articles suggesting the Khmer Rouge would probably be moderate once they came into power and the Cambodian people had a better life to look forward to once we left....
So the president has his history right. The outcome in Indochina was not foreordained. Congress had the last word, however, between 1973 and 1975.
The strategic consequences of defeat in Indochina were also serious. Leonid Brezhnev crowed that the global "correlation of forces" had shifted in favor of "socialism," and the Soviets went on a geopolitical offensive in the third world for a decade. Demoralized allied leaders in Europe as well as Asia feared the new Soviet aggressiveness and lamented the paralysis of American will. When Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990, he and his colleagues invoked Vietnam as evidence that U.S. warnings did not need to be taken seriously. That's what it means to lose credibility. Once lost, it has to be re-earned the hard way.
No analogies are ever complete, but — given our global leadership and the number of allies and friends that rely on us for their security — the consequences of an American defeat can be counted on to be terrible. How can anyone seriously think otherwise?"
Peter Rodman. "Returning to Cambodia", in www.brookings.edu/views/op-ed/rodman.com. Originally in the National Review © Copyright 2007 National Review Online.
It is perhaps irony of ironies that two men, who thirty sum years ago, were one might well say at polar opposites over American policies in Cambodia in the early 1970's, have now found themselves on the same side of the barricades over Iraq. Strange bedfellows indeed! However, the commonality of both so intelligent and respected men, as Messieurs. Rodman and Shawcross in supporting President Bush's usage of the Vietnam analogy recently in arguing for his policies in Iraq calls for a deeper analysis than merely dismissing the matter out of hand, as so many have done. The fact that so experienced an official as Peter Rodman (who I have praised in this journal before), and so principled and independent an individual as William Shawcross (the son of course of Sir Hartley Shawcross, the chief British prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial) supported Bush in his usage of the example of Vietnam in the midst of the Iraqi imbroglio seems to indicate that there is more to the argument than one is tempted to see at first light.
Is there in fact though? As a historian whose dissertation project covered (from the British, French as well as American perspective) the beginnings of the America involvement in the Indochina debacle, I can (unlike many who have in fact ever so quickly cared to open their mouths about this ever so complicated subject) speak with something approaching an air of authority. From what I can see, it seems self-evident that per se, there were no real American interests involved in Indochina. Except for the those invented by intellectual sleight of hand at the time, aka the now discredited 'domino theory'. Consequently, when (as perhaps inevitably) South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos did in fact fall in 1975, the results were: a) nothing of real geopolitical substance was lost by the United States; b) the only negative aftershocks were of the prestige variety. Something which the equally sleight of hand (but of a more successful variety) policies of the Reagan Administration quickly dispelled. The fact that millions of innocents were massacred by the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia was and is horrible. And, insofar as the American withdrawal from South Vietnam in the Spring of 1975 made that occur, than certainly an argument could theoretically be made that perhaps that withdrawal was something to be avoided. However, this chain of arguments falls into the logical quick sand of the philosophical fallacy of 'post hoc ergo propter hoc'. In point of fact, there is no reason to believe that if the South Vietnamese regime were to have not been toppled that: i) Cambodia's regime would have remained in power; ii) American policy was in the years 1973 to 1975 pursuing a policy of keeping the Khmer Rouge out of power for its own sake. Nothing could have been further from the truth. There is no evidence that per se, Peter Rodman's superiors: Nixon, Kissinger, Haig et cetera, were willing to commit American power to keeping Cambodia non-communist. Cambodia was for these gentleman, rightly or wrongly (and an argument could be made supporting them) was merely, as Shawcross himself put it: A SIDESHOW.
Perhaps it is this last mot, which is the real Indochinese analogy that which we should remember today as it applies to Iraq. For the masters of American foreign policy in the years 2002 and 2003, Iraq, per se, its people and their way of life, was for the most part (and I do not speak for each and every individual in the American foreign policy apparatus of course), merely an afterthought, an excuse to act in that land. The rationale for American policy (such as it was...) in the inner circles of power, were that of viewing Iraq as a 'test case'. As an example for the rest of the region. To stamp upon the Sunni Arab regimes in the region, as well as
Shiite Persia, the fact that American power was supreme and could not be contested except at their dire peril. An assumption that turned out to be horrifically and utterably wrong. From start to finish. In that respect, the analogy to the prior American debacle in Indochina is fundamentally right and correct. But, not in the fashion that President Bush or Messieurs. Rodman or Shawcross no doubt meant.