Bush, Giuliani Agree on Iraq-Vietnam Parallels
In his address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars today, President Bush offered Americans what can only be called the "premature withdrawal" defense for his endless fiasco in Iraq. Claiming to predict Iraq's future by looking back to Vietnam's past, Bush declared the United States on the brink of victory pulled out too soon and condemned millions of Southeast Asians to the slaughter that ensued.
But Bush's desperate act of revisionist history only served to confirm two basic truths. First, President Bush fundamentally does not understand - or willfully misrepresents - the lessons of the Vietnam War. And second, that makes Rudy Giuliani his natural successor.
As usual, Bush's speech was replete with an array of historical analogies, almost all of them comically inapt. For example, Iraq is like Japan, where the United States helped "the Japanese turn defeat into democracy." The President also resurrected his Iraq as South Korea canard, where American persistence and ongoing military commitment "helped raise up an Asian Tiger that is a model for developing countries across the world, including the Middle East." Inconvenient truths, such as then fact that the U.S. occupied a totally defeated enemy in Japan, defended South Korea from invasion by Pyongyang and Beijing, and in neither case faced civil war and sectarian conflict, were no barrier to Bush's butchery of the textbooks.
But it was on Vietnam that President Bush showed his commitment to losing the last war again before losing this one:
"Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left. 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.'"
If the President's misuse of the lessons of Vietnam sounds familiar, it should. After all, just last week 2008 Republican White House frontrunner Rudy Giuliani said virtually the same thing.
Like the man he hopes to succeed, the former New York mayor looks to the Vietnam War and invents an analogy to today's quagmire in Iraq. Sadly, the parallel isn't that the U.S. mistakenly fought the wrong war as a misguided part of a larger global struggle, or that Americans found themselves hopelessly bogged down in someone else's battle for national self-determination that the U.S. could not hope to "win". Instead, Giuliani argues in the pages of Foreign Affairs, the U.S. gave up too soon, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory:
"America must remember one of the lessons of the Vietnam War. Then, as now, we fought a war with the wrong strategy for several years. And then, as now, we corrected course and began to show real progress. Many historians today believe that by about 1972 we and our South Vietnamese partners had succeeded in defeating the Vietcong insurgency and in setting South Vietnam on a path to political self-sufficiency. But America then withdrew its support, allowing the communist North to conquer the South...The consequences of abandoning Iraq would be worse."
President Bush, of course, is wrong that "three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left." (How Bush got into and left the Texas Air National Guard is another question altogether.) But as their blinkered misappropriations of the Vietnam legacy to justify the quagmire in Iraq show, Bush's departure from the Oval Office can't come soon enough, while Giuliani's arrival there must never happen at all.