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Bush goes to Vietnam, four decades after dodging draft

London Telegraph | November 17, 2006
Sebastien Berger

George W Bush is due to arrive for a major summit in Vietnam today, seeking to re-invigorate his presidency following his Republicans' crushing defeat in last week's Congressional elections.

Mr Bush is scheduled to attend the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) forum, but the visit will raise uncomfortable reminders of America's problems in Iraq and of the president's personal war record. The standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons programme will probably top the official agenda in meetings the president will have during his eight-day, three-nation Asian trip.

In a speech en route in Singapore yesterday, Mr Bush warned North Korea against transferring nuclear weapons or material to other countries, saying such an act would be considered a "grave threat" to the United States. He will also assure Asian trading partners of his commitment to free trade.

Amid an intensifying discussion at home about the war, Mr Bush will give the debate another boost by walking among Vietnam War relics and touring of the Joint PoW-MIA [Prisoner of War-Missing In Action] Accounting Command. He will be briefed by staff on efforts to locate or account for nearly 1,800 US service members still missing.

On Monday he will see Saigon now Ho Chi Minh City once the power base of the US-backed southern Vietnamese government. The president and his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, have been at pains to deny comparisons between Vietnam and Iraq, where American troops are struggling to contain an insurgency, although Mr Bush admitted last month that there were links in terms of US public opinion turning negative.

advertisementOne American veteran now living in Vietnam said comparisons were still valid. Chuck Searcy, 62, head of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund's operations, said: "The similarities have less to do with the Vietnamese and the Iraqis than with America's approach to both situations. It's unavoidable that Iraq is going to be a huge reference point in the future for the US."

Mr Bush arrives in Vietnam nearly four decades after avoiding the draft by joining the Texas Air National Guard, leading to controversy years later when he began his push for the White House.

By contrast, John McCain, his rival for the Republican nomination in 2000 and now his potential successor, was flying a Skyhawk bomber over Hanoi in 1967 when he was shot down and parachuted into the Truc Bach lake, both his arms and one leg broken.

A security guard saved him from drowning, and from being beaten to death by angry residents, and he spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in the notorious "Hanoi Hilton" Hoa Lo prison.

The remains of the prison are a museum, with Sen McCain's flying suit a prized exhibit. Mr Bush, it is understood, will not be visiting.

 

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