Last night I was unable to identify the column referrred to by President Bush in this passage of his VFW speech yesterday:
Recently, two men who were on the opposite sides of the debate over the Vietnam War came together to write an article. One was a member of President Nixon’s foreign policy team, and the other was a fierce critic of the Nixon administration’s policies. Together they wrote that the consequences of an American defeat in Iraq would be disastrous.
Here’s what they said: “Defeat would produce an explosion of euphoria among all the forces of Islamist extremism, throwing the entire Middle East into even greater upheaval. The likely human and strategic costs are appalling to contemplate. Perhaps that is why so much of the current debate seeks to ignore these consequences.” I believe these men are right.
Reader Kristofer Harrison reminds me that the column is of course “Defeat’s killing fields,” by Peter Rodman and William Shawcross.
President Bush also gave credit where credit is due in the Vietnam portion of his speech, citing the New York Times:
A columnist for The New York Times wrote in a similar vein in 1975, just as Cambodia and Vietnam were falling to the communists: “It’s difficult to imagine,” he said, “how their lives could be anything but better with the Americans gone.” A headline on that story, date Phnom Penh, summed up the argument: “Indochina without Americans: For Most a Better Life.”
In a message this morning Norman Podhoretz writes that “the columnist was (I’m pretty sure) Anthony Lewis (March 17, 1975), in which case his statement was misquoted by Bush, though accurately paraphrased.” Faithful readers will readily identify the author of the “Indochina without Americans” article, prominently featured by Gabriel Schoenfeld in his brilliant May 1999 Commentary review/essay “Was Kissinger right?” Both the column and the article are cited on the last page of Podhoretz’s Why We Were in Vietnam. Today at NRO Peter Rodman seconds the president in “Returning to Cambodia” and our friends at the New York Sun comment in “The Asian example.”
UPDATE: Several readers have written in to note that the “columnist” quoted by the president was Sydney Schanberg in the April 13, 1975 article (“Indochina without Americans — for most a better life” cited by the president. most a better life”) that the president accurately cited. I remember reading Schanberg’s article in the Week in Review section of the Times that Sunday.
Norman Podhoretz adds for the record:
Schanberg was a reporter, not a columnist, and the President did quote the headline of his story accurately. But the sentence I thought Bush was paraphrasing comes from Anthony Lewis’s column of March 17, 1975: “What future possibility could be more terrible than the reality of what is happening in Cambodia now?”