Vietnam, Again, and Again

Like everyone else, I’ve been reading a lot about Iraq and Afghanistan. I have also been thinking about Vietnam. In a piece today, Victor Davis Hanson notes that we are not “ending a war” in Afghanistan, as President Obama and others say. The only thing that is ending is U.S. participation in it.

Most likely, after our departure in 2016, the enemy, in similar fashion to the North Vietnamese in 1975, will storm Kabul, declare victory, and vitiate the long American sacrifice intended to offer the Afghans some alternative to the Taliban.

I have never in my life thought so much about Vietnam as when I visited Iraq in 2008. Here at NRO, I did a five-part journal. In an early installment, I wrote,

Throughout this trip, I will ask about winning and losing — does it make sense to speak or think in those terms? Is this a war — a real war — that can be won? And what would winning look like? It’s easy, I think, to say what losing would look like: letting Iraq fall into the hands of extremists, thereby rendering our invasion-liberation for nought. In other words, failing to make the invasion-liberation stick. (The ghost of Vietnam hovers here — sacrifices in vain.)

And what would winning be? The opposite, I suppose: not letting Iraq fall; making the invasion stick. And you do that by fending off terrorists, militias, Iran, etc., so that Iraq can have a decent, sovereign, stable government — a government that is an ally in the War on Terror and a help, and example, to the region.

My colleagues and I met an Iraqi colonel named Abbas. I never met a more pro-American person in my life. G. Gordon Liddy, by comparison, is Angela Davis. I wrote,

Abbas will not hear that Americans may turn away from Iraq — that they might depart before Iraq has been secured. The suggestion renders him indignant. I tell him that his faith in the staying-power of the American people may be greater than mine. He wants to argue, and we do, a little.

Finally, I tell him — “friend to friend” — “Do your work quickly. That’s all I can say. Get up and running as quickly as you can.”

Leaving lunch, I think about Vietnam, as I do a fair amount during this trip. There were lots of Vietnamese just like Abbas: people who had great faith in America, and the staying-power of our country. The luckiest of them ended up in California.

And as I walk to our helos, I think of April ’75 — one of the most shameful months in our history. I think of those people desperately clinging to the skids, trying to get out. Knowing that, if they didn’t make it with the Americans, murder or worse would be their lot.

I’m sorry to voice the darkest fear, but could this happen to the Iraqis? Could they really be abandoned to the wolves? Could Iraq again become “the Republic of Fear”?

In front of the choppers, Abbas embraces us and says, “God bless you.” I say the same to him — and mean it, deeply.

Later in that same journal installment, I wrote,

In a private conversation, I ask a general [an American general], “Is this going to work?” He says, “Oh, yes, we’ll succeed. We have no choice, really.” But we always have a choice, don’t we? Did we have a choice in Vietnam? Did we have a choice when we cut off funding to them, after Watergate, after the ’74 election, after that new Congress took power in January ’75?

In his blog today, David Pryce-Jones writes,

President George W. Bush is vindicated. The sole way Iraq could have continued was under a permanent American presence that gave and guaranteed state functions. President Obama’s withdrawal of American forces is already a historic error. They alone could have kept the peace. Arabs have a phrase to the effect that some mistake has opened the doors of Hell.

President Obama has opened those doors.

Today, Iraq, tomorrow, Afghanistan. Our sacrifices — like those in Vietnam — will have been in vain, I’m afraid. Iraq and Afghanistan will once more be terror states. The status quo ante.

But at least our people won’t be bleeding and dying in those countries, right? Right — thank heaven, or thank Obama. But a funny thing about the world is: It has a way of drawing you in, whether you like it or not. “You may not like war, but war likes you.” Better to do your work well and completely, if at all possible.

This is an excruciating subject.