The Vietnam Debate

I think I (and others) have actually been too easy on Bush's unhinged analogies speech yesterday. He'd like us to believe, I guess, that the crux of the debate about the Vietnam War was that hawks warned that after the war America's collaborators in South Vietnam would suffer, whereas doves naively said the Viet Cong were going to offer flowers and sweets.

Back in the real world, though, the essence of the matter was that hawks were warning that the survival of political democracy around the world quite literally depended on South Vietnam staying in non-Communist hands. A Communist victory in Vietnam was said to be destined to lead to the rest of Indochina going Communist, from which the Reds -- emboldened -- were going to march into Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Our allies in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan would prove incapable of resisting the onrushing tide. With Communism triumphant in Asian, Western Europe would turn to Finlandization to stave off direct Soviet domination, and next thing you know the New World would be crushed beneath the vast economic might of the Old.

It sounds crazy, yes, and the reason it sounds crazy is that it was crazy and when we eventually left Vietnam it turned out that while hawks and doves alike all made some bad forecasts, the hawkish point of view on the big strategic question was completely wrong whereas the dovish view was completely correct. The application to Iraq should be clear enough, but in case it isn't here's Justin Logan's argument from February that the extent to which simply giving up in Iraq would damage our "vital interests" is vastly overstated.