News & Election Videos
Related Topics
Election 2008 Democrats | Republicans | General Election: Heads-to-Heads | Latest Polls


Bush's Vietnam Flip-Flop

By Clarence Page

President Bush has sternly and persistently rejected comparisons between Iraq and the Vietnam War - until he decided to embrace them.

As far back as an April 2004 news conference, he said, "I think the analogy is false. I also happen to think that analogy sends the wrong message to our troops and sends the wrong message to the enemy."

But that message was OK to send to the Veterans of Foreign Wars last week. At their convention, Bush mentioned the V-word to argue against the quick withdrawal of American troops. "One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam," he said, "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.' "

In other words, Bush appears to be arguing that Iraq is not like Vietnam as long as we stay, but it will be if we leave. Critics of the Iraq war have long used the Vietnam analogy to say why we should not have gotten into Iraq, or at least not in the way we did. Bush now uses the same analogy to argue for us to stick around. But for how long?

To those who have memories longer than a fruit fly's attention span, Bush's flip-flop sounded like a brave strategic move or maybe just weird. For one thing, he brings up a war that revives countless boomer-generation resentments. They include suspicions about how he avoided combat by serving in the Texas Air National Guard and old questions about how Vice President Cheney avoided military service altogether. That would not be as big of a deal were it not for the wise strategic and diplomatic advice that the administration received and pretty much ignored from actual Vietnam combat veterans such as former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

And that's not all that the White House ignored. History is a subject that the Bush administration has promoted for schoolchildren, quite rightly, yet managed oddly to ignore in toppling Sadam Hussein without due consideration to what chaos might come after.

There are similarities between the Iraq and Vietnam quagmires. But there also are major differences, the sort of differences that will keep Vietnam on the hot burners of public argument for generations - or at least until we boomers die off.

For example, Vietnam showed the painful folly of swaggering into somebody else's country to prop up an unstable government without adequate intelligence, military force or exit strategy.

That said, Bush raises a serious concern: With no good alternatives, what's the least bad way for us to leave Iraq?

Even the leading Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards, acknowledge measurable progress with the troop surge, particularly in troubled al-Anbar province, but argue as many Republicans do that there is no military solution to the war. The Iraqi government has to step up and take over.

Indeed, the troop "surge" is showing signs of working militarily, but sadly not politically, judging by the latest National Intelligence Estimate, which was released the day after Bush's VFW speech. It says the Iraqi government is so divided by ethnic and political factions that it is likely to become even more shaky in the next six months, despite recent "measurable but uneven" military successes.

The document represents the consensus of all 16 U.S. spy agencies and comes one month before a major assessment of the war is due from Army Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. military commander in Iraq.

In notorious trouble spots like al-Anbar province, order is being restored with the cooperation of local tribal leaders, which is another way of saying that we are arming local militias. Their power, in turn, further undermines the disappointing central government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Which brings us to Bush's other flip-flop of the day: He complimented the prime minister as a "good guy, good man" a day after expressing frustration with Iraq's lack of political progress. Bush barely concealed the desperation in his voice, compared to his earlier enthusiasm for the Baghdad leader. There's no apparent alternative to al-Maliki, who is looking much like the chain of ineffectual presidents we propped up in old Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City.

Bush seemed to imply as much with his Vietnam-like scenarios of horror if we leave. Unmentioned by him is how much more damage the Vietnam quagmire would have caused for us and for Southeast Asia if we had stayed longer. He also didn't mention how many lives could have been saved if we had left sooner.

Page is a Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist specializing in urban issues. He is based in Washington, D.C. E-mail:

(c) Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Sphere: Related Content | Email | Print | AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Sponsored Links
 Clarence Page
Clarence Page
Author Archive