Countering aggressive moves in the South China Sea with China building air strips in shallow reefs of the Spratly Islands, 54-year-old President Barack Obama decided to lift a 50-year-old arms embargo with Vietnam. Losing a 10-year-long bloody war with North Vietnam April 30, 1975, the U.S. lost over 58,303 U.S. soldiers, more thaN 10% of the 536,100 troops drafted into the conflict. Despite claiming to bury the hatchet 41-years after ending the conflict, Obama plays a dangerous game of chicken with China, hoping lifting an arms embargo against Vietnam’s communist government establishes closer ties with the U.S. Trying the same strategy in Cuba, there’s far less at stake ending the 50-year-old embargo against Cuba dating back to Castro’s 1959 Cuban Revolution, establishing a Marist government only 90 miles from Key West. There’s far less at stake in Cuba, than trying to interfere with Hanoi’s close relationship with Beijing.
U.S. arms suppliers would like nothing more than opening up new markets in Vietnam, despite geopolitical concerns, pitting the U.S. against China in the South China Sea. Raising objections about China building military instillations in the Spratly Islnads has plunged U.S.-China relations into the lowest point since the Cold War. While Obama claims he wants to end the Cold War selling arms to Vietnam, it does exactly the opposite. Raising talk in Moscow and Beijing of nuclear saber rattling, Obama wants to install Lockheed-Martin Aegis-type missile defense systems in South Korea and Europe. Going operational with Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense in Romania May 12 sent Russian President Vladimir Putin in a fit, promising a new arms race in the region. Responding to Putin’s objections, Obama insists U.S. missile defense attempts to counter Iranian and North Korean threats. Putin doesn’t buy Obama’s excuse, sending U.S.-Russian relations to Cold War lows.
Vietnam’s President Tran Dai Quang doesn’t forget for one second the over 1 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong killed during the protracted War in Indochina, begun in 1955 when Ho Chi Minh fought against French Colonial rule. Quang doesn’t forget President Lyndon Johnson’s Aug. 10, 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, following a dubious account of the U.S. Maddox being attacked Aug. 2 and Aug. 4, 1964 by North Vietnamese patrol boats. Johnson’s Defense Secretary Robert McNamara admitted that the Aug. 4, 1964 incident never happened, essentially confessing there was no real attack prompting Johnson’s escalation to the war. “At this stage, both sides have developed a level of trust and cooperation, including between our militaries, that is reflective of common interests and mutual respect,” said Obama, alluding to “common interests” in containing China in the South China Sea. Obama’s kidding himself about splitting Beijing from Hanoi.
Like Cuba, Vietnam remains a one-party communist state, with no plans, other than token acts, to move toward democracy or, more importantly, correcting human rights abuses. Calling Vietnam “former enemies turned friends,” Obama looks to add to former President Bill Clinton’s attempt to normalize relations. Meeting with Quang in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, is a bitter reminder of the U.S.’s brutal defeat April 30, 1975. Johnson escalated the Vietnam War, creating one of the most divisive periods in American history, ending his presidency Jan. 20, 1969, with some of the lowest approval ratings in U.S. history. Johnson’s National Security Team, led by McGeorge Bundy and McNamara, insisted Vietnam was the pivotal battle against Soviet global expansionism. None of Johnson’s team talked about Vietnam’s longstanding struggle against French and American colonial rule, only about the twilight struggle against Soviet communism.
Making deals with Vietnam, Obama continues the same Cold War fervor that leaves U.S.-Russian relations at their lowest point since the Oct. 16-28, 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Establishing arms sales with Vietnam antagonizes the Kremlin, currently battling the U.S.-Saudi-Turkey proxy war in Syria. While claiming to seek an end to the five-year-old end to the Syrian War, Obama’s policy backing regime change in Damascus directly opposes Moscow and Iran. Backing the Saudi-funded proxy war against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Obama’s made it difficult for the U.S. to improve relations with Moscow. Today’s suicide bombing by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS] killing 100 against al-Assad’s government in Tartus, shows how Obama’s foreign policy backs ISIS. Instead of joining Putin and Iran in restoring order to Syria, Obama continues to back the Saudi-Turk proxy war causing over 250,000 deaths and millions of refugees.
Selling arms to Vietnam does nothing to improve relations with Moscow, making a bad situation worse. While there’s nothing wrong with continuing to normalize relations with Vietnam, Obama’s foreign policy works at cross-purposes in Asia and Middle East. Obama has the perfect opportunity in the Middle East and Asia to get on the same page as Putin but instead chooses to worsen U.S.-Russian relations. Installing missile defense in Romania or Poland does nothing to contain a growing Russian conventional military threat. Since Putin invaded Crimea March 1, 2014, Obama has done nothing but antagonize Putin. If the U.S. wants to avoid pouring endless dollars into NATO, stabilize the Mideast or improve its leverage in Asia, it needs to improve relations with Moscow. Installing missile defense systems in Asia or Europe or battling Moscow in Syria only makes stabilizing today’s geopolitics more complicated, calling for a change in U.S. foreign policy.
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