Refighting Vietnam

Americans, it seems, will never stop arguing over Vietnam. FP entered this debate, in a way, by publishing a recently declassified CIA memo that eerily foreshadows the United States’ strategic dilemmas in Iraq. And yesterday, Bush broached an informal code among U.S. presidents—don’t refight the Vietnam war—by strongly implying that the United States should not ...

599796_070613_opener-photo2.jpg
599796_070613_opener-photo2.jpg

Americans, it seems, will never stop arguing over Vietnam. FP entered this debate, in a way, by publishing a recently declassified CIA memo that eerily foreshadows the United States' strategic dilemmas in Iraq. And yesterday, Bush broached an informal code among U.S. presidents—don't refight the Vietnam war—by strongly implying that the United States should not have withdrawn from that conflict. It was a risky political move on Bush's part, but it accords with the views of people like Peter Rodman, who until recently was an assistant secretary defense. Rodman, who is now at Brookings, wrote this back in July:     

[M]ilitary historians are coming to a consensus that by the end of 1972, there was a much-improved balance of forces in Vietnam, reflected in the 1973 Paris agreement, and that Congress subsequently pulled the props out from under that balance of forces—dooming Indochina to a bloodbath. This is now a widely accepted narrative of the endgame in Vietnam, and it has haunted the Democrats for a generation.   

Rodman doesn't back these assertions with evidence, so it's hard to judge whether this is indeed the consensus of military historians. It's definitely the view of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who warned in May that, just as he saw in Vietnam, "American disunity" could doom Iraq. And today, Thom Shanker of the New York Times cobbled together a quick story headlined, "Historians Question Bush's Reading of Lessons of Vietnam War for Iraq," but the piece quotes only one military historian, plus one political scientist and one senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. So, any military historians out there? Is the Bush/Rodman narrative the consensus of your peers? Email Passport with your answers.

Americans, it seems, will never stop arguing over Vietnam. FP entered this debate, in a way, by publishing a recently declassified CIA memo that eerily foreshadows the United States’ strategic dilemmas in Iraq. And yesterday, Bush broached an informal code among U.S. presidents—don’t refight the Vietnam war—by strongly implying that the United States should not have withdrawn from that conflict. It was a risky political move on Bush’s part, but it accords with the views of people like Peter Rodman, who until recently was an assistant secretary defense. Rodman, who is now at Brookings, wrote this back in July:     

[M]ilitary historians are coming to a consensus that by the end of 1972, there was a much-improved balance of forces in Vietnam, reflected in the 1973 Paris agreement, and that Congress subsequently pulled the props out from under that balance of forces—dooming Indochina to a bloodbath. This is now a widely accepted narrative of the endgame in Vietnam, and it has haunted the Democrats for a generation.   

Rodman doesn’t back these assertions with evidence, so it’s hard to judge whether this is indeed the consensus of military historians. It’s definitely the view of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who warned in May that, just as he saw in Vietnam, “American disunity” could doom Iraq. And today, Thom Shanker of the New York Times cobbled together a quick story headlined, “Historians Question Bush’s Reading of Lessons of Vietnam War for Iraq,” but the piece quotes only one military historian, plus one political scientist and one senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. So, any military historians out there? Is the Bush/Rodman narrative the consensus of your peers? Email Passport with your answers.

More from Foreign Policy

A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Lessons for the Next War

Twelve experts weigh in on how to prevent, deter, and—if necessary—fight the next conflict.

An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse

Not planning for the possibility of disintegration betrays a dangerous lack of imagination.

An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.
An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.

Turkey Is Sending Cold War-Era Cluster Bombs to Ukraine

The artillery-fired cluster munitions could be lethal to Russian troops—and Ukrainian civilians.

A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol  January 8, 2009 in Washington.
A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol January 8, 2009 in Washington.

Congrats, You’re a Member of Congress. Now Listen Up.

Some brief foreign-policy advice for the newest members of the U.S. legislature.