Monday, January 31, 2005

Iraq Elections: Lessons of Vietnam?

President Bush hailed the spectacular success of the Iraq elections yesterday. As reported in USA Today, he stated:
"The world is hearing the voice of freedom from the center of the Middle East,"
the article reported:
"Some Iraqis were killed while exercising their rights as citizens," Bush said. He also mourned the loss of American and British troops killed Sunday. "Their sacrifices were made in a vital cause of freedom."

Newly confirmed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also was on the news circuit with her view of the Iraq elections:
"What we are seeing today is what the Iraqis want their future to be," Rice said on "Fox News Sunday."

"They want it to be one based on democracy - on the vote, not the gun. And yet there are some terrible thugs, mostly from the old regime, who are trying to forestall that process, and we saw today that they are not succeeding."

You know all of this positive talk was starting to convince me. Maybe things were going to work out just fine. Maybe we could just sort of spread democracy to that corner of the middle-east.

However, Senator John Kerry was a little less than convinced about the election in Iraq. As he stated:
"It is hard to say that something is legitimate when whole portions of the country can't vote and doesn't vote," Kerry said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

I was getting a little concerned that Kerry might have missed on this one.

That is, until I read the post on Daily Kos about a similar situation some 37 years ago--as was first reported in the New York Times:
U.S. Encouraged by Vietnam Vote :
Officials Cite 83% Turnout Despite Vietcong Terror

by Peter Grose, Special to the New York Times (9/4/1967: p. 2)

WASHINGTON, Sept. 3-- United States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size of turnout in South Vietnam's presidential election despite a Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting.

According to reports from Saigon, 83 per cent of the 5.85 million registered voters cast their ballots yesterday. Many of them risked reprisals threatened by the Vietcong.

The size of the popular vote and the inability of the Vietcong to destroy the election machinery were the two salient facts in a preliminary assessment of the nation election based on the incomplete returns reaching here.

Pending more detailed reports, neither the State Department nor the White House would comment on the balloting or the victory of the military candidates, Lieut. Gen. Nguyen Van Thieu, who was running for president, and Premier Nguyen Cao Ky, the candidate for vice president.
A successful election has long been seen as the keystone in President Johnson's policy of encouraging the growth of constitutional processes in South Vietnam. The election was the culmination of a constitutional development that began in January, 1966, to which President Johnson gave his personal commitment when he met Premier Ky and General Thieu, the chief of state, in Honolulu in February.

The purpose of the voting was to give legitimacy to the Saigon Government, which has been founded only on coups and power plays since November, 1963, when President Ngo Dinh Deim was overthrown by a military junta.

Few members of that junta are still around, most having been ousted or exiled in subsequent shifts of power.

Significance Not Diminished

The fact that the backing of the electorate has gone to the generals who have been ruling South Vietnam for the last two years does not, in the Administration's view, diminish the significance of the constitutional step that has been taken.

The hope here is that the new government will be able to maneuver with a confidence and legitimacy long lacking in South Vietnamese politics. That hope could have been dashed either by a small turnout, indicating widespread scorn or a lack of interest in constitutional development, or by the Vietcong's disruption of the balloting.

American officials had hoped for an 80 per cent turnout. That was the figure in the election in September for the Constituent Assembly. Seventy-eight per cent of the registered voters went to the polls in elections for local officials last spring.

Before the results of the presidential election started to come in, the American officials warned that the turnout might be less than 80 per cent because the polling place would be open for two or three hours less than in the election a year ago. The turnout of 83 per cent was a welcome surprise. The turnout in the 1964 United States Presidential election was 62 per cent.

Captured documents and interrogations indicated in the last week a serious concern among Vietcong leaders that a major effort would be required to render the election meaningless. This effort has not succeeded, judging from the reports from Saigon.

NYT. 9/4/1967: p. 2.

Now I was really discouraged. Didn't all of this sound more and more like Vietnam? Maybe it takes a Vietnam War veteran to understand that this situation is more like Vietnam than not. Maybe John Kerry has a deeper understanding of the policy we have involved ourselves in better than these armchair warriors in the White House.

Senator Kerry, we need you to keep that door open in 2008. Keep a door open and pull our soldiers out of the water that is the War in Iraq!



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