'It Didn't Happen'
Democrats go soft on crimes against humanity.

The Wall Street Journal, Thursday, July 26, 2007

Barack Obama's latest pronouncement on Iraq should have shocked the conscience. In an interview with the Associated Press last week, the freshman Illinois senator and Democratic presidential candidate opined that even preventing genocide is not a sufficient reason to keep American troops in Iraq.

"Well, look, if that's the criteria by which we are making decisions on the deployment of U.S. forces, then by that argument you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right now--where millions have been slaughtered as a consequence of ethnic strife--which we haven't done," Mr. Obama told the AP. "We would be deploying unilaterally and occupying the Sudan, which we haven't done. Those of us who care about Darfur don't think it would be a good idea."

Mr. Obama is engaging in sophistry. By his logic, if America lacks the capacity to intervene everywhere there is ethnic killing, it has no obligation to intervene anywhere--and perhaps an obligation to intervene nowhere. His reasoning elevates consistency into the cardinal virtue, making the perfect the enemy of the good.

Further, he elides the distinction between an act of omission (refraining from intervention in Congo and Darfur) and an act of commission (withdrawing from Iraq). The implication is that although the U.S. has had a military presence in Iraq since 1991, the fate of Iraqis is not America's problem.

Unlike his main rivals for the Democratic nomination, Mr. Obama has been consistent in opposing the liberation of Iraq. In a 2002 speech, he declared that "an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world." But Mr. Obama's side lost that argument, and it is no longer 2002. For America to countenance genocide of Arab Muslims hardly seems a promising way to extinguish the Mideast's flames or to encourage the best impulses of the Arab world.

One may take the position that genocide would not be the likely result of an American retreat from Iraq. That is the view of Mr. Obama's Massachusetts colleague John Kerry, the 2004 presidential nominee. Mr. Kerry, who served in Vietnam before turning against that war, voted for the Iraq war before turning against it. He draws on the Vietnam experience in making the case that the outcome of a U.S. pullout from Iraq would not be that bad. "We heard that argument over and over again about the bloodbath that would engulf the entire Southeast Asia, and it didn't happen," he said recently.

"It didn't happen"--just as Mr. Kerry predicted it wouldn't. In his June 1971 debate with fellow swift boat veteran John O'Neill on "The Dick Cavett Show," the 27-year-old Mr. Kerry said, "There's absolutely no guarantee that there would be a bloodbath. . . . One has to, obviously, conjecture on this. However, I think the arguments clearly indicate that there probably wouldn't be. . . . There is no interest on the part of the North Vietnamese to try to massacre the people once people have agreed to withdraw." Mr. Kerry acknowledged that "there would be certain political assassinations," but said they would number only "four or five thousand."

Here is what did happen:

In 1973, the U.S. withdrew its troops from Vietnam, as Mr. Kerry had urged. In December 1974, the Democratic Congress ended military aid to South Vietnam. In April 1975, Saigon fell.

According to a 2001 investigation by the Orange County Register, Hanoi's communist regime imprisoned a million Vietnamese without charge in "re-education" camps, where an estimated 165,000 perished. "Thousands were abused or tortured: their hands and legs shackled in painful positions for months, their skin slashed by bamboo canes studded with thorns, their veins injected with poisonous chemicals, their spirits broken with stories about relatives being killed," the Register reported.

Laos and Cambodia also fell to communists in 1975. Time magazine reported in 1978 that some 40,000 Laotians had been imprisoned in re-education camps: "The regime's figures do not include 12,000 unfortunates who have been packed off to Phong Saly. There, no pretense at re-education is made. As one high Pathet Lao official told Australian journalist John Everingham, who himself spent eight days in a Lao prison last year, 'No one ever returns.' "

The postwar horrors of Vietnam and Laos paled next to the "killing fields" of Cambodia, where the Khmer Rouge undertook an especially vicious revolution. During that regime's 3 1/2-year rule, at least a million Cambodians, and perhaps as many as two million, died from starvation, disease, overwork or murder. The Vietnamese invaders who toppled the Khmer Rouge in 1979 were liberators, albeit only by comparison.

In the aftermath of America's withdrawal from Vietnam, hundreds of thousands of refugees fled Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. According to the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees, between 1975 and 1995 more than 1.4 million Indochinese escaped, nearly 800,000 of them by boat. This does not include "boat people" who died at sea, 10% of the total by some estimates.

Mr. Obama's blasé cynicism about the possibility of genocide in Iraq is of a piece with Mr. Kerry's denial of the humanitarian catastrophe that followed America's departure from Vietnam. It also creates an opportunity for the Democratic front-runner.

In 1998, Hillary Clinton's husband traveled to Rwanda, where he apologized for failing to intervene to prevent the 1994 genocide in which Hutus massacred some 800,000 Tutsis. "We cannot change the past," President Clinton said. "But we can and must do everything in our power to help you build a future without fear, and full of hope." It was in this spirit that Mr. Clinton intervened in Kosovo in 1999, over Republican objections, to prevent ethnic cleansing of Albanian Muslims.

Like Mr. Kerry, Mrs. Clinton voted for the Iraq war, then tilted against it before facing the Democratic primary electorate. Her opponents on the left have made much of her refusal to apologize for her vote. But if she can find the courage to defend a continued American presence in Iraq on humanitarian grounds, it will reduce the likelihood that the next president will have to apologize for something far worse.

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