Bush's Bogus Vietnam History Kills
It is often said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. But a much worse fate may await countries whose leaders distort and falsify history. Such countries are doomed to experience even bloodier miscalculations.
That was the case with Germany after World War I when Adolf Hitler’s Nazis built a political movement based in part on the myth that weak politicians in Berlin had stabbed brave German troops in the back when they were on the verge of victory.
And it appears to be the case again today as President George W. Bush presents the history of the Vietnam War as a Rambo movie with the heroic narrative that if only the U.S. military had stuck it out, the war would have been won.
Or, more likely, the black wall of the Vietnam War Veterans Memorial would stretch most of the way to the U.S. Capitol.
After hearing his selective historical rendition of the Vietnam experience in his Aug. 22 address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, one is tempted to ask Bush what he would have done as President in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Presumably, Bush would have prolonged or escalated the Vietnam War, although it’s doubtful he would have called up the Texas Air National Guard where he was safely ensconced, while skipping his flight physical and seeking an early discharge.
In his speech, Bush justified an open-ended Vietnam War by citing the carnage that followed the U.S. military withdrawal.
“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,’” Bush said.
In Bush’s version of history, condemnation should fall on Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford for making the painful decisions that eventually extricated the United States from the Vietnam quagmire – rather than on Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon for inserting or keeping U.S. troops in the middle of the Indochinese civil war.
Bush also ignores the carnage that was inflicted by U.S. aerial bombings and massive firepower. Historians estimate that some two million Indochinese were killed during the war, along with about 57,000 American soldiers.
Also, by invading Cambodia and authorizing secret carpet-bombing of the countryside, President Nixon spread the chaos into that politically fragile country, opening the door first to a military dictatorship and then to the rise of the fanatical Khmer Rouge.
Friends, Not Enemies
In his historical account, Bush leaves out, too, the longer-term reality and the fact that the great communist enemies of Asia – China and Vietnam – did not turn out to be the strategic threats to the United States that Cold Warriors insisted they would be. Dominoes did not fall all across Asia.
Indeed, today’s biggest threats from China appear to be the quality of the cheap goods it manufactures for American companies and its ownership of large quantities of U.S. government bonds. Bush also has exchanged friendly visits with the leaders of Vietnam.
But that history and reality disappear in Bush’s selective account. Just as he cherry-picked intelligence on Iraq to justify his 2003 invasion, he is selecting what facts from history serve his political ends now.
In his VFW speech, Bush also continued his practice of baiting critics of his Iraq War policy as essentially imbecilic and anti-American. He accused them of believing “that if the United States would just leave a place like Iraq those who kill our troops or target civilians would no longer threaten us.”
In truth, Iraq War critics have argued not that al-Qaeda would stop being a threat but that Bush’s policies are playing into al-Qaeda’s hands. Not only did the U.S. invasion of Iraq divert U.S. forces from their pursuit of Osama bin Laden, but the Iraq War has proved to be a boon to al-Qaeda in recruiting, fundraising and regrouping for new terrorist attacks.
The evidence is that al-Qaeda actually wants the United States to remain bogged down in Iraq indefinitely so the organization can continue to exploit the American occupation.
In letters to Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaeda leaders, holed up along the Pakistani-Afghan border, warned that al-Qaeda’s position in Iraq might collapse if the United States left, removing both the magnet attracting young recruits and the glue holding together the fragile coalition between foreign jihadists and Iraqi nationalists.
A July 2005 letter attributed to al-Qaeda’s second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri urged Zarqawi to talk up the idea of an Islamic “caliphate,” so the young jihadists, drawn to Iraq to fight the Americans, wouldn’t just “lay down their weapons and silence the fighting zeal” once the Americans left.
The “Zawahiri letter,” which was intercepted by U.S. intelligence, also predicted that an American departure would force the depleted force of al-Qaeda fighters into a desperate battle simply to carve out an enclave inside Iraq.
In a December 2005 letter, another top aide to Osama bin Laden, known as “Atiyah,” lectured Zarqawi on the need to act more respectfully toward Iraqi Sunni leaders so al-Qaeda could put down deeper roots in Iraq.
Atiyah emphasized the importance of keeping U.S. forces trapped in Iraq. “Prolonging the war is in our interest,” Atiyah wrote in a letter that was discovered by U.S. forces after Zarqawi’s death in June 2006. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Al-Qaeda’s Fragile Foothold.”]
Bush-bin Laden Symbiosis
By prolonging the Iraq War now, Bush is doing exactly what al-Qaeda wants. “As long as I’m Commander in Chief, we will fight to win,” Bush told the cheering VFW crowd.
In other words, Bush and the terrorists share a symbiotic relationship with Bush using the “war on terror” to expand his presidential powers at home and bin Laden exploiting the U.S. occupation of Iraq to enhance his standing in the Islamic world.
Now Bush has mixed in the emotional issue of the Vietnam War, as his father did during the first Persian Gulf War in 1991.
Near the end of that standoff with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, President George H.W. Bush spurned a Russian plan for getting Iraqi forces to withdraw peacefully from Kuwait. Instead, Bush wanted a successful ground war to exorcise the demons of Vietnam from the American psyche.
After U.S. ground forces administered a 100-hour drubbing to the overmatched Iraqi troops, the elder George Bush declared in his first post-war remarks, “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all.” [For details, see our new book, Neck Deep.]
Still, the elder George Bush stopped U.S. forces before they could march up the Euphrates River and capture Baghdad. He recognized that a military occupation of Iraq would alienate the Arab world and would sink the United States into another Vietnam-style quagmire, which could again embitter the American people about military adventures.
Sixteen years later, however, the specter of Vietnam has returned to hover over the deserts of Iraq, this time conjured up by the younger George Bush to justify an open-ended war, a war he is determined to pursue regardless of the number of U.S. soldiers and Iraqis who die and the number of new Islamic terrorists it creates.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there.
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