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 What is Bush saying, that the U.S. should not have withdrawn from Vietnam, that the war should have gone on?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.
— 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 Bushâ€™s Vietnam comparison.” And so they should.