US President Barack Obama’s “legacy world tour” continued with “historic” visits to Vietnam followed by the Japanese city of Hiroshima. He is the first sitting president to attend the Japanese city where the US dropped an atomic bomb 71 years ago killing at least 140,000 people.
While in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, Obama announced the “historic” lifting of a US arms embargo on the country, an embargo that had been in place for the past 50 years since the end of the American war on the country – a war which killed upwards of three million Vietnamese people.
Unofficially, the presidential swing through Asia can be seen as Obama’s “legacy” tour. With only months to go before his second term in the White House ends, it seems obvious that Obama’s purpose is partly to clock up a series of putative historic achievements in order to burnish his slot in the history books, as well as add kudos to lucrative future earnings as a globe-trotting celebrity speaker.
Earlier this year, the 44th president became the first US leader to visit socialist Cuba since his predecessor Calvin Coolidge in 1928, bearing hyped promises of “normalized relations” – but still no end to the trade embargo that Washington has imposed on the Caribbean island for the past 55 years.
Invoking the image of “history-making”, Obama also claims to have ended decades of Cold War between the US and the Islamic Republic of Iran, by signing an international accord last year blocking Tehran’s alleged pursuit of building nuclear weapons. As for Cuba, Washington has still not delivered yet on any meaningful lifting of trade sanctions from Iran, as mandated by the nuclear agreement, despite the ballyhoo about “historic” change in policy under Obama.
Nevertheless, Obama’s “legacy tour” to Vietnam and Japan is not just about vainglorious image-making.
The new market for American weaponry in Vietnam will be a boon for the US defense industry – a vital sector in the otherwise waning economy. The move is aimed at displacing Russia as the top military supplier to Vietnam.
It also sends a signal to China that Washington is beefing up its military presence in the South China Sea to discommode its strategic rival in Beijing. Vietnam, along with the Philippines, has long-running territorial disputes with China over islands in the resource-rich sea. By lifting a taboo on arming Vietnam, the US is escalating its intervention in that dispute in opposition to China.
Although, Washington this week denied that the military deals with Vietnam were motivated by its strategic concerns over China. But only a dullard would buy that guff, given Washington’s belligerent “Pivot to Asia” and China over the past five years.
Significant moves notwithstanding, such developments are not the same as “historic” – if by the latter it is meant to herald a seminal shift in US foreign policy.
In both Vietnam and Japan, the Obama administration made clear beforehand that there would be no apology for war or the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The New York Times anticipated the president’s visit to Vietnam with an article headlined: “Obama in Vietnam Will Focus on Future, Rather Than the Past”.
Focusing on the future is a coy way of referring to flogging US weapons to Vietnam, inveigling the country into a strategic front against China, and using Vietnam to push Washington’s trade agenda through the Trade and Investment Partnership (TIP) in Asia-Pacific, which ultimately is aimed at crimping China’s economic power.
And, from Washington’s point of view, there is very good reason to avoid revisiting the past with Vietnam. To do so would raise questions about one of the most criminal wars over the past century.
During a 15-year period, from 1960-1975, it is estimated the US dropped more bombs on Vietnam than the total tonnage dropped during the entire Second World War. Seasoned war correspondent John Pilger in his book, Heroes, wrote some of the most harrowing accounts of the devastation and horror that the US inflicted on Vietnam during those years.
The Americans obliterated a largely peasant country that was struggling for its independence from first French colonial and later US surrogate rule. The notion of the US“defending the free world from Communist expansionism” was a risible pretext for American aggression. Not that the latter pretext is legally or morally acceptable. But it did give a somewhat politically sellable cover.
The US war on Vietnam conducted under three presidents – Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon – stands as an unmitigated catalogue of war crimes. Yet earlier this month, the Obama administration bemedaled Nixon’s former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger with a Pentagon “distinguished person award” – the highest such tribute given to an American civilian.
In addition to “conventional” bombing, the US air force rained down 20 million gallons of defoliating chemicals, including Agent Orange, across Vietnam’s countryside between 1961-71. The use of chemical weapons – first begun by President John F Kennedy – was “justified” with the cynical rationale that the material was a “herbicide”. As if destroying whole swathes of jungles and rice paddies was not also poisoning the population.
To this day, it is reckoned that some four million Vietnamese are victims of the American air-dropped toxins that have caused myriad cancers and grotesque birth deformities. US war veterans that brought the carcinogenic effects home to their families have been compensated in federal courts, but the same American courts continue to refuse similar compensation for Vietnamese victims.
The New York Times article cited above, about focusing on “the future” of US-Vietnamese relations, makes no mention of the death toll and destruction wrought by Washington’s genocidal war on the southeast Asian country. Cloyingly, the article refers only to the “ghosts” of Vietnam that “haunt” US veterans.
Obama returned to an epic American crime scene – and yet narcissistically the sole concern seems to be on how “Americans suffered” in all the mayhem.
In a sickening Orwellian twist, US media coverage of Obama’s “historic” visit, focuses on how Vietnam must improve its “human rights record” before Washington proceeds to “fully normalize” relations.
If ever proof were needed that American news media function as a well-oiled propaganda machine then the way in which its governments’ war crimes in Vietnam are whitewashed from the historical record is irrefutable testimony to that function.
Vietnam’s victory over the US surely stands as one of most valiant defeats of imperialist warmongering in modern history.
Why the current Vietnamese government should pander to Obama and American criminality is a disturbing question. Evidently centuries of rivalry with its bigger northern Chinese neighbor is a factor in why Vietnam appears to be liaising now with Washington. We can be sure, however, that ordinary Vietnamese who bore the brunt of America’s genocidal war are none too pleased with the macabre turnaround.
To those who say “let bygones be bygones” an important consideration is this: if Washington is not held to account for tis past crimes and if American power is allowed to absolve itself from acts of mass murder, then the ominous conclusion is that the US ruling class gives itself a license to repeat such wanton crimes and destruction. It is the behavior and mentality of a recidivist criminal.
As with its dropping of atomic bombs on Japan and subsequent wars of aggression around the world – all perpetrated without even a hint of official remorse – it is a chilling reminder that the US war machine and its sycophantic news media are all too ready to roll again.
The relentless rolling out of US military power on Russia and China’s borders are a perplexing corollary that the American war machine views itself as above international law and unstoppable.
FINIAN CUNNINGHAM | SCF