Since, as Rod Dreher recently noted, for the left, “every war is Vietnam”, let’s look at how Vietnam has led directly to our current state of affairs. Reading this recent post by The Volokh Conspiracy, and watching the protestors last night, I figured I’d discuss a geopolitical theory that I’m surprised I didn’t post yet (and because this a blog, this is going to be grossly simplified–I’m just trying to connect the dots, not paint a detailed landscape): how Vietnam is related to our current war on terrorism.
On TV last night, I saw a guy in his late 40s or 50s (he looked trim, clean shaven, with a nicely cut shock of graying hair) protesting in San Francisco, when he was asked by an interviewer, “why are you here”? He replied, “Well, we made a difference during Vietnam, and I think we’re making a difference now.”
As for the latter, it’s hard to say how–except, as Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Reynolds have recently noted, making your cause look distinctly bad to the rest of the country. As to the former, yes, you may have made a difference, but it wasn’t the one that you think.
Its possible to tie 9/11 all the way back to Vietnam if you wanted to: the combination of Johnson and MacNamara’s “carrot and stick” tactics because they were scared witless that the Soviets would enter the war, causing us, especially during the critical early phases of the war to hold back our strength, not bomb critical military targets, etc.
This, slow, grinding style of warfare, coupled with the 1960s protestors, caused many to be demoralized by the war, causing that era’s Democratic Congress to cut the budget for fighting the war, causing our eventual pullout. (Read Stephen Hayward’s excellent document of that era, The Age of Reagan: Volume One, to put that period in perspective.)
Watergate was tied directly to Vietnam, via Nixon and his “Plumbers'” reaction to Daniel Ellsberg leaking the Pentagon Papers, and Watergate would of course cause Nixon to resign, but not before his appeasement of the dictatorial Soviet Union and China. America’s appearance of weakness, both post-Vietnam, and (after Gerald Ford had a quick cup of coffee at the White House) under the uber-dovish Jimmy Carter, led directly to one of America’s lowest periods: letting the Shah of Iran fall, the takeover of Iran by a radical Islamic regime, and the Iranian hostage crisis.Perhaps the lowest point was Carter’s response to it: lots of nail biting, the bungled Desert One rescue mission, and even more nail biting.
While Reagan’s build up of our defense, and our liberation of Kuwait helped our rep in the Middle East a little (and yes, I know I’m really simplifying here for the sake of space), leaving Saddam in power, those dreadful images of American soldiers dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, and Clinton’s lack of military response to the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center kept us looking largely as a paper tiger, especially when it came to responding to Islamic terrorism.
And we all know the rest.
As Alvin Toffler wrote in War and Anti-War, the American military’s tactics were radically changed after the debacle of Vietnam. How different things might be today had we fought that war to win–and didn’t abandon the country afterwards.