Friday, April 25, 2003

About a week or two ago I was watching This Week on ABC, and George Will made a statement that really rubbed me the wrong way. I guess that's not any different then a lot of what he says over time, but as far as conservatives go George Will is the only one I can stomach regurlarly and for long periods of time without wanting to puke. Hell, I even respect the guy on many levels.

His statement was so presumptious, egocentric and hard to believe, but he said (and I'm paraphrasing him here) that the reason Americans favored pulling out of Vietnam was that "the American people realized that the government wasn't commited to winning the war". You mean to tell me all those American soldiers coming back in body bags didn't have anything to do with it?

Recently I read all the mistakes previous administrations made in Vietnam. The things that botched Vietnam were made early on, stuff like placing an exile in charge who became corrupt as time went on. It's like no one has learned a damn thing - this time we're backing someone who is already corrupt instead of waiting for politics to turn him that way. This is what happens when you have a President and important staffers who don't trust people who read books. Welcome to Hell;

From the essential reading article in Slate - The Other Vietnam Syndrome - What went wrong in Saigon, and how it could happen again in Iraq. By Catharin Dalpino.

Following the 1954 Geneva Conference, which partitioned Vietnam, Washington found few political allies in Saigon. So the United States promoted Ngo Dinh Diem, an exiled Catholic politician, who returned to become South Vietnam's head of state. Virtually unknown in Vietnam, Diem had spent several years in the United States and was dubbed both the "new George Washington" and the "Churchill of Asia" by President Eisenhower. He proved to be neither. With no real constituency or grass-roots support, Diem became increasingly corrupt and oppressive while publicly shunning Western democratic mores. He was murdered in a 1963 coup that had been blessed beforehand by the United States.


Creating the illusion of democracy. From the beginning, U.S. policy in South Vietnam was a conflict between realpolitik and democratic ideals. For the Johnson administration, the solution was to legitimize Washington's choice of a leader after the fact with elections. But in the "demonstration elections" of 1967, the designated favorite, Nguyen Van Thieu, won a plurality of only 35 percent. The runner-up, Truong Dinh Dan, had promised to support a cease-fire with the North. Shortly after the elections, Thieu threw him in jail, sparking anti-government demonstrations in Saigon that nearly turned into riots.

In Iraq, early indications cast some doubt on Washington's insistence that Iraqis will choose their own leaders. The 75 officials invited to attend last week's conference on a new government were handpicked by the American military, on the basis of their cooperation with the United States rather than their political relevance or resonance.

Americans make poor imperialists because we are uncomfortable in the role and seek the most expedient path out of it. With the scant 18-month time frame the administration has allowed for political reconstruction in Iraq, if that, we run a high risk of repeating past mistakes. That possibility is even greater if we attempt to direct Iraqi political development alone. For Iraq's sake, and our own, the time has come to bring in the international community.


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