Saturday, September 08, 2007

Kaul: We Should Have Stayed In Vietnam

By Donald Kaul

The generally accepted definition of the Yiddish word “chutzpah” (pronounced as though you’re clearing your throat) is the quality exhibited by a man who murders his father and mother, then asks for clemency because he’s an orphan. In other words, brazen arrogance.

President George W. Bush, however, is threatening to supplant that self-made orphan in the Yiddish lexicon.

The other day he said that we couldn’t pull out of Iraq because it would result in a bloodbath and political catastrophe, (begin ital) just like our pulling out of Vietnam did! (end ital)

Speaking to the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, always a receptive audience for saber-rattling presidents, he said:

“One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like ‘boat people,’ ‘reeducation camps’ and killing fields’.”

Can you believe the gall of the man? Not only is he arguing for the wisdom of having continued a war that he and his right-wing cohort, for the most part, didn’t choose to participate in, he is blaming the people who opposed the war for its consequences.

No, no, no Mr. President. No. As your father (whom you make look better every minute) might have said:

“This will not stand.”

Getting out of Vietnam was not what caused the area-wide tragedy that Southeast Asia became; getting into it did.

Our conduct of that miserable war, which saw us drop more bombs on that relatively small country than we did everywhere during all of World War II, atomized the societies of the region, leaving them vulnerable to their most vicious, lunatic elements.

Perhaps if we’d stayed there forever---bombing, bombing, bombing---we could have held off those elements, but you can’t stay there forever. Sooner or later, you have to leave.

The president is right about one thing, when we leave Iraq we shall leave behind a chaotic situation that could resemble post-war Vietnam and Cambodia and Laos. But staying there won’t prevent that either. (The other day dozens died in Karbala when a fight broke out between two Shiite factions, never mind the Sunnis.)

Like a substitute teacher in an unruly classroom, as soon as we turn our backs, the children start lobbing grenades at each other.

Our intelligence agencies, in a report issued the day after the president’s speech, basically agree with that, predicting that quickly pulling out of Iraq would be disastrous but that staying there in support of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s government is all but futile. That is the corner into which Mr. Bush and his gang have painted us.

But still the man, armed with nothing but chutzpah, continues to talk nonsense about resisting “the allure of retreat,” to quote another fanciful phrase from the VFW speech.

Right-wing chicken hawks have done a wonderful job of rejiggering the history of the Vietnam War. They seem to have convinced many Americans that the war was lost because the war protesters at home undermined the effort.

You saw that play out in the 2004 presidential election, when John Kerry---who was both a decorated war veteran and later a prominent war protester---chose to emphasize his combat record rather than his anti-war history. All he got in return for his efforts was a Swift-boating.

Believe me on this, kids, the protesters did not lose the Vietnam War; it was lost because we were on the wrong side of history, fighting a colonial war in a post-colonial period. We had no chance.

There is a variation of chutzpah that fits Mr. Bush, as well as the rest of the “vast, right-wing conspiracy.” The word is chutzpahnik, defined (by Leo Rosten in “The Joys of Yiddish”) as “the man who shouts ‘Help! Help!’ while beating you up.”

When we finally do abandon the war in Iraq, as we most certainly shall, the Bush people will blame not their own incompetence but those who opposed it. Count on it.


Don Kaul is a two-time Pulitzer Prize-losing Washington correspondent who, by his own account, is right more than he's wrong. Email: -- A photo of Donald Kaul is available CLICK HERE

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