As even a casual reader of this blog is aware, I have a long history of time in Vietnam. Over a thirteen year period, I spent more time there than I did in the U.S. I spoke the language like a native and was sometimes mistaken on the telephone for a Vietnamese. I loved the Vietnamese people, a spunky, generous, shrewd, and sentient nation.
During my Vietnam years, I watched as the U.S. gradually turned away from South Vietnam. First we pulled out our troops, then reduced our financial and matériel support, and finally stopped all aid, leaving our South Vietnamese allies to their own devices while their enemy, the North Vietnamese, continued to receive full support from Russia and China. The result was the tragic defeat and subjugation of the South Vietnamese. The downfall came after more than 300,000 South Vietnamese soldiers and over 58,000 U.S. troops died in battle. Civilian deaths are believed to be many times those numbers.
In later years, we withdrew from Iraq. We did the same thing in Syria, abandoning the Kurds. The pattern becomes clear: the U.S. will stay and support a country as long as the policy is popular, then withdraw when opposition grows.
The U.S has somewhere around 3,000 soldiers in Afghanistan—a few more or a few less depending on which source one relies on. That’s down from 100,000 at the peak of the war. And now, President Biden has reported plans to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by next September 11. The press reports grave concern that the Taliban will rise again and eventually take control. As far as I know there are no current plans to cease financial and matériel aid, but if we follow our usual practice, we will eventually end all help.
The pattern is clear for all to see. The U.S. can’t be depended upon to stick around over the long term. And yet we did do that in Korea. We have kept our troops in South Korea and maintained our financial and matériel assistance to that country for well over sixty years. The result—unlike that in Vietnam, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere—is a flourishing democracy on the Korean peninsula.
I know it’s unrealistic to insist that the U.S. continue its military presence and fiscal backing everywhere. But I believe we can do a much better job than we have so far. We need to find a more effective way to provide military and economic assistance. The survival of democracy worldwide depends on it.