by Rick Perlstein - July 30, 2007
Increasingly, the preferred argument of the Forever Caucus is that if we leave Iraq there will be "genocide," as surely as dandelions follow a spring rain.
Here David Brooks shamefullly invents up a number ("10,000 Iraqi deaths a month...a tough moral issue").
Here (at 5:50 in the video) John McCain says, "the Democrats want to set a date for withdrawal; there will be chaos in the region, and there will be genocide."
Jonah Goldberg says an impending genocicide will be history's indictment of liberals failings in Iraq!
The Forever Caucus underwrites their supposed moral righteousness with their understanding of Vietnam, of course. (The former POW McCain is so eager to exploit his supposed wisdom on the subject that in his campaign logo his name is rather shamefully spelled out in the same font as the names on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington.) We left Vietnam, you see, and there was a genocide there: our fault. Preventable blood on our hands.
Like most everything conservatives claim to know about Vietnam, it's misleading in the extreme. It makes no sense as analysis on Vietnam. And it makes no sense as a lesson for Iraq.
It is true that tens of thousands of Vietnamese were killed, and hundreds of thousands exiled to "re-education" camps, by a triumphant Communist government after Saigon fell in 1975. But by the early 1970s as the worst American bombing was raging, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese were being killed, and millions being exiled from their homes—carnage that came to a dead stop once the war ended. As cruel as the Communist consolidation of power was, ending the war entailed an obvious net saving of lives, and if it were saving lives conservatives actually cared about—instead of scoring ideological points—this should be obvious.
That's the first point. The second: America's war aim—standing up an anti-Communist democratic government in Saigon absent an American military occupation—was impossible.
President Nixon admitted this privately all the time, even while he was simultaneously publicly claiming he was negotiating to achieve exactly that. The point has finally become so obvious that now even conservatives admit it. Though conservatives still haven't brought themselves to admit the more fundamental point: Nixon was right. Indeed, sickeningly, after more visits and better contacts in-country than any American politician, he had been saying we couldn't win in Vietnam privately since 1966, as Len Garment disarmingly acknowledged in his memoir.
Finally, let us assume the premise of the conservatives' magical thinking: that if we had stayed, and stayed, and stayed, amidst the slaughter of yet more hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, by fellow Vietnamese, and by us, until our side eventually "won," leaving only then—our Saigon allies would have likely been just as bloody-minded in its score-settling as the Communists. This was the bunch that, in 1960, reacted to the mere hint of an impending Communist insurgency, detained 50,000 of their own citizens in their own re-education camps, the Pentagon Papers noting "the consensus of the opinion" of rural Vietnamese that "the majority of the detainees are neither Communists nor pro-Communist." This was the government whose vice president Nguyen Cao Ky—the power behind the throne, actually—when asked who his political heroes were, said, "People ask me who my heroes are. I have only one—Hitler." Indeed, another anti-Communist Asian strongman, Indonesia's General Suharto, enacted a genuine genocide, one to make the Vietnamese Communists look like pikers. "In terms of the numbers killed," as the CIA described it, "massacres in Indonesia rank as one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century."
By the way, a contributor to Jonah Golberg's website, in reviewing a recent right-wing history of Vietnam that both the Weekly Standard and National Review have not only endorsed as definitive and exemplary but help up as providing important strategic lessons for Iraq, endorses the Indonesia case study as exemplary.
These are the people we're supposed to be taking our moral lessons from.
What will follow upon our leaving Iraq will be an awful loss of lives. It in all likelihood, however, will be a loss of lives less than is going on now. The new film No End in Site puts the number of dead so far in four years of fighting at 600,000 and counting—counting very, very fast. My God, even the notional figure David Brooks has just pulled out of his posterior is less than that. Our conservatives can't even imagine a more humane outcome than exists now when they try to come up with propaganda.