Magazine article Newsweek

Vietnam: Focusing on the Future

Magazine article Newsweek

Vietnam: Focusing on the Future

Article excerpt

Byline: Richard Wolffe

Until now, Vietnam has symbolized two strands in President Bush's political life: a war he didn't fight in and a comparison he wants to avoid. But this week the country becomes not just a metaphor but a reality, as Bush visits Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City for the first time. Bill Clinton embraced history in his wildly popular trip in 2000, when he became the first U.S. president to visit Vietnam since the war. But Bush is choosing to concentrate not on the country's past but its future. At a recent meeting with his Asia advisers, Bush was fascinated by Vietnam's economic boom, which his economists likened to China's position a decade ago. "I wonder if people at the end of the Vietnam War would ever have thought that at the end of 2006 a president would go there and there would be a market-based economy in a country that was becoming freer," Bush told aides, according to one who was in the room but asked for anonymity because the briefing was private.

Small wonder Bush doesn't want discussion to focus on the war. The president and his advisers strongly reject any comparisons between Vietnam and Iraq (although, ironically, Vietnam's outcome, three decades after U.S. forces abandoned Saigon, has been positive). Bush's aides say U.S. troops enjoy far greater public support than did their predecessors in Vietnam. They also say morale inside the military is far higher than it was during Vietnam. Most of all, Bush's national-security team rejects the notion that America could safely pull out of Iraq, as it did from Vietnam. …

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