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Vietnam Redux

With John Kerry now likely to be the Democratic nominee for President, and transiting Saturn[1] conjunct the United States' and George W. Bush's natal Suns throughout much of 2004, it is entirely appropriate that the issues raised by a war that ended 29 years ago (and hence one complete Saturn cycle) are moving to center stage. These issues call for a sober, dispassionate analysis by the nation. David Brooks, the new conservative-leaning New York Times columnist, wrote a piece for the February 17th edition of the Times, employing a Vietnam metaphor, describing how he saw the choice facing the Democratic Party with regard to its stance on national security. The URL for his original column is:


In my view, one of the essential lessons of modern political history is that it is a bad idea to ever allow your opponent to define the terms of any debate. Hence, I chose to reframe the issues that Vietnam represents in this letter.

Dear Mr. Brooks:

In my view, the real issues raised by any re-examination of the Vietnam conflict - and the conduct, character and judgment of the two men who will likely compete for the Presidency in 2004 - can be most productively explored through two separate areas of inquiry.

The first perspective is directly related to personal character. What are we to make of a President, and a group of advisors, who set themselves above their ordinary contemporaries by evading service in Vietnam, but now portray themselves as super-patriots, and peerless defenders of American values?

Is it fair to ask the question as to why they did not feel so heroic when their opportunity to serve their country presented itself?

Is it fair to ask whether Paul Wolfowitz would be arguing for a pre-emption policy if he were forced to actually lead American troops into battle, rather than hide out behind the reinforced walls of the Pentagon? I wonder, for instance, if Wolfowitz's cocksure attitude has been altered by his brush with death in Iraq a few months ago?

Have John Kerry's, Chuck Hagel's and John McCain's experiences in Vietnam impacted their approach to foreign policy? Do these men who were physically willing to "pay any price, bear any burden", like the World War II generation of American leaders who preceded them, actually have a more informed understanding of the true price of any military campaign?

The second perspective that needs to be explored here has to do with the practical scope of American military influence in the world.

Was Vietnam an overextension of American military power? Was the invasion of Afghanistan an overextension of Soviet military power? Was the invasion of the Soviet Union an overextension of Nazi military power? Can even great military powers overextend their hand?

Was it wise to launch a campaign for regime change in Iraq, in a largely unilateral mode (without the active support of the United Nations), with the United States already attempting in Afghanistan what neither the British nor the Soviets were able to accomplish?

Was it wise to launch a campaign for regime change in Iraq when only a bullet in the body of a friendly military dictator in Pakistan stands in the way of forty nuclear weapons falling into the hands of the generals who supported and trained the Taliban, and the men who attacked us on 9/11?

These are questions that sane, sober Democrats like myself are asking at the moment - and intend to ask every American to consider between now and November 2004.

Sincerely yours,

Matthew Carnicelli © 2004. All rights reserved.

1. For more information on the Saturn cycle, see "It's Always Darkest Before the Dawn",

Originally published February 17, 2004.