Saddam, You're No Ho Chi Minh

MAYBE it's the Oliver Stone movies. Maybe it's China Beach. Maybe it's just 1960s activists coming out of hibernation.

Whatever the cause, protesters across the nation are exhorting the Bush Administration to remember Vietnam. There's only one problem with their reasoning: the Persian Gulf crisis is nothing like the Vietnam War.

This is not a validation of U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf. President Bush is moving too quickly toward a military confrontation without allowing sanctions time enough to work. Reservations should be expressed vigorously so that the President is not allowed to lead the U.S. into a war most Americans do not support.

But Kuwait is not Vietnam. And Saudi Arabian deserts are not Vietnamese jungles. Suggesting that the two are similar is both dishonest and demeaning to veterans of America's longest war.

DO TODAY'S anti-war protestors believe the origins of intervention in Kuwait are comparable to those in Vietnam? Probably not, unless all those "Learn the Lessons of Vietnam" teachins have their history wrong.


The U.S. was involved in Southeast Asia 20 years before American soldiers began to die there in large numbers. From Truman to Nixon, U.S. Presidents propped up undemocratic and unpopular South Vietnamese regimes and lied about the extent of American participation in the war. In the 1960s these immoral policies, justified only by anticommunist rhetoric and concerns about U.S. prestige and hegemony, composed the framework of anti-war protest in the 60s.

Yes, some of that protest lost sight of its real concerns and spurred a counter-culture which seemed rooted more in self-interest than in moralistic opposition to U.S. policy. But today's protesters have no rationale for their anti-war rhetoric--they respond to any movement of troops simply by reflex. Their protests are short-sighted and illinformed. Just how much so can be seen in their rhetoric:

"Troops home now." Calling back all troops present in the Gulf would be disastrous. The international force united against Saddam's aggression would certainly fold without American leadership. Saddam Hussein would no doubt stay in Kuwait and begin to prepare for at least a partial takeover of Saudi Arabia's oil fields. This would give the dictator control of almost half the world's oil reserves.

Saddam's brutality toward his fellow citizens has been well documented. He would not hesitate to use a near-monopoly on the oil markets of Europe and Japan to plunge a destabilized world economy into massive recession. With no troops in the region, who would stop him?

In addition, Iraqi plans to construct nuclear weapons would go unchecked. Perhaps most important, a complete withdrawal would give a green light to other would-be aggressors.

"The U.S. should not be the world's policeman." Perhaps not. But in this case that is an unfair charge. While American troops comprise a vast majority of the force in the Gulf, the United Nations has been abundantly clear in its support of the deployment of those troops, issuing a dozen separate resolutions calling for Saddam's withdrawal from Kuwait and authorizing the use of force.

"Hell no, we won't go. We won't fight for Texaco." The U.S. has expressed a compelling rationale for war against Saddam Hussein if the dictator refuses to leave Kuwait by Jan. 15. The charge that a war would only serve the interests of the powerful U.S. oil lobby is ludicrous. Profits have soared and will continue to rise during the embargo, when the possibility of war unnerves international markets. A return to stabilization after war will surely lower prices.

And if the Students Against War in the Middle East think that Texaco executives and American automobile owners are the only people who owe their livelhood to the flow of oil, they are tragically mistaken. Every dollar added to the price of oil means billions of dollars of foreign exchange lost by oil-importing Third World nations and the struggling democracies of Eastern Europe. Oil can only be purchased in hard currency, a frightfully scarce resource in all of these countries.

UNDERLYING these demands from the anti-war movement is a cult of the Vietnam War which has fermented since 1975 in movies, personal histories and popular music. Any American foreign policy adventure--however justified--calls up the specter of Vietnam. The U.S. seems too fed up with the memories of Ron Kovic and My Lai to get involved.

Yes, the duplicity and horror of the Vietnam War should be recognized and assiduously avoided. But contemporary anti-war protestors invoke the memories of Vietnam as a cheap rhetorical device. Regardless of the legitimacy of U.S. involvement in the Persian Gulf, that intervention should not be equated with the war in Vietnam.

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