A Comparison of Ngo Dinh Diem and Hamid Karzai

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“In the final analysis it is their war. They are the ones who have to win it or lose it. We can help them, we can give them equipment, we can send our men out there as advisers, but they have to win it-the people of Vietnam.” John Kennedy

ngo dinh diem

Over the past few days the news of an increase in troops to be deployed to Afghanistan has leaked out. This is a sign that a change in U.S. policy will take place shortly. This may be what caused me to think back on this major shift in policy in Vietnam. Once Lyndon Johnson assumed the presidency, a stronger commitment to Vietnam was a given.

I took a closer look at Ngo Dihn Diem’s period of leadership in South Vietnam. What flaws were present in his presidency that may have triggered the coup d’etat? And then I began to compare Diem with Hamid Karzai, wondering if there were similar patterns of corruption present. I thought I would share with you what I came up with, and see whether it’s as troubling to you as it is for me.

hamid karzai

Karzai was reelected after his opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, withdrew from the run-off in November. A U.N. audit of the election identified problems, such as a lack of security, low voter turnout, ballot stuffing and intimidation. (Wikipedia)

Similarly, Diem had made a mockery of free elections. According to the 1954 Geneva Accords, Vietnam was to hold elections in 1956. Diem assumed power in South Vietnam after the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu. A referendum was held on October 23, 1955 and Diem got 98.2 % of the votes. The election of 1956 was cancelled. Thus, the Republic of Vietnam was formed under fishy circumstances. (Wiki)

Another parallel between Diem and Karzai is involvement in the drug trade by their brothers. Ngo Dinh Nhu, Diem’s brother and the leader of the Can Lao party, was an opium addict. Ngo Dinh Can, a younger brother, who ruled the City of Hue, was known for his smuggling of opium throughout Asia via Laos. Can smuggled rice to North Vietnam on the black market and monopolized the cinnamon trade as well. (Wiki)

A recent New York Times article (October 28, 2009) has documented the involvement in the opium drug trade by Ahmed Wali Karzai, a brother of Hamid Karzai. This involvement entails receiving large payments from drug traffickers in order to operate in the south. “Hundreds of millions of dollars in drug money are flowing through the southern region, and nothing happens in southern Afghanistan without the regional leadership knowing about it,” according to a senior American military officer in Kabul. (Brother of Afghan Leader Said to be Paid by C.I.A.-NY Times)

On a recent visit to Kabul by Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state voiced concerns about two affiliations of Mr. Karzai. Mrs. Clinton was troubled by the choice of one of the vice presidents, Muhammad Fahim, who is suspected of involvement in the drug trade. A political alliance with General Abdul Rashid Dostum was questioned also. Dostum is a warlord purported to be mired in corruption. (Clinton Presses Karzai on Eve of Inauguration-NY Times-11/19/2009)

The corruption of Ngo Dinh Diem presidency is far too great to cover here. I will state the obvious, however. The Republic of Vietnam was no democracy. Why the U. S. chose to back Diem is a mystery to me? Yet I know that it can be tied to the Cold War and its subtopic, the Domino Theory. By the same token, our current support of Karzai has much to do with the War on Terrorism and the containment of al Qaeda. This is another analogy that I choose not to tackle at this juncture.

Diem was never a popular leader. This is, I believe, a major reason why the Vietcong were able to make major incursions with people in the countryside of the south. Similarly, in a recent inaugural speech, Karzai pointed out that corruption is a “very dangerous problem.” A 28 year old lawyer said in response to Karsai’s speech, while watching it on TV, “We don’t have any hope for the future.” (Karzai Sworn In for Second Term as President-NY Times-11/20/2009)

thich quang duc

The foul comment of Madame Nhu must be inserted here. “If the Buddhists want to have another barbecue, I will be glad to supply the gasoline.”

I do not want to suggest that a coup is imminent for the presidency of Hamid Karzai. But I do recognize the instability of his position. It is startling that four assassination attempts have already occurred. On September 5, 2002, September 16, 2004, June 10, 2007 and April 27, 2008. There were two previous coup attempts on Diem before the successful one-November 11, 1960 and February 27, 1962. I wish no ill to Karzai, but these are warning signs.(Wiki)

madam ngo

A feeling of forlorn comes over me as I anticipate Barack Obama’s formal announcement (Tuesday) of troop buildup in Afghanistan. I believe that history can repeat itself and does repeat itself. We are at a point in our policy (towards Afghanistan) that closely mirrors (not exactly, though) our stance taken in Vietnam-late November of 1963. This was the time that a seismic shift occurred in history. Forces were in place for a major national tragedy. Obama is falling into a familiar trap and needs to look again exactly what happened in Vietnam?