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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Press Explores Bush's Iraq/Vietnam Link by Greg Mitchell

Press Explores Bush's Iraq/Vietnam Link

By Greg Mitchell

Published: August 23, 2007 10:55 AM ET updated Thursday
NEW YORK After years of mocking those who drew comparisons between the U.S. engagements in Vietnam and Iraq, war supporters are now invoking them – led by commander-in-chief George W. Bush, in a much-publicized speech today at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Kansas City.

Now, how will the media respond to the “Vietnamization” of rhetoric on Iraq, as unveiled by President Bush today? At least three major papers quickly sought out critics who have tried to debunk it.

USA Today located Stanley Karnow, one of the leading scholars on the Vietnam war. “Vietnam was not a bunch of sectarian groups fighting each other,” as in Iraq. “Does he think we should have stayed in Vietnam?”

Robert Dallek, author of several celebrated biographies of recent U.S. presidents, including Lyndon Johnson, told the Los Angeles Times: “"It just boggles my mind, the distortions I feel are perpetrated here by the president.

"We were in Vietnam for 10 years. We dropped more bombs on Vietnam than we did in all of World War II in every theater. We lost 58,700 American lives, the second-greatest loss of lives in a foreign conflict. And we couldn't work our will," he said.

"What is Bush suggesting? That we didn't fight hard enough, stay long enough? That's nonsense. It's a distortion," he continued. "We've been in Iraq longer than we fought in World War II. It's a disaster, and this is a political attempt to lay the blame for the disaster on his opponents. But the disaster is the consequence of going in, not getting out."

The New York Times also talked to Dallek, who pointed out that the slaughters of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia “was a consequence of our having gone into Cambodia and destabilized that country.” And it interviewed Andrew Bacevich, a Vietnam veteran and now professor of international relations at Boston University (his son was recently killed in Iraq).

Bacevich said of the Vietnam pullout: "It was not a precipitous withdrawal, it was a very deliberate disengagement. The Vietnam comparison should invite us to think harder about how to minimize the consequences of our military failure. If one is really concerned about the Iraqi people, and the fate that may be awaiting them as this war winds down, then we ought to get serious about opening our doors and to welcoming to the United States those Iraqis who have supported us."

Ironically, in the now-famous video from 1994 which surfaced last week, Dick Cheney used the word “quagmire” to refer to what would likely happen to us in Iraq if we invaded.

In this morning's speech, Bush said, “Here at home, some can argue our withdrawal from Vietnam carried no price to American credibility -- but the terrorists see things differently.” He claimed that Osama bin Laden himself had predicted that the American public, remembering Vietnam, would also rise up against the Iraq occupation.

"Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left," Bush added. "Whatever your position in that debate, 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,' 're-education camps,' and 'killing fields.' "

Latest figures from Iraqi officials and international humanitarian aid groups show that the current conflict in Iraq has led to 2 million refugees and 1.2 displaced Iraqis within the country. Estimates of the civilian death toll range from 100,000 to at least half a million.

Appearing on CNN today after the coverage of the Bush speech, former Reagan adviser and magazine editor David Gergen said, "He may well have stirred up a hornet's nest among historian. By invoking Vietnam, he raised the automatic question, 'Well, if you've learned so much from history, Mr. President, how did you ever get us involved in another quagmire?'" He added: "It's surprising to me that he would go back to that, and I think he's going to get a lot of criticism."

Gergen also pointed out that after 30 years Vietnam "has actually become quite a thriving country." He suggested that, as in that example, there will be some kind of bloodbath when we eventually pull out of Iraq, but perhaps it, too, will eventually prosper.

The Washington Post quoted Steven Smith, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations: "The president emphasized the violence in the wake of American withdrawal from Vietnam. But this happened because the United States left too late, not too early. It was the expansion of the war that opened the door to Pol Pot and the genocide of the Khmer Rouge. The longer you stay the worse it gets."

Shortly before his death earlier this year, legendary Vietnam war correspondent David Halberstam said, “I thought that in both Vietnam and Iraq, we were going against history. My view — and I think it was because of Vietnam — was that the forces against us were going to be hostile, that we would not be viewed as liberators. We were going to punch our fist into the largest hornets’ nest in the world.”


Related: Greg Mitchell's column about George Bush citing Graham Greene in his speech.

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