10 September 2023

Vietnam, America's new "Critical Partner" in the Indo-Pacific

As very much a child of the Vietnam War era, I cannot help but muse over the "critical partner" move on the part of both the current Vietnamese government and the US to "counter" Chinese hegemony in the region. (China being Vietnam's historical enemy No. 1). President Biden went to Hanoi, the first American president to do so. 

What I'm reminded of is how Ho Chi Minh famously admired George Washington and the American Revolution, and fully expected (naively, as it turned out) for post WWII America to support his Anti-Colonial insurgency. 1950s and 60s America, in a very real sense, drove the Vietnamese into alliance with the Soviets and onto the other side of the Cold War, by, in effect, inheriting the colonialist mantle from the French. So convinced we were of the all-encompassing danger of Communism, when what the Vietnamese insurgency was all about, first and foremost, was nationalism... the desire of the Vietnamese people for self-determination after centuries of first Chinese then French domination. We see this now, with the Vietnamese regime, the direct peaceful successor to the North Vietnamese regime then, being most plausibly seen as a moderately authoritarian neoCapitalist government, which seems quite happy to align with India and the US with the IndoPacific "counterbalance" to China. 

None of this is sweetness and light all around, and no doubt there is an abundance of hypocrisy and double dealing involved in all quarters (as is pretty much always the case in international power politics). Still, it's hard not to think the US could fairly readily have handled affairs so that a long, debilitating and very deadly war in Indochina could have been avoided, and we would've been where we are now with Vietnam a long, long time ago. I suppose that would have required historically improbable vision, although there were plenty of people in the US as early as the late 1950s who didn't buy the concept of the "Domino" theory, or see Vietnam as any kind of threat to the US or its long term interests. And now? Lessons learned, one hopes, but perhaps doesn't quite believe. 

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