"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Vietnam Fallacy

Since long before the actual invasion, any number of commentators suggested that our involvement in Iraq would enmesh us in "another Vietnam." The Democratic Party even ran a lame nominee for President largely (it seems) on the sense that as an anti-Vietnam war veteran, Sen. Kerry would command the respect and admiration and trust of enough Americans to win the Presidency. As things have continued to remain tough (though perhaps improving a bit over the last few months) the comparisons have continued to roll in.

Jonah Goldberg over at NRO makes a point, though, that had always niggled at me a bit, but that I had never seen properly expressed. Sure, there's a conventional wisdom about Vietnam that says it was a mistake to get in - and there are plenty of reasonable arguments on that side. But it seems to me wildly inflated to suggest that our withdrawal and South Vietnam's subsequent defeat was either (a) a good thing for the U.S. or (b) a benefit to the Democratic Party. Consider the thirty-odd years since our withdrawal and tell me which party has done better politically? Part of the Republican success has been predicated on the sense that the Democratic Party is not to be trusted with our national security and a central part of that distrust was its mushiness on the Cold War. And central to that sense was the Dems' evolution into the anti-Vietnam War party, perhaps best exemplified by McGovern's presidential campaign in 1972.

I grew up in a military family with a father who had flown B-52 and C-130 missions over Vietnam and I understood from early on that the Democrats could not be trusted because they didn't understand or were willing to take it to the enemy - and Vietnam was the clearest example. Two anecdotes. Sometime around 1980 we were at my grandparents' house and my aunt mentioned that she had gotten the new Jane Fonda workout tape. My dad, whom I had never heard swear before, turned around and barked, "What!? You're watching that b**ch!? I had friends die because of her!" Clearly, the anti-war folks were anathema to dad. A couple of years ago, as a new (untenured) faculty member, I was chatting with an older (tenured) professor who was exercised because some of the anti-Kerry guys had used the term "traitor" (or something like that) and, as a veteran, there's hardly anything worse to be called, he fumed. Being untenured, I sort of smiled and nodded, walked to my office and thought to myself: well, that's likely true, but the overheated, cynical and false claims Kerry made after returning from Vietnam (most notably at the Winter Soldier conference) were themselves deeply offensive and meant that folks like my dad (and I, for that matter) couldn't ever vote for anyone like him.

If Iraq is going badly next summer, the GOP will take it on the chin electorally. But the Dems won't gain any long-term advantages by making themselves the agents of withdrawal. Why do you think the smartest candidate for the nomination - Sen. Clinton - has been the most resistant to the withdrawal siren? Americans, I think, don't particularly like to fight long, drawn-out wars but even more they hate to lose them.

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