President Obama was probably too young ever to have chanted, “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh, NLF is going to win.” But somewhere along the way he picked up that late 1960s pro-Communist Vietnam spirit.
Yesterday, talking with reporters alongside Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang, Obama said, that he and Sang “discussed the fact that Ho Chi Minh was actually inspired by the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and the words of Thomas Jefferson.” Obama also noted that Ho Chi Minh had sent a letter to President Truman expressing the hope that the U.S. would cooperate with his movement. The president added that it may have taken 67 years, but the United States and Vietnam are finally enjoying the relationship that Ho once wrote of.
I have nothing against cooperating with Vietnam, as it deals with threat posed by its former ally, China. But I find it disgusting to see the U.S. president romanticize a bloodthirsty Communist tyrant like Ho Chi Minh by comparing him with America’s founders. Ho Chi Minh’s inspiration came from the likes of China’s Mao Tse-tung, not from the likes of Thomas Jefferson.
Comparing Ho Chi Minh to the U.S. founders was a standard talking point of the radical left in the 1960s. It was the cynical equivalent of the American Communists sending their “Abraham Lincoln brigade” to fight in the Spanish Civil War during the 1930s. Naturally, Ho Chi Minh tried to play up this talking point.
None of the hardened leftists I knew believed in the comparison, nor did I. But it duped plenty of unsophisticated student protesters.
The real Ho Chi Minh was, as I said, a bloodthirsty tyrant. His first act upon gaining power in North Vietnam was to murder roughly 50,000 people whom he considered political opponents, and this was only the beginning. That doesn’t sound like George Washington.
Ho Chi Minh’s program was straight from the Leninist-Stalinist-Maoist playbook — the forced industrialization of the peasantry, backed up by “heavy doses of propaganda, extensive surveillance, and the occasional resort to naked terror.” That doesn’t sound like Thomas Jefferson.
Obama’s ignorance of history is well-documented. But he has enough native intelligence to realize that if Ho Chi Minh had been inspired by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, he would have organized North Vietnam as a democratic, pluralistic state, not as a brutal Communist dictatorship.
So was Obama simply making nice with a foreign leader with whom he wants to have good relations? No. One can praise modern Vietnam without going out of the way to praise Ho Chi Minh. It’s as if Obama used a photo opportunity with David Cameron to extol Winston Churchill, except that (1) Churchill deserves to be extolled and (2) Obama disapproves of Churchill.
So is Obama the modern version of the cynical 60s rad who pretended that Ho Chi Minh was in the finest American tradition or of the frivolous 60s anti-war dupe who bought this line?
Some of both, I think. He (and his team) are children of the children of the 60s, and he has internalized many of the radical myths of that unfortunate era. To that extent, he can be seen as a dupe.
But Obama has superimposed some of these myths onto his own radicalism, which includes little regard for freedom and democracy and too much regard for those who fight against the West. To that extent, he knows what he’s doing when he romanticizes Ho Chi Minh.
Fortunately, there are no more Ho Chi Minh’s and only a few wannabes (think Venezuela). Still, Obama’s fond remarks about the old Communist dictator adds to the distress of those who worry about his dealings with the likes of Putin, Erdogan, and the leaders of Iran.