It broke my heart when South Vietnam fell to Communist forces on April 30, 1975. It was sickening to see the television footage of terrified Vietnamese trying to grab onto evacuation helicopters from the top of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. The debacle was a giant stain on the honor of this wonderful country.
I did not object to the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam. But it was shameful that we flat failed and refused to keep our solemn word to the Vietnamese to supply them with arms and air power to ward off a major assault by Communist forces. They trusted us and we unceremoniously dumped them.
This betrayal hit me hard because I knew that many of the Vietnamese soldiers I had lived and served with in 1968-1969 would be murdered by the Communists. They were Catholic refugees from North Vietnam and their village had been in armed conflict with the Communists since the early 1950s. The whole village had moved south in 1954 to escape persecution. The Communists had been trying to wipe out the village ever since.
The U.S. has once again betrayed trusting friends by giving the autocratic Turkish ruler the green light to kill our Kurdish allies in Syria. After the Kurds suffered over 10,000 casualties fighting and defeating our Islamic State (ISIS) enemies in northeast Syria, we are deserting them to face a genocidal onslaught. Not much thanks for doing the necessary dirty work that would have cost many American lives.
The president has portrayed the withdrawal of U.S. military personnel as a favor to the troops. These personnel had been embedded with our Kurd allies to advise and support them in our fight against ISIS. I imagine our 1,000-strong military contingent in Syria is sick at heart because of the chaotic retreat. They were the tip of the American spear in Syria, doing important work for the security of our nation. What could be more fulfilling than performing such critical work with such remarkable success?
I had the rare privilege of working together with Vietnamese military forces to do a job I was told was critical to the country. Like our troops recently doing that kind of work with the Syrian Kurds, it would have been incomprehensible to be slapped with an order to precipitously abandon my friends. Perhaps someone who studiously avoided military duty could not understand that this was service of the highest order.
Many Vietnam veterans, including myself, are haunted by the fact that our service appeared to be largely in vain. I would suspect that many of our troops who served in Syria will come to feel the same way. The successes they achieved will be undone. Most importantly, their Kurdish partners have no choice but to leave 11,000 ISIS fighters unguarded so that they can protect their own families from the Turkish attack. That will give ISIS the opportunity to regroup and once more threaten our homeland.
General Joseph Votel, who had overall command of our fight against ISIS until last March, said in an October 8 op-ed that the President’s withdrawal of support for the Kurds threatens “to rapidly destabilize an already fragile security situation in Syria’s northeast, where ISIS’s physical caliphate was only recently defeated.” He continued, “This policy abandonment threatens to undo five years’ worth of fighting against ISIS and will severely damage American credibility and reliability in any future fights where we need strong allies.”
Senator Risch argues that “America needs to get behind the commander in chief” on this disgraceful sellout. I strongly disagree. As citizens, we should weigh in with our Congressional delegation and let them know it is not acceptable to remain silent or frozen in the headlights as this tragedy unfolds. It is too important to America’s honor and credibility in a dangerous world. Where our national security is at stake, it is dead wrong to sit on the sidelines. The Kurdish blood will be on the hands of both those who caused it and those who allowed it.
Jim Jones is a former Idaho Supreme Court chief justice and a former Idaho attorney general.