Glowing Golden Arches
Yesterday evening, I attended a dinner honoring Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai at the Mayflower hotel. I watched as a former enemy of American ideals was sponsored by Gap, Citibank and other major American companies. In fact, most of the tables were bought by companies for their top execs to go smooze and see a little piece of history. Senator John McCain was also there, and he introduced the Prime Minister of the country that once held him and tortured him as a prisoner of war.
Earlier that day, President Bush and the Prime Minister were at the White House. Bush praised the leader for his steps toward religious freedom and cooperation in trying to find the remains of U.S. troops who died in the Vietnam War. Additionally, Vietnam wants to get into the WTO (not happening as I understand it) and also more fully committed to joint counterterrorism efforts with the U.S. and better upholding human rights. Bush also pledged to visit Vietnam next year (something Clinton did in November of 2000).
With ten years of "normalized diplomatic relations" with Vietnam under our belts, I am curious how much of the Cold War was necessary. Though I may be out of my element here, it seems in communist countries, "Western values" have been best fought for with the Golden Arches (Thomas Friedman) and Levi jeans. These changes may also speak to a more technologically connected world where the Internet and television broadcast ideas and beautiful visions of capitalism.
Perhaps more than changin' times, what we have seen in Cuba, China, Vietnam, Russia and other eastern European countries is more about the nature of people to really want what other people have. For whatever reason, it is really hard not to covet your neighbor's stuff. Even authoritarian dictators have problems keeping ambition below their perception of the greater good of the motherland. In one sense that's sad because it means we are all really selfish. But in another sense, it means we like the freedom to be or not to be self-serving. If we want to give all our alms to the poor or spend them on a big ass bass boat then that's the right every person should have. Welcome to the wild, wild Western thinking, Vietnam. I hope it works for you.