Evan Thomas’ best case for debunking the Munich lesson, as mentioned, comes from U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Thomas rightly says “the fear of appeasement” was “the single most important factor in dragging America into Vietnam.” But then Thomas says Lyndon Johnson “mistook” a “civil war” for an “assault by monolithic communism,” ridicules the “domino theory” that Vietnam’s fall would turn “all” of Southeast Asia communist, and brands Vietnam a “fiasco” of defeat and lost lives. At least for “liberals who had marched against the war,” Vietnam taught us to avoid military intervention abroad.
Problems with Thomas’ take on Vietnam:
Contrary to Thomas’ assertion, Johnson saw Vietnam as a civil war between the North and the South, the North backed by Communists, and we required to back the South (like Korea). Thomas’ friends on the left, by contrast, (correctly?) saw Vietnam as a war of national liberation, with the Communists fighting descendents of French colonialists.
The “domino theory” became reality in Indochina—South Vietnam’s fall led to the fall of Laos and Cambodia.
The Vietnam “fiasco,” which involved too much U.S. sacrifice, may have kept Indonesia and most of Southeast Asia non-communist in 1965, and by earning the Chinese and Soviet leaders’ respect, contributed to Nixon’s diplomatic triumphs with both.
Thomas further mischaracterizes the bitterness felt by U.S. military involved with Vietnam, including John McCain’s father, at “the failure of will of civilian leaders.” Of course, military resentment was reserved not for “civilian leaders” Nixon and Ford, but for Democrats in congress who refused to appropriate funds needed to keep South Vietnam viable following U.S. withdrawal in 1973. Thomas embarrassingly equates these U.S. military complaints to Nazis and others who blamed Germany’s World War I defeat on a Jewish “stab in the back” (he avoids the word “Jewish”, since openly likening the U.S. military to German anti-Semites would instantly discredit his overwrought analogy).
Reviewing the post-Vietnam era, Thomas continues his rewrite of history:
Thomas says Reagan wasn’t really the nail-spitting enemy of the “evil empire” he set out to be, but actually a wall-to-wall negotiator in his second term, dealing from “a position of strength.” In fact, history honors Reagan for his “position of strength” not his negotiating; his military build-up bankrupted the Soviet Union, effectively winning the Cold War (a victory recorded with the USSR’s 1991 demise).
Thomas says George H.W. Bush made a “flawed” comparison of Saddam to Hitler, when the Iraqi dictator rolled over an international border to invade Kuwait, because Saddam was only a “local” menace. In fact, Bush’s parallel was valid; Saddam had invaded Iran and had designs on other neighboring states including Saudi Arabia, and wanted to control the whole of Middle East oil.
Thomas suggests Clinton similarly erred in the Balkans when his administration likened Milosevic to Hitler. In fact, Milosevic horrified Europe with his Hitler-like ethnic cleansing in Bosnia.
Thomas suggests (he puts the words in others’ mouths) McCain is a “slightly unhinged former POW who has stubbornly determined to stay in Iraq in a war without end.” Thomas says McCain is a “believer in all or nothing” which has “a certain purity and nobility” that doesn’t reflect “the messy reality of limited wars against local insurgencies.” In fact, McCain’s belief that if you fight, you put in enough troops to win was the Iraq policy of General Shinseki, Colin Powell, and other Democratic Party heroes, though Democrats abandoned the strategy once Bush embraced McCain’s surge. In fact, McCain was hardly “all or nothing” about Vietnam; his advocacy of U.S. recognition of Vietnam as an ex-POW greatly influenced Republicans to do so in 1995. In fact, McCain’s policy to stay in Iraq until we’ve won is a “war without end” only to those like Thomas who see victory as impossible.
Thomas suggests (apparently quoting Obama) Iran’s Ahmadinejad is “no Hitler,” isn’t “the real power in Iran,” and may be gone after elections next summer, so we shouldn’t too concerned about Obama’s promise last year to negotiate with Ahmadinejad “without preconditions” in his first year. In fact, Ahmadinejad is Hitler-like in his anti-Semitic ravings and threats and in his desire to extend Persia’s control over the entire Middle East, including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. And Ahmadinejad, who enjoys the support of Iranian supreme leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei, armed with nuclear weapons will have power Hitler only dreamed of. Let’s hope that in spite of Thomas’ effort to rewrite history for his favorite next president, Obama is fully alert to the parallels the world will see if he goes umbrella-in-hand to Tehran.