- Gareth Portera historian and investigative journalist. He is a specialist in U.S. military and foreign policy and was the director of the Indochina Resource Center toward the end of the Vietnam War. He now writes regularly on Iraq and Iran for Inter Press Service and maintains a blog on The Huffington Post. His most recent book is Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam.
President Bush warned Wednesday that a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq would lead to mass bloodshed similar to what happened in Southeast Asia after the Vietnam War. He urged critics of the current war to “learn something from history” and “resist the allure of retreat.” We speak with historian and investigative journalist, Gareth Porter. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: President Bush has compared the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to earlier U.S. wars against Japan, Korea and Vietnam. He spoke Wednesday at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Kansas City. The president warned that a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq could result in a similar outcome to what happened in Vietnam and Cambodia after the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The Khmer Rouge began a murderous rule in which hundreds of thousands of Cambodians died by starvation and torture and execution. In Vietnam, former allies of the United States and government workers and intellectuals and businessmen were sent off to prison camps, where tens of thousands perished. Hundreds of thousands more fled the country on rickety boats, many of them going to their graves in the South China Sea.
Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left. There’s no debate in my mind that the veterans from Vietnam deserve the high praise of the United States of America. Whatever your position is on that debate, 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,” “re-education camps” and “killing fields.”
JUAN GONZALEZ: President Bush, comparing the costs of withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq to the withdrawal from Vietnam over 30 years ago. The president also pointed to Japan and Korea in the speech as examples of past U.S. military successes. He urged critics of the current war to “learn something from history” and “resist the allure of retreat.”
AMY GOODMAN: Gareth Porter is a historian and investigative journalist. He’s a specialist in U.S. military and foreign policy and was the director of the Indochina Resource Center towards the end of the Vietnam War. He now writes regularly on Iraq and Iran for Inter Press Service and maintains a blog on The Huffington Post. His most recent book is Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam. Gareth Porter joins us from Washington, D.C.
Gareth, welcome to Democracy Now! Your response to President Bush’s speech?
GARETH PORTER: Well, you know, it reminds me very much of the way in which, of course, Richard Nixon used the threat of a bloodbath in Vietnam as the primary argument for continuing that war for four more years after he came to power in 1969. And really, it seems to me, the lesson of the Vietnam War that should be now debated and discussed is really the way in which Nixon could have ended that war when he came to power, negotiated a settlement and avoided the extension of that war into Cambodia, which happened because Nixon did not do that.
Had Nixon listened to the antiwar movement and the American people by 1969 and ended that war, there would not have been the overthrow of Norodom Sihanouk in 1970. There would not have been the extension of the war into Cambodia. There would not have been the rise of the Khmer Rouge. When Sihanouk was overthrown, we tend to forget that the Khmer Rouge was really an insignificant movement. They were about 2,500 or 3,000 very poorly armed soldiers or guerrillas. And it was really the extension of the Vietnam War into Cambodia which made the Khmer Rouge the powerful movement that they were.
So really, you know, the lesson of Vietnam that we should be hearing, which we should have heard for the last three decades, but we haven’t, is that government officials in the White House simply do not pay attention to the real consequences of the wars that they wage. They seem to be totally unable to take account of the destabilizing ways that the wars that they wage affect not only the country in which the war is being waged, but then the neighboring countries, as well.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Gareth Porter, Senator Kerry, in reacting to the president’s words yesterday — John Kerry — said that they were as irresponsible as it is ignorant of the realities of both of those wars. And he noted that half the soldiers whose names are on the Vietnam Memorial died after the politicians knew our strategy would not work. Your reaction to Kerry’s words?
GARETH PORTER: Well, you know, the problem, of course, with that view is that we — I mean, it’s ambiguous — essentially ambiguous whether Nixon and Kissinger believed that they could salvage something in Vietnam and Southeast Asia and in the world or not. I mean, it depends on how you look at it. I think that it’s true that Kissinger and Nixon did not believe that they could really produce a stable, long-lasting South Vietnamese anti-communist regime. That’s pretty clear on the record.
The problem, of course, is that the real reason that those leaders continued that war for four years had very little, if anything, to do with Vietnam itself. They were more concerned with, really, their own credibility, the credibility of the U.S. military machine, the credibility of the United States as the world’s preeminent superpower, and that’s why they continued that war. And I think that’s another parallel, really, that needs to be discussed between Vietnam and Iraq, because I think the same thing is true now of George Bush and the Bush administration, that they really — that their concern is not about Iraq, per se. They cry crocodile tears about the Iraqi people, as Bush did about the Cambodian people, but they really don’t care about the people. What they care about is the “credibility,” quote/unquote, of the United States.
And if you look at the op-ed piece by Peter Rodman in The New York Times last June, which Bush quoted yesterday — and Rodman, by the way is the direct link between Henry Kissinger, who he worked for during the Vietnam War, and George Bush, who he worked for during the Iraq War —- Rodman and William Shawcross really were more concerned -—
AMY GOODMAN: Shawcross, who wrote Sideshow —
GARETH PORTER: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: — about Cambodia.
GARETH PORTER: About Cambodia. And it’s bizarre that Shawcross is associating himself now with Henry Kissinger’s viewpoint on Cambodia and Vietnam. But what Shawcross and Rodman expressed in that op-ed piece was really mostly concern about “credibility,” quote/unquote. It’s as though, you know, we’re in a time warp, and we’re still living in a world with two superpowers, and the United States has to impress the Soviet Union with its military prowess. You know, it’s really bizarre, because, you know, Rodman and Shawcross really sort of expressed the kind of worldview that was prevalent during the Cold War and which today we should understand is really irrelevant. I mean, the idea that we can impress the Muslim world by defeating people in Iraq and that that’s going to make us more secure, the American people don’t even believe that anymore.
AMY GOODMAN: Gareth Porter, I want to play an excerpt from the new documentary by Norman Solomon and the Media Education Foundation. It’s called War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. This clip features Presidents George W. Bush, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.
PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: Withdrawal of all American forces from Vietnam would be a disaster.
PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON: Let no one think for a moment that retreat from Vietnam would bring an end to conflict.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We’re not leaving, so long as I’m the president. That would be a huge mistake.
PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: Our allies would lose confidence in America.
PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON: To yield to force in Vietnam would weaken that confidence.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Any sign that says we’re going to leave before the job is done simply emboldens terrorists.
PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: A retreat of the United States from Vietnam would be a communist victory, a victory of massive proportions and would lead to World War III.
PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON: If this little nation goes down the drain and can’t maintain independence, ask yourself what’s going to happen to all the other little nations.
PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: It would not bring peace. It would bring more war.
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of War Made Easy. Gareth Porter, final comment, and could you include what you’ve been writing about, which is your belief that the U.S. might well attack Iran?
GARETH PORTER: Well, I mean, that’s right exactly. The linkage between Bush’s speech, the Rodman article in The New York Times and the current situation regarding policy toward Iran is precisely that Rodman argues very specifically in his piece — again, Rodman being a former Bush administration official, as well as a former assistant to Kissinger — that we have to prevail in Iraq so that we can impress Iran with our determination and strength, our credibility. He says, in fact, that the United States cannot be strong against Iran or anywhere, if we accept defeat in Iraq. So these people are really girding for the potential war with Iran. I think that Rodman probably is part of that group that would like to have a war with Iran, as well. And so, I think that this is another indicator that Bush is certainly preparing for a potential war against Iran. I think that’s a very grave danger at this moment.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And this new ad campaign, once again attempting to link the attack on the World Trade Center to the war on Iraq in the minds of the American people, your reaction?
GARETH PORTER: Well, that, of course, has been completely discredited, you know, by the facts as we now understand them. Documentation makes it very clear that there was no relationship between going into Iraq and the rationale for Iraq and 9/11, except that it was a convenient moment for the neoconservatives in the administration to press their advantage, which, you know, they chose the target that they had already wanted to bring down — Saddam Hussein — before — long before 9/11, as we now know. So this is simply a continuation of the now-proven lie that the Bush administration has been giving the American people now for three years.
AMY GOODMAN: We just have 10 seconds, but Cheney’s role in pushing for attacking Iran, Gareth Porter?
GARETH PORTER: Dick Cheney, we know, is determined to use the excuse of alleged Iranian training camps — that’s camps supposedly in Iran, where Hezbollah is training the troops of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army — as an excuse to attack Iran, with the hope that the Iranians would then retaliate and make possible then a strategic attack against Iran’s — not only the nuclear fatalities, but against economic and military targets. The aim of the Bush administration is to weaken Iran as a power in the Middle East.
AMY GOODMAN: Gareth Porter, we want to thank you very much for being with us, investigative journalist and historian, writes a blog on The Huffington Post. His book is Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam.