Historians Outraged By Bush's Repackaging Of Vietnam War History In Speech Defying Pullout Calls
Bush : Iraq Is Like Vietnam...Kinda
While the media, historians and bloggers churn yesterday's Bush speech where he claimed pulling out of Iraq would result in the kind of instability and mass slaughter that followed the American withdrawal from the Vietnam War, one key fact seems to have been missed by most.
And it's probably the most important detail of the entire speech, and controversy.
Bush all but stated out loud that there will be no pullout of American forces from Iraq. At least, not while he's still president.
Regardless of what this report or that study says, Bush will esist Congress, the American people, his fellow Republicans and fading members of the Coalition of the Willing. Any and all. The US will not be leaving Iraq. Not this year. Not next year.
As far as President Bush is concerned, the day he empties the drawers of his West Wing desk, Americans will still be fighting and dying in Iraq.
The New York Times has a solid piece on the Bush speech and the reaction from historians over Bush's distortions about the fallout from America's withdrawal from Vietnam in the early '70s :
President Bush delivered a rousing defense of his Iraq policy on Wednesday, telling a group of veterans that “a free Iraq” is within reach and warning that if Americans succumb to “the allure of retreat,” they will witness death and suffering of the sort not seen since the Vietnam War.
“Then as now, people argued that the real problem was America’s presence and that if we would just withdraw, the killing would end,” Mr. Bush declared in a 45-minute speech before a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention here. He added, “The world would learn just how costly these misimpressions would be.”
In urging Americans to stay the course in Iraq, Mr. Bush is challenging the historical memory that the pullout from Vietnam had few negative repercussions for the United States and its allies.The speech was the beginning of an intense White House initiative to shape the debate on Capitol Hill in September, when the president’s troop buildup will undergo a re-evaluation. It came amid rising concerns in Washington over the performance of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq, who has made little progress toward bridging the sectarian divide in his country.
Military audiences are generally safe for Mr. Bush and Wednesday’s crowd came through with repeated applause. But the views expressed by the former soldiers in interviews here were hardly uniform. One, Charles Muckleston, a 77-year-old former Army sergeant from Manchester, N.J., who fought in Korea, said he did not bother to go to the hall to hear Mr. Bush. “It didn’t seem worthwhile,” he said. But Todd Struwe, 44, who served on the Korean Peninsula, said Mr. Bush’s address was “the best one we’ve heard so far from all of the candidates.”
In the speech, Mr. Bush sought to paint the conflict in Iraq in the broader context of American involvement in Asia. In one fell swoop, the president likened the Iraq war to earlier conflicts in Japan and Korea — which produced democratic allies of the United States — as well as to the war in Vietnam, asserting that the American pullout there 32 years ago led to tens of thousands of deaths in that country and Cambodia. “The question now before us,” he said, referring to Japan and Korea, “comes down to this: Will today’s generation of Americans resist the deceptive allure of retreat and do in the Middle East what veterans in this room did in Asia?”
And, in a passage that set off a bitter debate even before the speech’s end, Mr. Bush suggested a quick pullout from Iraq could bring the kind of carnage that drenched 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', 're-education camps' and 'killing fields'."
“In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge began a murderous rule in which hundreds of thousands of Cambodians died by starvation and torture and execution,” Mr. Bush said. “In Vietnam, former allies of the United States, and government workers and intellectuals and businessmen were sent off to prison camps, where tens of thousands perished. Hundreds of thousands more fled the country on rickety boats, many of them going to their graves in the South China Sea.”
With his comments Mr. Bush was doing something few major politicians of either party have done in a generation: rearguing a conflict that ended more than three decades ago but has remained an emotional touch point.
A number of historians are unhappy with what they see as President Bush's distortion of the facts on what happened in South East Asia after the United States withdrew its troops from Vietnam, and the root causes of those tragic events :
Historian Robert Dallek, who has written about the comparisons of Iraq to Vietnam, accused Bush of twisting history. "It just boggles my mind, the distortions I feel are perpetrated here by the president," he said in a telephone interview.
"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.This from Vietnam War historian Stanley Karnow :
"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."
And more here :
(he said) Bush is reaching for historical analogies that don't track. "Vietnam was not a bunch of sectarian groups fighting each other," as in Iraq, Karnow said. In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge toppled a U.S.-backed government.
"Does he think we should have stayed in Vietnam?" Karnow asked.
“It is undoubtedly true that America’s failure in Vietnam led to catastrophic consequences in the region, especially in Cambodia,” said David C. Hendrickson, a specialist on the history of American foreign policy at Colorado College in Colorado Springs.
“But there are a couple of further points that need weighing,” he added. “One is that the Khmer Rouge would never have come to power in the absence of the war in Vietnam — this dark force arose out of the circumstances of the war, was in a deep sense created by the war. The same thing has happened in the Middle East today. Foreign occupation of Iraq has created far more terrorists than it has deterred.”The record of death and dislocation after the American withdrawal from Vietnam ranks high among the tragedies of the last century, with an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians, about one-fifth of the population, dying under the rule of Pol Pot, and an estimated 1.5 million Vietnamese and other Indochinese becoming refugees. Estimates of the number of Vietnamese who were sent to prison camps after the war have ranged widely, from 50,000 to more than 400,000, and some accounts have said that tens of thousands perished,
Mr. Bush also sought to inspire renewed support for his Iraq strategy by recalling the years of national sacrifice during World War II, and the commitment required to rebuild two of history’s most aggressive and lawless adversaries, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, into reliable and responsible allies.
But historians note that Germany and Japan were homogenous nation-states with clear national identities and no internal feuding among factions or sects, in stark contrast to Iraq today.
The comparison of Iraq to Germany and Japan “is fanciful,” said Steven Simon, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He noted that the American and allied militaries had eliminated the governments of Japan and Germany, and any lingering opposition, and assembled occupation forces that were, proportionally, more than three times as large as the current American presence of more than 160,000 troops in Iraq.
“That’s the kind of troop level you need to control the situation,” Mr. Simon said. “The occupation of Germany and Japan lasted for years — and not a single American solider was killed by insurgents.”
The Democrats are uniformly unhappy with the Vietnam comparisons, claiming Bush was being a hypocrite, considering Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice had previously ruled all comparisons between the Vietnam War and what was happening in Iraq were irrelevant :
“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,” said Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate.
Democrats were also quick to point out that the White House had in the past rejected comparisons between the wars in Iraq and Vietnam. Among others, they point to a statement from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who said during a visit to Vietnam in 2006 that “historical parallels of that kind are, I think, not very helpful, and I don’t think they happen to be right” when asked to compare the conflicts.
“If anything, an examination of history and the situation on the ground shows us the importance of creating a new direction in Iraq,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). “We must initiate a strategic redeployment from Iraq so that we may focus our resources on the greatest danger — the war on terror — rather than keep our military mired in Iraq's sectarian war.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that Bush, “instead of providing the country with a history lesson ... should be reevaluating his flawed strategies that have led to one of the worst foreign policy blunders in our nation’s history.”
The Bush Speech To Veterans Of Foreign Wars In Full
Chickenhawk Bush Has The Gall To Lecture Americans On Vietnam