Bush and the “Boat People”

By Tram Nguyen Aug 24, 2007

It seems like the disaster in Iraq has compelled Bush to play amateur historian again. Earlier in the war, he was fond of evoking WW II, comparing Saddam to Hitler and Iraq to the "axis of evil." As comparisons to the Vietnam quagmire inevitably cropped up, Bush was careful to reject that politically deadly analogy. Yet here we are, in the dismal days of his unraveling presidency amid escalating sectarian violence in Iraq and growing demand at home to pull back troops, and Bush is suddenly a student of The Quiet American by Graham Greene. He’s suddenly troubled by the legacy of death and destruction in Southeast Asia. "Our 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,’" he said in a speech this week to veterans in Kansas City. I’m simply amazed at the sheer hubris, ignorance and venality of this attempt to spin the tragedy of the Vietnam War so cynically and dishonestly…and with the aim of providing a rationale for continuing the occupation — a lie on top of of a lie that led us into the current tragedy in Iraq. Isn’t it interesting how Bush selectively focuses on the boat people and the killing fields — handy images of Third World horror lifted without context — to scare us into thinking that ending the occupation would lead directly to all hell breaking loose? He conveniently doesn’t mention the 2 million Vietnamese killed during the course of the war, when American leaders bragged about bombing Vietnam back to the Stone Ages. Or the hundreds of thousands of Cambodians killed during the secret carpet bombing prior to the Khmer Rouge’s rise. And of course, the U.S. played a role in clandestinely aiding Pol Pot’s forces, something that’s been documented by journalists, but continues to be an unknown footnote to general easy outrage at the killing fields. As in Vietnam, the American pretense is to bring democracy to another region. In trying to perpetuate this idea while covering up the failures of his war policy, Bush draws a curious lesson from the Vietnam War. The U.S. should not have withdrawn then; and now it needs to stay the course. By the LBJ years, American commanders already knew they could not succeed in Vietnam, yet the war continued for 10 more years. The death toll rose along with incalculable destruction to the country through Agent Orange, napalm and cluster bombs. Vietnam is always being invoked, and lessons can be drawn to fit any political spin. However, the essential lesson to me is that military domination can never be a solution and in fact, it won’t ever work. If Bush really did care about the refugees created by war, he would talk about the nearly 3 million or more Iraqis who have been displaced both internally and onto the borders of Syria and Jordan. In the face of this gigantic human catastrophe, the Bush Administration offers 466 visas for refugee resettlement to the U.S. It’s beyond insulting.