Hillary Clinton in Vietnam: Dealing with the Legacy of Agent Orange

I was delighted to read Eleanor Clift's column in Politics Daily in which she says that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on her visit to Vietnam this week, will focus on the lingering effects of Agent Orange/dioxin on the civilian population and the environment. Hopefully, she will re-trace some of the steps taken by our interfaith delegation in May, when we visited children with horrific birth defects and stood at the DaNang air base where it is still possible to smell this chemical 35 years later!

Best of all, Clinton will seek support for the Plan of Action developed by the U.S./Vietnam Dialogue Group, calling for $300 million to clean up toxic hot spots and enhance treatments for children and others suffering from birth defects and other illnesses due to exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. She is already about ten steps ahead of the U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, Michael Machalak, who met with our interfaith delegation in May. He had received that Plan of Action about two weeks before our visit, and had not even read its 12 pages!

However, Clift says that “most of it will have to come from private sources.” Those of us on the delegation believed that some of it would come from private sources, but the bulk of it would come from a Congressional appropriation. After all, it was the U.S. military that inflicted this suffering on the Vietnamese and on many of our own soldiers.

And for those worried about the deficit, who believe that such expenditures have to be “offset:” OK, let’s cut $300 million out of the military budget, or the bloated intelligence apparatus recently documented in detail by the Washington Post.

One thing we might hope for: Bill Clinton should be a major help on this one. He has developed a philanthropic empire that just might supplement an appropriated to clean up the air in DaNang, and help some Vietnamese children to walk.

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