Obama in Vietnam

Obama is in Vietnam right now; just the 2nd American President to visit since the war ended. Clinton was the first, and that was 16 long years ago.

He just lifted the arms embargo on Vietnam, one that’s been in place for 50 years.

The really crazy thing is that Vietnam may be about to let the US Navy back into Cam Ranh Bay, the sheer idea of which would have seemed absolutely insane 5 or 10 years ago.

The big difference now is China. China and Vietnam do not really have a good history; the former invaded the latter in 1979 over Vietnam’s meddling in Cambodia. It was a very short, but bloody, war. They’ve also tussled over the Spratelys, those tiny islands in the middle of the South China Sea that’s claimed by all the nations in the region because there’s a shit ton of oil and gas beneath them. (The Philippines probably has the best claim, but also the weakest military out of all of them).

China’s been spending the past couple years dredging up sand and building coral atolls into artificial islands, and putting airstrips and missile launchers on those islands, a move that’s made all the other countries really, really antsy. It’s bad enough that The Philippines, which has a serious love/hate relationship with the US, is also considering letting the US military back in, because they’re afraid of China.

Vietnam is in the same boat. About a year ago, China parked a giant exploratory oil rig off of Vietnam’s coast, pissing off the Vietnamese. It also didn’t help that the Vietnamese tried to get Beijing on the phone and were totally ignored. Seriously. The Vietnamese are highly nationalistic (something the US learned the hard way), and that led to a bunch of riots and burning down of Chinese factories in the country. They’re looking for a counterweight to China, which may result in the strangest of bedfellows partnering up: Vietnam and the US.

Thanks, China!

Good write up! Very informative. It’ll be very interesting (may you live in interesting times) to see what happens in that area of the world over the next 20-30 years.

Vietnam and China have never been friends. If I remember right they had border skirmishes either during or shortly after the Vietnam War.

It is pretty amazing to think we’ve gone from full on war to:

Is that Anthony Bourdain?


Something about that is surreal, with the president of the US just chilling in some random restaurant drinking a beer in Vietnam.

Bourdain is probably thinking the same thing. Presumably this will be a segment for whatever cooking/travel show he’s currently doing?

Yep, it’s for an episode of his series on CNN.

The Vietnamese had a saying, better to sniff French dung for a hundred years than eat Chinese dung for a thousand. They are a tough, patient bunch and I hope we can build a decent relationship with them. My father fought in Vietnam, and died due to injuries he received in the Tet Offensive (running around the sewers of Saigon fighting VC and the assorted rocket attack), but hell, I have zero animosity towards the Vietnamese. Those poor bastards suffered more than we did during that crappy war, and it’s time to let those days go.

That’s very good of you Wombat. Did your father die soon after Tet or long after the war, from complications?

Col. Patrick Lang wrote the following on his blog this morning.

A dozen Vietnamese divisions armed with American made weapons and manned by the descendants of those whom I and many on SST once fought to the death would be a potent force and something the Chinese would have to reckon with as possible enemies. Is that a good thing? Maybe … Maybe … But, would China as a friendly country not be a more worthwhile friendly force in the world? China is hugely larger and stronger than Vietnam and always will be.


I think it’s worth considering, are we taking a reflexively anti-Sino position because it’s in our interests? Or because we’re seeing Asia through the eyes of our cold war allies? And if it’s the latter, does that serve our interests or theirs?

China is never going to be a force for good barring some sort of massive revolution imo.

Reasonable points. I think, though, that we can have it both ways. A strong Vietnam to deter Chinese ambitions, plus cordial relations with Beijing. It’s not a 19th century world any more. The Chinese want to play in the economic arena more than anything, but they also have these residual imperial and nationalistic impulses that tend to be problematic. And buying off the Chinese in the hopes they would support our interests, at the expense of, well, everyone else in Asia…that does not sound like a good plan to me.

1978, actually. About ten years.

We might be able to find a balance there, but I don’t think we’re operating that way. Our pivot to the Pacific and the TTP are both designed to constrain Chinese ambitions. My initial bias is that we do need to manage China’s rise in the region, if only to prevent conflict. On the other hand, I don’t think we can prevent the Chinese from dominating the region.

I always wondered what WWII Pacific Theater vets think of how close an ally Japan is to the US. That relationship was cemented in substantially less time than has lapsed since the end of the Vietnam war. Growing up in the 80’s, I never thought it was weird that we had strong relations with Japan.

I suspect the outcomes of the two wars has a substantial impact on American perception of Vietnam, despite the arguably more contentious ways in which the US got involved in those conflicts.

The rise of the Soviet Union made it essential we re-build and become friends with both Japan and Germany after WW2. Had the Soviets not been a thing I am not sure what we would have done with them. As for Vietnam, it was a scar and not a bright light for America. Why would there be any good perceptions of it.

I remember in around 1979 or 1980, it was after TMI I know, and I was driving through Pennsylvania listening and occasionally chatting on CB. This Marine vet from WWII was talking about how he would never buy a Japanese car, or anything else Japanese if he could help it. But that attitude was not something I ran into much among the WWII vets I’ve worked with who fought in Europe. There definitely was something about the racial element in the Pacific war.