Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Danger of Nixon Revisionism

Ben Stein is a liar or a fool. I judge this by his article in The American Spectator, Deep Throat and Genocide:

Can anyone even remember now what Nixon did that was so terrible? He ended the war in Vietnam, brought home the POW's, ended the war in the Mideast, opened relations with China, started the first nuclear weapons reduction treaty, saved Eretz Israel's life, started the Environmental Protection Administration. Does anyone remember what he did that was bad? ...When his enemies brought him down, and they had been laying for him since he proved that Alger Hiss was a traitor, since Alger Hiss was their fair-haired boy, this is what they bought for themselves in the Kharma Supermarket that is life:

1.) The defeat of the South Vietnamese government with decades of death and hardship for the people of Vietnam.

2.) The assumption of power in Cambodia by the bloodiest government of all time, the Khmer Rouge, who killed a third of their own people, often by making children beat their own parents to death. No one doubts RN would never have let this happen.

He truly must have been appreciated as a speech writer and lawyer for the Nixon administration. How many faults and deceptions are there in those four brief paragraphs? Let me count.

  1. Let me enumerate one point in Nixon's favour first. He actually pushed Vietnamization, the enabling of the ARVN to hold their own against the NVA, while withdrawing American troops. That was a bloody good idea, and in fact the ARVN were far more disciplined than a decade earlier. It's a shame it couldn't have been done 10 years earlier.  
  2. On the other hand, Nixon didn't end the war. What he and Kissinger did was negotiate a face-saving compromise with Lê Ðức Thọ (then foreign minister for North Vietnam). This allowed the Americans to withdraw their troops with a little bit of dignity. The war continued afterwards - yes - even after Nixon's resignation. However, Americans weren't now flying around much in Hueys. That made the voters stateside happy. 
  3. While negotiation their accords, Nixon and Kissinger also sold out the South Vietnamese government of Nguyễn Văn Thiệu. Over his objections, the Americans and the North Vietnamese agreed to leave a lot of Việt Cộng held territory as is. Which in practice meant a lot of strategically important territory in the Mekong and the Highlands. They were places you could put supply caches for the NVA, and their existence alone helped the NVA win the war. But it was of little importance to Nixon or Kissinger. The death of one American soldier was far more important to them than the deaths of 10 Vietnamese. 
  4. The war was not ended by Richard Nixon. It was ended by General Văn Tiền Dũng. His "Blossoming Lotus" manouvre through and around Buôn Ma Thuột forced the ARVN to retreat. And since the opposing general responsible (Cao Văn Viên) was so incompetent as to choose a non-existent highway for a retreat route, the ARVN collapsed as a result.
  5. And yes, the North Vietnamese won the war - less than three months later, in fact. No question about that. If the U.S. has to evacuate its own embassy by helicopter, there is no way one can say they "won" it. It wasn't until Clinton that the U.S. got both a embassy and a consulate back into the country. 
  6. Nixon didn't bring home all the POWs. There were POWs in North Vietnam when Nixon resigned. There were POWs when Ford was president, and even a few when Carter was president.
  7. A lot of the blame for the rise of the Khmer Rouge lies with Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. After all, Cambodian Prince Norodom Sihanouk was deposed in favour of General Lon Nol. You may believe the U.S. was behind that coup, or you may not. What is certain is that massive bombing of Cambodian territory by the USAF made the U.S - and by proxy, Lon Nol - government extremely unpopular. Meanwhile, Sihanouk, with now a lot of time on his hands, allied himself with a few Khmer Rouge front groups. Both events led to the KR controlling the country within five years, and Lon Nol off to Hawaii.
  8. Finally, if Mr Stein says "RN would never let [the KR] happen", I could only say "bullshit". Remember that Nixon was now buddy-buddies with Communist China. That was Nixon's greatest achievement. Remember also that the Khmer Rouge were Maoist, and good allies with China. I really, really doubt that Nixon would have jepordized any relations with China by making a stink about Khmer Rouge atrocities. And if you don't believe me, remember the hue and cry when the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia., even though the Vietnamese had been attacked first:  

The U.S. and other western governments, along with China, continued to recognize "Democratic Kampuchea" as the legitimate government of Cambodia, in order to signal their disapproval of the Vietnamese occupation of the country, which was backed by the Soviet Union. China launched a punitive invasion of northern Vietnam. The U.S. channeled some support to the Khmer Rouge resistance in western Cambodia via surrogates in Thailand, while the Thai military provided them with intelligence.

As I said, Ben Stein is either a liar or a fool.