Vietnam's 'Dark Years'

John Kerry was wrong. The Vietnamese do understand democracy.

Brendan Miniter reviews what we’ve learned from the Vietnam experience:

In March, Le Quoc Quan returned to his native Vietnam after finishing a fellowship at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington. He was promptly arrested and charged with planning to overthrow the government. The charges make sense in the communist country: His fellowship focused on how to peacefully spread democracy. Under pressure from the U.S. he was released on Saturday.

Today, President Bush will meet with the president of Vietnam, Nguyen Van Dai, at the White House. High on the agenda will be the Southeast Asian nation’s record on human rights. America’s military efforts to stop the communist takeover of South Vietnam ended in defeat more than 30 years ago. The result was what many Vietnamese call the “dark years,” a period of oppression and economic stagnation that lasted until the mid-1980s. But now something interesting is happening. America is once again waging a campaign for freedom in Vietnam, only this time with “soft power” and bipartisan support.

…Thirty years on, will we be haunted by a similar history in the case of Iraq? That will depend on how many on Capitol Hill remember what we left behind in Vietnam and resolve not to leave something similar behind again. In the coming months, we’ll likely see who has learned from our history and who seems to want to repeat it.