In their sage grayness, they thought that every challenge was ripe for a military solution. They knew little and cared less about that foreign country’s history and culture. They had a theory that if South Vietnam fell to communism, other dominos would topple, making all Asia in the likeness of Red China.
To the surprise of such thinkers, Vietnam after reunification soon fought a border war with China. Although the Vietnamese had invaded Cambodia — the Khmer Rouge’s brutality was too much even for the Vietnamese communists — the Socialist Republic of Vietnam turned out not to set the dominos tumbling on the map of the world. It just wanted to be free on its own terms.
While its freedom does not match ours, free enterprise in Vietnam continually expands the old-fashioned socialist corset. Golf courses have sprung up where battles were once fought. U.S. warships now come to make hospitality calls.
So what was the Vietnam War all about? What were we thinking? Not very much. Stupid statesmen just had their dogmatic theories. It seemed a good idea at the time.
Bombing Iran seems a good idea to many in our time. Back in the balmy days of bipartisanship, politics stopped at the water’s edge. Now, every partisan politician tries to drown his opponent by pushing him off the water’s edge into the treacherous deep.
Keeping time to the drumbeat of war, President Barack Obama in recent days marched into a meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israeli lobby, to appear tough on Iran. This was a prelude to his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is straining to take military action against Iran’s nuclear facility.
Talk softly and carry a big stick — Teddy Roosevelt’s prescription for foreign policy — seems to have been replaced with talk loudly and wave the big stick in foreigners’ faces as a prelude to whacking them with it.
Among the most enthusiastic drumbeaters are the major Republican presidential candidates. Despite their fondness for rattling sabers, they (and Mr. Obama, too) have never worn a uniform, unless they played tuba in their middle school band.
Mitt Romney says that if Obama is re-elected, Iran will get nuclear weapons. This is pretty much the attitude of Rick Santorum. This duo strives to be reverse John Lennons, singing the chorus: “All we are saying is give war a chance.”
To which I say: Wait a minute with the war talk, will you? War should be the absolute last resort, not the preferred first option. This we should know from experience: On its barren ground, war inevitably sows dragon teeth that sprout unexpected dragons.
Haven’t we been down this sorry road recently? Don’t we remember that we had to invade Iraq because of the alleged weapons of mass destruction and the threatening mushroom cloud? That was all imaginary, but the funerals that followed this decision were not.
True, the leaders of Iran are as wretched a bunch of the old, stupid and mad as could be assembled for the purposes of despotism. The world in general and Israel in particular would certainly be less safe if Iran got a nuclear weapon. Yet, interestingly, other crazy despots have built a bomb — witness North Korea — and we did not stop them.
Note that I am not a pacifist. In fact, I once read approvingly of a pacifist at Speaker’s Corner in London who got off his soapbox to punch a particularly irritating member of the crowd in the nose. So I allow that the day may come when we have to take military action against Iran in the face of some grave provocation or the 100 percent certainty that the ayatollahs are armed and nuclear dangerous.
But we’d better be 110 percent sure. We can’t afford another war right now — not in lives, not in mounting deficits. Obama is right to be patient and try diplomacy and sanctions first.
This time, war should be the last thing we seek — and don’t let stupid politicians tell you different.
Reg Henry is a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist.