There was a startling moment in President Bush’s speech to the VFW yesterday. He intimated to the crowd of veterans that we erred in withdrawing, leaving a power vacuum in places like Cambodia. There was no mention of western interests destabilizing these governments in the first place.
His recommendation, given nearly 35 years of hindsight after the cease-fire was "stay the course".
This development is alarming in numerous ways.
First, it confirms that the hand of Kissinger is still active in our foreign policy. Remember that his tack during the Paris Peace talks in the early 1970s was to establish just enough of regional strength to be able to withdraw without appearing to "lose the war". Didn’t work then either. Second concern here is that bush wasn’t immediately laughed off the podium. I worry that there isn’t enough memory of Vietnam’s costs weighing into our decisions today.
The costs go well beyond the immediate human toll, both civilian and military, but those are pretty staggering. Remember hearing about soldiers without the appropriate body armor? Think reports that our military resources are spread very thin are hyperbole? What about the scandalous care offered at Walter Reed? Read this article from yesterday’s NY Times about a photographic exhibit of injured vets. Read about the substandard medical care we offer our veterans. 90% of war injuries are survivable now, owing to advances in emergency medical care, meaning many more vets return requiring long-term care.
Now – about those Iraqis. Think about the lack of infrastructure available in Baghdad. Access to basic services like clean water and electricity remains very sporadic, four years after Mr. Bush rode in on a jet under the "Mission Accomplished" banner. Control over the electrical grid is very much in play among the local militias. There’s no way that our military can impose and sustain control under these conditions. This is exactly what happened in Vietnam, except that the enemy was more exposed, and therefore much more easy to confront.
The truly worrying thing about all of this is that there is not nearly enough solidarity around a cogent set of solutions. The Democrats focus way too much on using the right words for the "withdraw now" crowd, and not enough on providing adult supervision for the inmates currently running the asylum.