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What that history now shows us is that resisting Communist aggression in Vietnam was a “necessary war,” as Michael Lind calls it, a critical Cold-War duel that enforced the doctrine of containment of Soviet aggression. Thus if Romney thinks that subsequent events “proved” that intervention wrong, he’s on the wrong side of history. Indeed, there were “errors” made under General Westmoreland in the conduct of the war. But after the Tet Offensive of 1968 ended in disaster for the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong, and after General Creighton Abrams replaced Westmoreland and instituted effective counter-insurgency and Vietnamization programs, the tide turned. By 1972, the war was as good as won, as ambassador to South Vietnam Ellsworth Bunker said. American troops were coming home, the communist guerrillas in the South had been neutralized, the countryside was pacified, political and economic reforms were taking hold, and an improved South Vietnamese army was in a position to defend the country as long as the South Vietnamese received aid and air support from the U.S. to counterbalance the resources provided the North by China and the Soviet Union, which had made the Army of North Vietnam the fifth largest in the world. But a Democratic controlled Congress in June1973 passed the Case-Church amendment to the Defense Appropriation bill, which prohibited any further American military involvement in Vietnam after August 1973. Further legislation cut funding and planned to end all assistance in 1976. Left helpless before the combined might of North Vietnam, China, and the Soviet Union, South Vietnam was quickly overrun in 1975. The Congressional abandonment of South Vietnam was the fatal error of the war that squandered that victory.
What subsequent events “proved” right, then, was not, as George Romney and apparently his son believe, that the intervention was a mistake, but that a failure of political nerve can waste a hard-won military victory and render meaningless the nearly 60 thousand dead and 150 thousand wounded who had earned that victory. Indeed, the following expansion of communism not just in Southeast Asia––including the genocidal murder of two million Cambodians by communist fanatics––but also in Latin America and Africa, proved not the error of intervention, but the error of failing to follow through on the part of politicians motivated by ideology or political self-interest.
Mitt Romney may have been displaying filial loyalty, or he may even not know what his father had actually said. Considering that in his Fox News interview Romney had spoken of the errors committed in the Iraq war, while still voicing support for it, he may have thought that his father was making a similar criticism. Either way, Romney needs to make clear whether or not he endorses the narrative of Vietnam that makes our intervention there a misguided instance of neo-colonial aggression. The answer to that question is critical for our understanding of Romney’s foreign policy philosophy.
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