- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 16, 2000

President Bill Clinton's trip to Vietnam this week, the first by a U.S. president since the end of the Vietnam War, will resonate emotionally with the American and Vietnamese people alike.

In 1969, Mr. Clinton avoided the Vietnam draft by signing up for an Army ROTC program that he never participated in. Instead, Mr. Clinton attended Oxford University, where he joined the antiwar movement. During his 1992 campaign, Mr. Clinton was embarrassed by the release of a 1969 letter that he wrote to the Arkansas ROTC commander, Col. Eugene Holmes, thanking him "for saving me from the draft." In that same letter, Mr. Clinton acknowledged he enrolled in the ROTC program "for one reason: to maintain my political viability within the system." Mr. Clinton also described his "loathing the military."

Some Vietnam sympathizers are casting Mr. Clinton's antiwar posturing in a positive light. Unfortunately, they are generating just the type of discourse which may favor Mr. Clinton, but undermines America's legacy and leadership. "The bad Americans were the ones who bombed our country," Tran Duc Cuong, who directs the Vietnam Institute of History, told The Washington Post. "The good Americans were the people opposed to the war and the crimes that were committed here. President Bill Clinton, because he protested against a war that violated the freedom and the independence of our country, he was a good American," he added.

Mr. Tran transmits a woefully myopic interpretation of America's involvement in the war. The United States made a series of miscalculations regarding Vietnam, particularly regarding the human cost of the war. Indeed, there are a number of legitimate criticisms that can be made of the Vietnam War in hindsight. But central to the United States' struggle was the freedom and independence of the South Vietnamese people. How sad that the president of the United States can't credibly articulate America's genuine intentions regarding Vietnam.

For many GIs, Mr. Clinton's visit to Vietnam renews the bitterness they experienced when the president's opposition to the Vietnam War, and general "loathing" for the military, first surfaced. "The very first president to visit Vietnam since the end of the war should not be a president who was a draft dodger of this very war," J.D. Wetterling, a former fighter pilot who earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses in Vietnam, told The Washington Post. The president's visit constitutes "an egregious affront to half a million Vietnam veterans," he added.

While in Vietnam, Mr. Clinton should take his cue from President Ronald Reagan, and demand the elimination of the repressive walls of communism. But these words won't have the same ring coming from a man who dodged the war for democracy.

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