Bush learns wrong lesson from Vietnam
President Bush said in a visit to Vietnam that a lesson from that war is that "we'll succeed unless we quit."
UPON arriving last week in Hanoi, the capital of America's one-time enemy, President Bush said a lesson from the Vietnam War applicable to Iraq is that "we'll succeed unless we quit." His suggestion that the United States should have persisted in its futile effort in Vietnam following the 1975 collapse of the Thieu regime is puzzling.
Conversely, that does not mean that the U.S. policy in Iraq should be to abruptly "quit." Although they two wars are similar in some respects, they are far different in the ultimate consequence.
The morass in Iraq can be likened at this point to the quagmire in Vietnam before the collapse. Both conflicts are similar in that in each case the U.S. decision to go to war was based on a false premise. In Vietnam, America saw itself as pitted against international communism, where defeat would be followed by the tumbling of world governments, like dominos, potentially all the way to San Francisco. In fact, the Vietnam war was primarily nationalist. Aside from temporary Vietnamese intrusions into Cambodia and Laos, no dominos fell.
The Bush administration's explanation for invading Iraq was based on flawed intelligence that it had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, along with the assertion -- unfounded from the start -- that Iraq was somehow connected with al-Qaida and thus the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America.
Bush now admits as much, although he continues to warn that America must "attack (terrorists) abroad before they attack us at home." That is true only in the sense that the American invasion of Iraq created a battlefield that could become a base camp for terrorists as well as a tinderbox for the Middle East if U.S. troops were to suddenly withdraw.
By suggesting that the U.S. choice in Iraq is to either "succeed" or "quit," Bush seems to be reneging on the "fresh perspective" that he sought to inject into the Pentagon by nominating Robert Gates to replace Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The differences between Iraq and Vietnam disallow such a simple choice.
The fall of Saigon resulted in a swift unconditional surrender by South Vietnam to the North. An abrupt retreat by U.S. troops from Baghdad would have more dire consequences in both the immediate and distant future.
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