EDITORIAL: The threat of fall of Baghdad evokes Saigon 1975

Weakness and irresolution invite a reprise of the Vietnam boat people

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It’s something like Vietnam, all over again. As the rebels of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria — usually shortened to ISIS — close in on the Iraqi capital, the parallels to the fall of Saigon are hard to miss.

Forty-one years ago, the last U.S. combat troops had withdrawn from South Vietnam, and within a month, the North Vietnamese Army, complete with heavy armor, began its final offensive. The last chapter of the war that took 58,000 American lives was the humiliating scene of U.S. Marine helicopters plucking American diplomats from the roof of the U.S. Embassy on April 30, 1975. Thousands of Vietnamese looked on in horror and disbelief, betrayed to the mercy of the communist north. This was not a defeat of American arms, as the gleeful left was quick to portray it, but it was the defeat of American will — and of the politicians who scuttled away in terror, not of the communists, but of the American voter.

Marines barricaded the doors leading to the roof of the embassy. Gas and mace were sprayed on desperate Vietnamese to keep them from getting near the evacuation choppers. President Gerald R. Ford personally ordered that only U.S. Embassy employees and other Americans be allowed to board.

Several hundred South Vietnamese were evacuated earlier, but as the final night wore on, Washington decided it was too risky to take more. Just before midnight, the last helicopter took off, abandoning not only the Vietnamese, but several hundred South Koreans who had come to Vietnam at the urging of the United States.

Visitors to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library can see the fateful stairway on haunting display, as if the president’s decision was something Mr. Ford wanted to commemorate.

In their haste to flee, embassy employees had shredded — but not burned — employee records that fell into the hands of the triumphant communists. These were painstakingly reassembled, allowing the winners to identify many who had cast their lot with the Americans. Many were rounded up and sent to re-education camps, or worse. Others made it out to join the wave of “boat people” who risked their lives to escape to freedom.

Fast-forward 40 years. After his high-profile withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq, President Obama sent several hundred troops back to secure the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. They are to provide cover if ISIS captures the Iraqi capital, and the United States abandons Baghdad as it abandoned Saigon.

Unlike the humiliation in Vietnam, there will be neither re-education camps, nor reunification classes under ISIS. Friends of America will be shot or beheaded by a jihadist enemy that burns with hatred for the West, for human decency and for all those who stood with the Americans.

The human toll is staggering. ISIS has executed more than a thousand Iraqi soldiers and cops on the streets. It has burned Christian churches, beheading those who refuse to convert to the religion of peace. More than a half-million Iraqis have fled from Mosul, desperate to find safety.

Thousands more will die, as they did then, unless the United States helps them escape a brutal end. The price of withdrawal is likely to be costly and humiliating when a reprise of the tragedy of the Vietnam boat people washes over the Tigris and the Euphrates.

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