In Vietnam, Disaster Followed Diplomacy. What's in Stock for the Iran Deal?

Americans might have good reason to be galled by Secretary of State John Kerry's emotional speech at the conclusion of the negotiations with Tehran.

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Leaders of world powers meet to discuss Iran nuclear deal on July 9, 2015.
World Powers meet to discuss Iran nuclear deal on July 9, 2015.Credit: AP

In the coming weeks, as Congress debates the Iran appeasement, we’re going to hear a lot about Munich, and, insofar as I’m concerned, it will be an apt metaphor for the deal that was struck at Vienna. But there’s another metaphor for the tragedy that is unfolding — Vietnam.

That Vietnam still resonates is a fact of which we were reminded over the weekend by the fury over Donald Trump’s attack on the Vietnam War valor of Senator John McCain, a blunder that may ruin Trump’s entire presidential campaign. But what prompts me to write about it this week is the remarks Wednesday by the American state undersecretary, Wendy Sherman.

Sherman recounted, according to a report on CNSNews.com, how, in the final plenary session in Vienna and with the press absent, the ministers from the five UN permanent members and Germany and Iran each “made a statement about what this meant to them.” Sherman deemed all of the remarks, including those by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif of Iran, to be “very moving.”

It was the last to speak, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who brought up Vietnam, where he’d served in the Mekong Delta when he was in the Navy. “When I was 22, I went to war,” Kerry said, before what CNSNews called choking up. “He couldn’t get the words out,” Sherman said. “And everybody was completely spellbound.”

Kerry eventually got ahold of himself and said: “I went to war, and it became clear to me that I never wanted to go to war again. That’s what this was all about. Trying to settle these matters through diplomacy and peaceful means.” Sherman called it “such a moving moment that everybody in that small room applauded – including the Iranian delegation.”

No wonder the Iranians applauded. Kerry was referring to one of the most famous capitulations in American history. He returned from his four months with the Swift Boats in Vietnam to join the anti-war movement. The young Navy reservist then went to Paris, where the Vietnam negotiations were in progress, and while he was there he met, by his own account, with the enemy delegation. Then he returned to America to argue their case.

In 1971, Kerry testified against American GIs in an infamous appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It was in that testimony that Kerry accused our GIs of committing war crimes. Later that year, on NBC’s Meet the Press, under questioning by Crosby Noyes of the Evening Star in Washington, Kerry confessed that he himself had done things that were “contrary to the laws of warfare.”

In 2001, in another interview on Meet the Press, this time by Tim Russert, Kerry backed off some of his severest language against the U.S., particularly retracting the idea that America had been committing genocide. “I think those were the words of an angry young man,” he said, while sticking to his broad critique of the war.

Kerry’s just completed meetings with the Iranian regime are in some ways far different than his meetings with the Vietnamese communists at Paris. Back then, he was acting without authority, undercutting the official American delegation. Meeting the Iranians in Vienna, in contrast, was with the full, democratic authority of the American government.

Once again, though, he is going to be trying to get Congress to accept terms with a foe. In the case of Vietnam, America did accept terms with the North Vietnamese regime, only to discover that the Communists began breaking the agreement from the moment it was signed. The result was the conquest of free Vietnam, as enemy armies swept out of the jungles and plunged Indochina into a long, dark night of communism.

I often think — and often write — that the catastrophe of our retreat in Indochina is under-appreciated. Millions fled, died, or ended up in “re-education” camps. A population the size of Eastern Europe was consigned for generations to the dark night of communism, a tragedy following from the advice of Kerry and his anti-war agitators.

It’s not my intention here to predict how things will go in the Middle East once Iran gets its billions. It is my intention to suggest that millions of Americans will find Secretary Sherman’s report of Kerry’s remarks in Vienna to be galling. In Vietnam, the free world’s armies won the war, and the Free World could have supported and nursed a free South Vietnam for generations. The disaster followed from the diplomacy. So it’s no wonder that Secretary Kerry choked up.

Seth Lipsky is editor of The New York Sun. He was foreign editor and a member of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, founding editor of the Forward and editor from 1990 to 2000. 

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