Bill Clinton was advised to dodge draft questions during his 2000 presidential visit to Vietnam, according to a document released by the National Archives recently. According to an AP report, White House advisors were concerned that if Bill Clinton were to answer questions about how he avoided serving in the Vietnam War, it could look like he dodged the draft – something that could have angered veterans groups at a time when the Democratic Party still hoped to carry a noticeable percentage of the military and veterans’ votes.
The purpose of Bill Clinton’s presidential visit to Vietnam was to serve as a sort of healing mission to improve relations with the country, which was taking steps out of communism, 25 years after the last American troops had been withdrawn from Vietnam.
The memo that suggested that Bill Clinton should dodge draft-related questions was written by Samuel Burger – then National Security Advisor (a role now filled by Susan Rice, who recently called alleged-deserted Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl’s service “honorable” and defended the Obama administration’s negotiations with terrorists in the Taliban) and Stephanie Street, a presidential aide.
At the time, there were still many Americans who were concerned about having a commander-in-chief who avoided (and possibly dodged) the draft representing them in a country with while we had so recently been at war. The issue had come up during the 1992 elections. By 2000, Clinton – whom Americans have called America’s most forgivable liar – didn’t need to worry about re-election, but Democratic advisors were already looking ahead to then-Vice President Al Gore’s chances in the upcoming presidential election.
According to an AP report, they advised Bill Clinton to deflect questions about dodging the draft with statements like:
“This trip is not about me personally. It is about our interests as a country.”
Bill Clinton’s handlers suggested that he tell anyone who asked about the draft and whether he dodged it that different people made different decisions about the Vietnam War, all in god faith, and that there was room for different decisions then and different views about the Vietnam War now.
The memo specifically suggested that Bill Clinton avoid appearing as if he were apologizing to the Vietnamese people on behalf of the United States, citing problems the Democrats feared from veterans groups if it looked like the U.S. President was apologizing for the war in which many of them had fought – and in which many of them had lost friends and loved ones. Advisors also suggested that the Vietnamese government could make unreasonable demands if they felt they were being apologized to. The memo said:
“Any mention of an apology will be seen as a betrayal by those who served. Any mention of reparations will be seized by the Vietnamese government and their demands will be endless.”
What do you think? Did Bill Clinton dodge the draft during the Vietnam War? Should he have served? Is it OK for different people to have different convictions about whether to submit to or dodge the draft during a time of national conflict? Was Bill Clinton smart to dodge draft questions as he was advised?
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