By Max Boot
The Washington Post
Monday, March 31, 2008; 12:00 AM
Why am I not reassured by Zbigniew Brzezinski’s breezy assurance in Sunday’s Outlook section that “forecasts of regional catastrophe” after an American pullout from Iraq are as overblown as similar predictions made prior to our pullout from South Vietnam? Perhaps because the fall of Saigon in 1975 really was a catastrophe. Another domino fell at virtually the same time — Cambodia.
Estimates vary, but a safe bet is that some two million people died in the killing fields of Cambodia. In South Vietnam, the death toll was lower, but hundreds of thousands were consigned to harsh “reeducation” camps where many perished, and hundreds of thousands more risked their lives to flee as “boat people.”
The consequences of the U.S. defeat rippled outward, emboldening communist aggression from Angola to Afghanistan. Iran’s willingness to hold our embassy personnel hostage — something that Brzezinski should recall — was probably at least in part a reaction to America’s post-Vietnam malaise. Certainly the inability of the U.S. armed services to rescue those hostages was emblematic of the “hollow,” post-Vietnam military. It took us more than a decade to recover from the worst military defeat in our history.
In a sense, however, we have never been able to shed its baleful legacy. Thirty years later, Ayman al Zawahiri acknowledged that he was still inspired by “the aftermath of the collapse of the American power in Vietnam and how they ran and left their agents.”
For a real human story from Cambodia, start by reading:
‘Killing Fields’ survivor Dith Pran dies