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Posted by on Aug 23, 2007 in At TMV | 9 comments

Iraq wasn’t like Vietnam, until it was

That is, until it suited the president to make the comparison. Which he did. Yesterday:

President Bush defended his ongoing military commitment in Iraq by linking the conflict there to the Vietnam War, arguing Wednesday that withdrawing U.S. troops would lead to widespread death and suffering as it did in Southeast Asia three decades ago.

“One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like ‘boat people,’ ‘reeducation camps’ and ‘killing fields,’ ” Bush told a receptive audience at the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention.”

In response, Ted Kennedy noted that Bush is “drawing the wrong lesson from history,” which is, of course, true. What is Bush saying, that the U.S. should not have withdrawn from Vietnam, that the war should have gone on? Giuliani made very much the same argument in his recent Foreign Affairs piece — see Fred Kaplan’s thorough dismantling of that piece here. It’s a remarkably stupid argument, but it’s one that seems to be rather popular on the right: Vietnam was a failure not because it was a terrible war but because it wasn’t waged effectively, because the U.S. withdrew too soon, because liberals and peaceniks and other traitors got their way.

And so now, Iraq, which is not a failure because it is a terrible war, and because the warmongers got it all wrong, but because it hasn’t been waged effectively, or competently, and because the liberals and peaceniks and other traitors are getting their way — and so the war isn’t really a failure at all, it just looks that way, and victory, whatever that means these days, is right around the corner, just give it a chance to succeed.

And you see whose fault it is, right? Not the warmongers — not Bush or Cheney or Rumsfeld, not the neocon utopians at The Murdoch Standard or any of the other cheerleaders on the right — but the war’s opponents, who just aren’t giving it a chance, even now, years after it started. It’s their fault.

And when the U.S. does withdraw — sometime, inevitably — you see who will be blamed, right, when Iraq descends further into chaos?

Yes, Bush’s Iraq-is-like-Vietnam flip-flop serves a dual purpose: to make the case for the war now and to prepare the ground for the politics of post-withdrawal. See what you traitors have done, Bush and the warmongers and the cheerleaders will say, Iraq, poor Iraq, is another Vietnam, and it’s all your fault, you made us lose. They will re-write history, a common enough practice on the right, and spin Iraq this way and that, making the analogy where once the analogy was anathema, for there is apparently no low to which they will sink to avoid taking any responsibility for what they have done.


Steve Benen notes that historians are not impressed with the analogy, not at all.

— For more reaction, see Josh Marshall, Taylor Marsh, Steve Benen, Barbara O’Brien, Cernig, and D at LG&M.

Pamela Leavey has John Kerry’s response: “Invoking the tragedy of Vietnam to defend the failed policy in Iraq is as irresponsible as it is ignorant of the realities of both of those wars.”

The Hill: “Democrats blast Bush’s Vietnam comparison.” And so they should.

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  • Lynx

    Actually there is a lesson to be gotten from Vietnam. When you invade a country and natives of that nation collaborate with you you have the moral obligation to ensure their protection afterwards, up to and including refugee status in your own country. People who were abandoned in Vietnam faced brutal punishment for having helped the Americans. If we also abandon the Iraqis that have helped us we will be directly responsible for their deaths, and we will send a message to the world saying that collaborating with the Americans is a terrible idea, since they have zero sense of gratitude and it could cost you and your family your life.

  • casualobserver

    A longtime war critic, Kennedy said at a press conference Tuesday, “Iraq is George Bush’s Vietnam.” (ABCNEWS)

    Ah yes, it’s a b**ch when fact-checking is basically so easy now…….someday, bloggers will learn to do some before going into their one-sided rants.

  • I do have to say that I find it incredibly hypocritical of Democrats to say that one should not compare Iraq to Vietnam. They did so for years already.

    It is a sad thing when politics get reduced to this.

  • jammer

    Rants are usually one sided arent they? Not every piece, in fact no piece, that a person writes must balance the political spectrum. Curiously the Wingnut press seems to have a lot of pieces out on this Vietnam comparison today and all of them are one sided. Personally I think it is very irresponsible for W to open up this hornets nest of revisiting Vietnam, and he has not the brain to debate the issue intelligently. But then again, what do we expect from this miserable leader. He cant leave office soon enough for me.

  • jammer

    And Michael, I am not so sure the Dems are criticizing W for raising Vietnam, as they are criticizing his miserably stupid conclusions in doing so. Thats what I am seeing anyway. He can raise any analogy he wants to, but this one is so lacking in rational thought, logic and smart conclusions that it begs for the outcry it has received.

  • kritter

    Maybe the Democrats are being critical of the comparison, because the administration has denied for five years that Iraq was like Vietnam. Now, that it suits their purposes tactically to decide that the two situations are similar, they are doing so.

  • Sam

    I’m with Jammer. Bush invoking Vietnam as a reason to STAY in Iraq just adds further proof of his inability to read and react to important international issues. Most thinking people look at Vietnam and take away a few important lessons:

    1) Don’t try ram a gov’t down the throat of people who don’t want it…

    2) Especially when those people were in fact no real threat to America. We fight best when there is something actually on the line.

    3) Don’t put the military in a position where they are static and basically reacting to the actions of a native born enemy that has no problem meeting its recruitment goals despite a 10-1 kill ratio in your favor.

    4) Defensive occupation is WAY harder than conquest.

    5) Not everyone is into democracy.

  • Sam

    What does Bush take away from Vietnam?* That 10 years of warfare was inconclusive and they should have stuck it out for another 10. If you haven’t completed a war by then you’re just spinning your tires in blood.

    * – accidentally hit submit button 🙂

  • DavidTC

    I like the idea that leaving Vietnam is what made the re-education camps and killing fields exist.

    Instead of what actually happened:

    Cambodia was at peace and was ignoring the Viet Minh sneaking around their edges. So we broke Cambodia by bombing it repeatedly. This eventually caused a coup, which we either helped or, at least, supported. This then lead to another coup of insane people (nominally communists) who then killed a lot of people. A lot a lot of people.

    This happened as we left Vietnam, and the communists we had been fighting, because they had free time and didn’t like crazy people next door, eventually invaded them and overthrew Cambodia’s government.

    How Bush managed to blame the ‘killing fields’ and ‘re-education camps’ on ‘withdrawal’ rather beyond me, especially since we didn’t technically have troops in Cambodia to start with! So it is hard to see how any of our policies, if continued, would have stopped it, and it’s hard to see how we could have stopped it short of invading Cambodia.

    Maybe in Bush’s head ‘leaving Vietnam’ equals ‘Not invading Cambodia’, but you’d think his speechwriters would be a little more logical there.

    But, hey, I’ll roll with the analogy. So all we have to do is leaved now, right, and within five years Iran or someone will invade Iraq and stop the killing? I mean, that’s where that analogy was going, right?

    Meanwhile, while we couldn’t stop Pol Pot, his takeover is directly traceable to our secret bombings of Cambodia. Not that great an analogy there with the ‘overthrowing the only person holding Iraq together’, the monarch of Cambodia was, by all accounts, a fairly nice person, whereas obviously Saddam wasn’t, but I appreciate the fact Bush is alluding to the fact that this whole Iraq thing is our fault and they used to have a working government.

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