07/27/2007 10:21 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Dying in Vain in Vietnam and Iraq

During Monday night's debate, I was asked if I would stand by my statement that our soldiers in Vietnam died in vain. Here's why our country needs to own up to this fact, especially now that our soldiers are once again dying in vain in Iraq.

Throughout our three decades in Vietnam, we had several opportunities to stop the war. But each time our leaders chose to escalate because they saw Vietnam as a pivotal battle in the war on communism. From Eisenhower to Nixon, the mantra was the same: If we don't fight the communists in Vietnam, the dominos will fall and we'll have to fight them in California. Under that logic, thousands of American deaths were regarded as a small price to pay. This false notion also obfuscated the immorality of dropping more bombs on the people of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos than were dropped in WWII -- people who were never a threat to our vital interests nor meant us any harm.

The idea that Vietnam was part a worldwide communist conspiracy hid the fact that we were actually caught in the middle of a civil war that we instigated by denying them free elections. By the time Nixon came to power in 1969, it was perfectly clear that after spending billions of dollars and losing 36,000 troops, we still couldn't win. To secure Vietnam, the CIA overthrew the Cambodian government, opening the door to Pol Pot. Nixon then chose to expand the war by bombing and invading neutral Cambodia and Laos -- killing 800,000 innocent civilians.

Nixon began a phased troop withdrawal that was intended to gradually hand over all military operations to the Vietnamese government. This "Vietnamization" strategy took four years and resulted in the deaths of an additional 22,000 Americans. And for what? South Vietnam fell almost immediately, and the only other country that went communist was the one we destabilized -- Cambodia, where Pol Pot killed one-third of his people until the communist Vietnamese government intervened and deposed him in 1978.

After South Vietnam fell, none of the dire predictions of communism spreading across all Asia came true. It's still a communist country, but we now have MFN trade relations with Vietnam; and you can buy a Baskin Robbins ice cream cone in Ho Chi Minh City.

After three decades of needless bloodshed, 58,000 Americans were killed and tens of thousands came home physically maimed and psychologically scarred. Their sacrifices should be honored. But we must also acknowledge that their heroism didn't make the war itself any less futile. Today we do our veterans and our soldiers in the field a great disservice by repeating the same mistakes in Iraq.

George Bush and the chickenhawk neocons argue against withdrawal with the same Vietnam mantra: Let's fight them there so we don't have to fight them here. Some even suggest that we need to expand the war into Iran in order to secure Iraq. Our Democratic leaders, including the four presidential candidates in the Senate, counter Bush's surges with Nixonian calls for a phased withdrawal of only a portion of our troops, leaving tens of thousands of our soldiers in permanent military fortress-bases. Sounds like Vietnam to me.

In a recent pro-Iraq war speech, John McCain mocked a speech I made back in 1971 calling for an immediate withdrawal from Vietnam and predicting that the dominos wouldn't fall. Well I was right then and I believe that if we immediately withdraw from Iraq and seek the help of Iran, Syria and the world community, we can bring an end to the bloodbath that we instigated. McCain and the Warhawks have been discredited -- the real threats now are the so called voices-of-reason who advocate a phased withdrawal. There is nothing reasonable about refusing to immediately stop our solders and the Iraqi people from dying in vain.