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Hanoi is dismayed by President George W. Bush’s invocation of the ignominious US withdrawal from Vietnam to explain the need to maintain US forces in Iraq.

Mr Bush suggested that Washington’s withdrawal from Vietnam precipitated a bloodbath in south-east Asia – including the Cambodian Khmer Rouge genocide – an assertion many Vietnamese see as a gross oversimplification of the region’s complex and tragic history, and Washington’s own role in it.

“It is very ill-considered and, frankly, cavalier to make use of Vietnam in
such a way to extricate himself from the Iraq debate,” said Ton Nu Thi Ninh, former deputy chair of the foreign relations committee of Vietnam’s National Assembly. “Opening this up again can only rekindle resentment, antagonisms that have been put on the shelf for the sake of looking into the future.”

Vietnam was “an unjustified and a wrong war in the first place so to start analysing things only from the withdrawal of US troops is really puzzling”, she said. “The root of the problem is not the withdrawal, it’s the very fact of starting up the war in the first place.”

Ms Ninh also objected to Mr Bush’s “bad taste” in conflating post-war events in Vietnam with the Khmer Rouge “killing fields” in neighbouring Cambodia.

Hanoi views the withdrawal of US troops as the culmination of its successful nationalist struggle to reunify a divided country.

“With regard to the American war in Vietnam, everyone knows that we fought to defend our country and that this was a righteous war of the Vietnamese people,” Le Dung, foreign ministry spokesman, told a Hanoi press conference this week.

“And we all know that the war caused tremendous suffering and losses to the Vietnamese people.”

Vietnam’s communist rulers have struggled for 30 years to promote recognition of their nation as a country, rather than a war, as they sought to bury the ghosts of the past and forge an amicable working relationship with the US, their former enemy.

As Asia’s second-fastest growing economy, Vietnam is today a powerful magnet for foreign investment, with the US its largest single trading partner and a focus for growing bilateral co-operation.

Tran Quyet Thang, chairman of a local property development company, said Vietnam suffered unnecessarily as a result of US hostility and vindictiveness after the war, when Washington imposed a long, punishing economic boycott on reunified Vietnam.

“They had to withdraw from Vietnam – it was a wise decision and they should have done it earlier,” he said. “But they should not have embargoed Vietnam – they should have engaged Vietnam right away.

“They could have achieved what they think they wanted without the war. But they were regretful about losing the war, so they continued fighting in their mind.”

Ms Ninh believes the US has failed to learn the lessons of Vietnam.

“I think the US has no choice [in Iraq] but to withdraw – what good can it
do by staying longer?” she said.

“The US has opened the Pandora’s box. It seems President Bush is saying it’s a mess, and we have to stay to prevent it from being any worse.

“The only thing that really comes out is the notion of a quagmire.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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