Video: Looking back, looking ahead
updated 6/21/2005 4:40:46 PM ET 2005-06-21T20:40:46

As Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai spent Tuesday in Washington, D.C. with President Bush in the Oval Office, scars from a bitter and bloody history between the two nations still linger.

MSNBC's Lester Holt spoke with MSNBC military analyst and retired Army Colonel Jack Jacobs, who received the Medal of Honor in 1969 for his service in Vietnam. Holt asked Jacobs about his feelings upon seeing the leader of Communist Vietnam in the White House today and what lessons Americans may learn from a war that happened over 30 years ago.

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video clip, click on the link above.

Lester Holt: Witnessing the leader of Communist Vietnam meet at the White House, is it as easy for you to say who won or who lost that conflict today as it was after the fall of Saigon?

Jack Jacobs:  No, is harder now because it was clear then exactly what was happening. As a matter of fact, a lot of people who paid a lot of attention to it knew that after we left early January 1973, it was going down the tubes. 

As a matter of fact, if anything, we were surprised it took as long as it did finally for the Communists to take over.  But I think nobody could have, and nobody did predict what would happen with Vietnam in the intervening time in the past thirty years to have this kind of relationship with them. 

Holt:  In 30 years, I'm reminded, and you're certainly reminded everyday, that there is a generation of Americans who know about Vietnam, how its was an unpopular war, but they may not know why the U.S. felt it was important.

The whole notion of a domino theory --  that if Vietnam fell to Communism, the rest of the region would.  What changed Americans' view from that theory to "at this point we want out?"

Jacobs:  I think it was two things.  First of all, the continual losses without having established the fact that we had some specific objective that we thought we could achieve. Secondly, it was the war at home.

I mean there was a groundswell of public opinion that said that after a decade of war, enough was enough.  They really had an impact at the ballot box and had people in Congress that said, you know, we're tired of doing this. 

Holt:  Let's fast forward, because you can agree the current administration is already pursuing its own domino theory, except for the reverse -- if you bring democracy to Iraq it will flourish across the Middle East.

Are there any other useful parallels looking at this time and distance of Vietnam as well as looking at Iraq?

Jacobs:  I think there are.  I think it's a question of whether or not we can articulate an objective, which we can reach it and we can actually say we won.  I think we have not done that to a great effect yet.

I mean we've articulated what the objective is in Iraq.  I really don't think we genuinely believe we're going to reach it in a specific amount of time before we have to say that we have to go home.

Holt:  How should we monitor poll numbers regarding American views about the war in Iraq?  Is that a barometer for success?

Jacobs:  I think so.  We do but I think the public does all the time.  You can start seeing the incipient noise in the Congress.  People who have supported the war had supported our efforts, supported the troops and all that stuff.  The administration has to come up with someone and let us know we're through.

Don't forget there's a midterm election due here and in another 18 months, that will be the bell if whether or not the administration will have convinced the American people that it knows what it's doing.

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