Don Ritter


Pulling out of Iraq would repeat Vietnam's mistakes

By Don Ritter

November 8, 2007 - The Morning Call

The potential for mayhem and murder after a premature pullout from Iraq has been compared to what actually happened after Vietnam.

Those writing about America's (in actuality, it was the Democratic-led U.S. Congress) cut off of all support for her Vietnamese allies as the Soviet-backed North readied to invade the South, describe the resulting horrors of re-education, boat people and Cambodia. But there was also a decade of death and destruction in Central America which followed in the late 1970s and 1980s initiated by Soviet-Cuban backed so-called national liberation movements. Led by long-time Stalinist, Tomas Borge, communists calling themselves Sandinistas took over Nicaragua in 1979 and El Salvador was standing on the brink of the abyss in late 1980 when Ronald Reagan was elected. Honduras and Guatemala were next. While this monumental struggle for our southern neighbors was taking place, Democratic leadership in Congress fought President Reagan and his policies and turned a blind eye to Soviet and Cuban-backed communists undermining nearby Latin America.

The Iran-Contra fiasco, an ugly and debilitating sidebar to the vast historical forces in motion in the hemisphere, was an outgrowth of the inability of Reagan to convince congressional Democrats of the seriousness of the takeover of Nicaragua and the Soviet-Cuban role in usurping the rest of Central America.

Not able to secure Congress' approval for continued funding of the opposition to the Sandinistas, the so-called Contra resistance fighters (who were fielded initially by the CIA), a wild and probably illegal scheme was cooked up in the basement of the White House. People who on their own or with the tacit approval of possibly Reagan himself, or certainly those close to him, decided that they, personally and against the legislated dictate of Congress banning aid, would nevertheless act covertly. They felt they could not permit the betrayal of those 35,000 or so individuals, largely Miskito Indians from the eastern coastal regions, who had stood up with our support to fight the communists. This White House contingent was mainly Vietnam War veterans committed to avoiding another betrayal of our friends and a victory for the communists. Arms sales to Iran of ''donated'' weapons constituted the chosen route for cash for Contra weapons and supplies. In the end it failed.

When uncovered, the public relations and legal disaster for the Reagan administration led to disaster in the field of battle and solidification of Communist power in Nicaragua. That power unraveled only with the fall of the Soviet Union when Nicaragua, like so many other Soviet clients, lost their source of funds, advisers and weapons.

Now, some of the very same people in Congress who could not recognize the real enemy in Central America and pulled the rug out from under our allies in Vietnam, are leading the charge to cut off funding for American troops supporting our Iraqi allies. They argue our allies are imperfect, cannot or will not conform to our arbitrary self-help timetable and are thus unworthy of our support and sacrifice.

Vietnam, Central America and now Iraq: One thing you can say about the Democratic Party's leadership in the Congress: They have been consistent.

In 1979, after President Carter abandoned our long-time allies in Iran to dangerous Islamic fanatics, the Soviets, sensing the palpable weaknesses of President Carter and the Democratic Congress, invaded Afghanistan before the year was out. That action set off a horrendous series of events that we are still struggling with today and will be for a long time to come.

It all started with Congress' abandonment of our allies in Vietnam, then Central America, then Carter's precipitous severing of ties with our allies in Iran. Fast forward to the war in Iraq and we see history repeating itself. Can anyone imagine the world today had Jimmy Carter defeated Ronald Reagan for the presidency and leader of the free world in 1980?

Here's the real question: Are Democrats in Congress and a putative Democratic president willing to risk a post-Iraq debacle akin to that which followed Vietnam but conceivably far worse, in order to score electoral points in 2008? So far, the simple answer is, yes.

Don Ritter served as the Republican congressman representing the Lehigh Valley's 15th Congressional District from 1979 until 1993. He is the senior adviser of the Afghan International Chamber of Commerce based in Washington, D.C., and serves on its executive committee.



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