Scott Johnson of Power Line has an excellent piece on how history is repeating itself in terms of Iraq and Vietnam. Johnson notes the British journalist William Shawcross’ (a former anti-Vietnam war protestor) realization that the American withdrawal from Vietnam had an unimaginable human cost throughout Southeast Asia:
Those of us who opposed the American war in Indochina should be extremely humble in the face of the appalling aftermath: a form of genocide in Cambodia and horrific tyranny in both Vietnam and Laos. Looking back on my own coverage for The Sunday Times…,I think I concentrated too easily on the corruption and incompetence of the South Vietnamese and their American allies, was too ignorant of the inhuman Hanoi regime, and far too willing to believe that a victory by the Communists would provide a better future. But after the Communist victory came the refugees to Thailand and the floods of boat people desperately seeking to escape the Cambodian killing fields and the Vietnamese gulags. Their eloquent testimony should have put paid to all illusions.
Yet, it seems as though some have utterly failed to learn from history, as the President’s recent comparison between Iraq and Vietnam has touched off a firestorm of controversy.
What is truly disgusting is the reaction of The New York Times:
In urging Americans to stay the course in Iraq, Mr. Bush is challenging the historical memory that the pullout from Vietnam had few negative repercussions for the United States and its allies.
Only a few negative repercussions: a few million “disappearances”, “reeducation camps” in Vietnam, 2 million dead Cambodians, hundreds of thousands of people forced to leave their homes and flee their country on rickety boats to whatever freedom they could find — not all surviving the trip.
It’s precisely that kind of historical ignorance that damns us — and the next killing fields could well be in Iraq. At least men like William Shawcross have the intellectual honesty to face up to the consequences of their actions.
A precipitous US withdrawal would lead to yet another few million dead: as Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias like Jaish-al-Mahdi attempt to ethnically cleanse Iraq’s Sunni population, the Sunnis would have no choice but to ally with al-Qaeda to defend themselves against such attacks. Meanwhile, Iraqi Kurdistan would face a flood of Sunni refugees, destabilizing that region as well. Given the tensions between Iran and Iraqi Kurds, it is quite possible that Kurdistan would face the double threat of Iran and Turkey both desiring to ensure that the Kurds do not obtain anything resembling full independence.
The consequences of a withdrawal would be as tragic as what happened to the people of Indochina in the wake of the Vietnam War — a consequence that is still preventable. Leaving Iraq to be torn apart and trampled by its neighbors is an idiotic solution — sooner or later the consequences will catch up to us. Vietnam did not sit at one of the most strategically important regions of the world, Iraq does. Instability in Iraq will spread throughout the region, which will have major impacts on the world economy, embolden terrorist groups, and will lead to a humanitarian crisis on a national scale. The debate should not be how quickly we should run away from Iraq — but how best to get Iraq into a state where it can be independent and secure. Unfortunately, once again, crude partisan politics threatens yet another preventable genocide.