September 30, 2015

The Asia Pivot, U.S. Militarism and Agent Orange Relief

The Asia Pivot, U.S. Militarism 

and Agent Orange Relief

Written by Tarak Kauff

In 1954 the fiercely independent Vietnamese crushed the U.S. backed French Colonial Army at Dien Bien Phu and then in 1975, after some 15 years of brutal fighting and millions of casualties, North Viet Nam and the NLF defeated the U.S. military and its proxy South Vietnamese army.
7 May 1954: A Vietnamese soldier waves flag after capturing the French command post in Dien Bien Phu. The fighting began March 13, 1954, and 56 days later, shell-shocked survivors of the French garrison hoisted the white flag to signal the end of one of the greatest battles of the 20th century.
But the U.S. battle for control of Viet Nam still rages. U.S. plans for the Asia Pivot, which seeks to contain China and gain U.S. military and economic control of South East Asia, faces a critical stumbling block in Viet Nam, which is very aware of U.S. global ambitions to dominate and control.

On March 11, 2015, U.S. Army Pacific Commander Gen. Vincent Brooks demanded that Viet Nam stop allowing Russian refueling jets to land in its Cam Ranh Bay military base. Brooks claimed Russia was carrying out "provocative flights" and that it was "acting as a spoiler to our interests and the interests of others." The following day Viet Nam rejected the demand in no uncertain terms, calling it "interference in the internal affairs of Viet Nam, a sovereign state that determines its own policies for cooperating with its friends and partners."

Viet Nam continues to trade with China, Russia and the United States. And while Russia supplies most of Viet Nam’s military hardware, the Vietnamese are not averse to obtaining sophisticated U.S. military technology as well. At the same time, since Viet Nam has long been able to get whatever it needed from its closest ally, Russia, it is doubtful that they will endanger that relationship by getting too cozy with the U.S.

Viet Nam also has a relationship with China to weigh in the balance, and there is concern among the Vietnamese about how China will react to U.S.-Viet Nam military dealings. The Vietnamese have not forgotten the 1979 border war with China which left 50,000 dead. China and Viet Nam have often been adversaries. In some respects the Vietnamese have more friendship and trust with the U.S. than with their powerful northern neighbor.

Viet Nam has a protective “Three-No’s” defense policy: no military alliances, no foreign military bases on Vietnamese territory, and no reliance on any country to combat others.

Nonetheless, the United States continues meddling, both overtly and covertly, attempting to bring Viet Nam into its orbit. Many Vietnamese are well aware of such U.S. machinations and watch closely such organizations as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), both of which have a long history of less than benign covert operations.

In December 2014, police in Ho Chi Minh City arrested two bloggers for alleged anti-government postings. It turns out many dissident bloggers, and probably those two as well, are not simply critical of the Vietnamese government, they are funded by NED and represent U.S.-backed agents of sedition.

The United States, with such agencies as NED and USAID often working closely with the CIA, has wreaked havoc in many countries. Quite often however, they are exposed and by this time most politically sophisticated people are watchful of them.

The Vietnamese are no less so.

That being the case, USAID, in particular, although still watched carefully by the Vietnamese, has been on somewhat good behavior in Viet Nam since the end of the American war there.

The Vietnamese, as well as U.S. government operatives, recognize that if the organization pursued nefarious ends in all its “international development” projects, it would eventually lose its ability to further the goals of empire. In order to keep up their image, there are times when even the worst elements of oppressive governments actually do good. The Vietnamese are aware of that, as they are of the essential nature of superpowers like Russia, China and the United States.

Recently, there has been concern among U.S. activists over the Asia Pivot, U.S. military goals, and a perceived connection with USAID’s role in distributing increased millions of dollars in congressionally mandated funds for Agent Orange relief in Viet Nam.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) pushed through $21 million over five years for expanded and improved disability programs in Viet Nam specifically to deliver services to disabled families that need the most help.

Chuck Searcy, a Viet Nam War veteran living in Viet Nam for the past 20 years, is a co-founder and now international advisor for Project Renew, which for 14 years has dealt with unexploded ordnance (UXO) and Agent Orange (AO) Relief. Searcy, a member of Veterans For Peace states that “the unwritten message, communicated rather clearly from Sen. Leahy, is that this (new) effort should be targeted to the most severely disabled, with the greatest needs, i.e. families suffering from Agent Orange.”

Agent Orange victim in wheelchair.
Some people feel that the Agent Orange relief money is being held as a carrot to induce the Vietnamese to come more into the U.S. military orbit but Searcy contends, “To this point there has not been the slightest indication of any quid pro quo regarding these humanitarian services and the U.S.'s push for TPP approval, or the cozier military relationship the U.S. wants, or decisions about weapons sales to Vietnam—all troublesome issues that bear watching and which veterans living in Viet Nam discuss with their Vietnamese friends in and out of the government. But those questions have little relationship to UXO and AO war legacies, except they should be warnings to the Vietnamese to be very careful in their dealings with the U.S. The war legacies are issues of moral responsibility, redress for harm done, matters of human decency and justice.”

USAID has been the conduit for years for distributing smaller amounts of money for disability programs, some $3 to $4 million a year. Still, many are suspect of USAID even more so now with larger sums of money to give, that it will do what it has attempted in many other countries – use aid money to subvert and manipulate or even overthrow governments that do not exactly conform to U.S. wishes.

But Vietnamese officials involved in UXO and AO relief have told Searcy, "We know all about USAID. We have watched them carefully for years. Don't worry about us. Our people need your help."