McCain: Worker’s Paradise in Vietnam

Apparently Steve Benen and I both made the mistake of watching Meet The Press this morning. Steve was particularly offended when John McCain said he would go back to the now infamous Baghdad market but this time with (edit suggested by K Harris – this should read without – or at least one won’t see the escort this time either) a massive military escort:

It’s hard to believe anyone will be impressed by this misplaced bravado, but it’s worth remembering that the day after McCain took a heavily-protected stroll that market, 21 Shia market workers were ambushed, bound, and shot at the same location. Nevertheless, McCain thinks he can go for an unescorted walk in Baghdad? It’s as if he’s given up on being taken seriously altogether. When a once-proud man becomes a joke, it’s a sad thing to watch.

While this was a low point in a rather pathetic interview, I found this remark to be even more despicable:

And I saw it in Vietnam, the predictions, that everything would be a worker’s paradise in, in Vietnam if we left.

I don’t think McCain’s five plus years as a POW of the North Vietnamese gives him the right to flat out lie. I may have spent those five years in high school – but like many Americans my age, I grew to realize that the Vietnam War was a mistake. Many of us thought about what we would do if we were drafted to serve in this mistake. I never heard any opponent of the Vietnam War making such a claim. But in case I missed something, I did a Google search on Vietnam War and Worker’s Paradise and came up with this review of a 1983 history of Vietnam by Stanley Karnow:

The first thing that Karnow makes clear is that the whole thing started out as France’s fault. I had never realized just how brutal the French treatment of their colony was … It was only natural that Ho Chi Minh would use the distraction of WWII to start a movement to oust the French. I was also interested to read what a charismatic and patriotic man Ho Chi Minh was. He seems to have been a genuine hero of the people. Later, when he got involved with the communists, he was entangled in some pretty unsavory actions (totalitarian dictators have to murder to keep the people in line, it seems to be their only tool), but I think he always wanted the best for his people. He was never just a ruthless dictator for the power of it, as with Stalin or Saddam. The most interesting part of the entire Vietnam saga is that it didn’t have to happen at all. Ho Chi Minh was not a committed communist; he was a Vietnamese nationalist and patriot. He would have been just as happy to have America come in and help rid his country of the French as he would the Chinese or Russians. The US, however, was allied with the French and badly needed their help to stabilize Europe after WWII. So the US rebuffed his advances and he turned to the communists. Dean Acheson, Dean Rusk and many other figures from the Truman administration were clueless to this. They just didn’t see Vietnam as enough of a priority yet. The cold war was just getting underway and the battle lines weren’t yet clearly drawn. The French thoroughly bungled Vietnamese independence. They set up a puppet government in Bao Dai, but they only allowed a “thin veneer of independence” to his government. They continued to control the military and the economy. As the revolution developed, they would gradually lose their control of the country and as they did so, they would demand more and more American help (most money) to try to hang on. By 1952, ninety thousand Frenchmen had been either killed or wounded in Vietnam. France had spent more than twice the sum they received in US aid under the Marshall Plan on la sale guerre (the dirty war). After their horrible defeat at Dienbienphu in 1954, the French pulled out and left the US reluctantly holding the bag. Now that Ho Chi Minh was firmly allied with the communists, the only way to keep Vietnam from becoming communist was to support Vietnam’s sad excuse for a government. There’s no point in retelling the events here. The US would continue to try to prop up South Vietnam and try to keep Ho Chi Minh at bay for nearly twenty years, losing more than fifty thousand American lives in the process. The American military actually did pretty well, considering that the war was lost before it started. No amount of military prowess could have won, however, so they were doomed from the start. To me, the main reason the war in Vietnam could not be won was that the people of South Vietnam never really wanted to win it. Battered by decades of colonialism, then many more years of worthless puppet governments, they simply had nothing to fight for. They were friendly, in a sense, to communists because the communists promised to bring about the usual worker’s paradise. They would learn, after the US left, that the promised paradise was a disaster, but they couldn’t have known that in advance. The government of Vietnam and the US, on the other hand, never really offered them any hope.

Maybe the North Vietnamese government made promises to the Vietnamese people that ultimately did not pan out but these were not the reasons why many Americans wanted to bring our troops home. Of course, we were suckered into the Vietnam War by our fear of communism and the so-called Domino Theory. Even though the South Vietnamese government was a corrupt dictatorship, we had to expend tremendous resources propping it up lest all of Southeast Asia come under the rule of the Soviet Union. Never mind that this fear did not materialize. It was a stupid rational for war then – and yet McCain rationalizes staying in the disaster known as the Iraq War thusly:

I think if we can show the American people some successes in Iraq and continue and expand on some of the successes we’ve already experienced in Anbar province and some neighborhoods in Baghdad, that I think Americans would – and if we do a better job, and that’s people like me, of explaining the consequences of failure. The consequences of failure, Tim, are that there would be chaos in the region. There’s three–two million Sunni in Baghdad. The Iranians would continue to increase their influence, the Saudis would have to help the Sunni, the Kurds would want independence, the Turks will never stand for it. Some people say partition. You’d have to partition bedrooms in Baghdad because Sunni and Shia are, are married. This, this is a very, very difficult situation, but the consequences of failure, in my view, are unlike the Vietnam war where we could leave and come home and it was over, that these people will try to follow us home and the region will erupt to a point where we may have to come back or we will be compating- – combating what is now, to a large degree, al-Qaeda, although certainly other – many other factors of sectarian violence, in the region.

We can’t try alternative approaches because there might be Sunni-Shia couples? McCain forgot about how that Domino Effect hysteria regarding withdrawing from Vietnam? Al Qaeda is going to follow us here if we leave? Never mind if we leave, Al Qaeda’s whole rational for stirring up trouble in Iraq evaporates and the civil war will likely turn on them first. We have had a dishonest and incompetent President for the last six plus years. We don’t need another, which is why John McCain should not be elected as President next year.