I knew an ignorant woman, a self-described devotee of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party, who contended that we had to assume a fierce and aggressive stance against the “Muslim world” lest they destroy the West. For her there was only one Muslim world. She was blind to the numerous divisions among the followers of Islam, between Iraq and Iran, between Shiites and Sunnis, etc. It never occurred to her that if we failed to distinguish between Muslims and were to blindly strike out against Muslims in general, we only strengthen their animus towards us.
In Vietnam, we blindly struck out against the communists. The Washington establishment promised that if we failed to stop communism in Vietnam, communists would soon be bombing Santa Barbara. Of course, our policy makers were curiously oblivious to the Sino-Soviet split, i.e., that Russian communists and Chinese communists were at loggerheads. We saw communism as monolithic when in fact it consisted of quarrelsome subdivisions. Moreover, we failed to appreciate the historical rifts and schisms existing in Indochina.
I remember reading that Dean Rusk, Secretary of State from 1961 until 1969, said in 1965 that North Vietnam was simply an agent and tool of Communist China, apparently oblivious to the historical feuding that had been occurring between the countries for centuries. Vietnam, like the United States in its War of Independence against Great Britain, fought zealously for its autonomy and self-determination. In any event, had we been aware of the myriad splits and divisions among America’s foes, we would not have been so paranoid of Asian communism.
In fact, the more we fought communists, the stronger they seemed to become. Moreover, because a poor, Third World nation was being blitzed and bombed by America (we dropped on Vietnam twice the bomb tonnage unleashed by all combatants in WWII), China and Russia felt compelled to reduce their mutual antagonism. The world marveled as a poverty-stricken people resisted napalm and Agent Orange and all manner of imperialist depredations.
Ironically, it was when we threw in the towel and exited from Vietnam that we most effectively undermined communism, as pro-Soviet factions began fighting against pro-Chinese factions. Pro-Soviet Vietnam conquered pro-Chinese Cambodia. (The communist movement in Cambodia had been hijacked by Pol Pot, a savage murderer; Vietnam, by deposing Pol Pot, freed Cambodia from abject tyranny.) Then in the beginning of 1979, China invaded Vietnam. Finally, around spring of 1979, Chinese and Russian forces mobilized across their very long border. At that time, I remember front-page stories in the New York Times proclaiming that Russia and China might be on the verge of a thermonuclear conflagration.
I think the savage fighting between communists tarnished the ideology irreparably. From the salons of Paris to the slums of Hong Kong, people began questioning the worth of the socialist experiment and moved to the right. In a short time, the Far East shed its revolutionary inclinations and increasingly emulated the Capitalist West.
Likewise, were we to abandon some of our more militaristic designs on the Muslim world, we would deprive Muslims of a nexus of solidarity, namely their hated of us. That is, without our military presence, intra-Muslim schisms, profound as they are, would only grow worse and their strength and ability to harm the West–which is greatly exaggerated –would wane. Let’s learn from history so as not to repeat it.