President Bush finally got something right by comparing the US war in Iraq with the disastrous US war in Vietnam. After five years of denying there were any similarities at all, Bush lectured us on the lessons he says we should have learned from that war and apply them to Iraq.
So far so good. Trouble is the lesson Bush suggested we should learn from our failure in Vietnam four decades ago goes something like this:
We cut and ran in Vietnam. We let our allies down. We allowed a rag tag group of insurgents to win against the great American military. And that's why we're in the mess we're in today. Our enemies today, another group of rag tag insurgents called al-Qaeda – have been emboldened by our retreat from Vietnam.
Therefore, Bush posits, we must stay the course in Iraq, no matter how bleak the situation becomes. Because, to do otherwise would be to reinforce our enemy's belief that the US lacks staying power and has no stomach for taking casualties. That in turn will encourage them to cause trouble throughout the region and to even launch attacks against the American homeland itself... or as Bush claims, if we don't fight them in Iraq, we'll have to fight them right here in the US of A.
Of course no well-read (or sane) person would draw such lessons from Vietnam. In fact, had Bush and Congress had heeded the real lessons of Vietnam they would have scoffed at the idea of putting tens of thousands of US combat troops on the ground in the heart of the Middle East.
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(Note: Few will also miss the bitter irony of being lectured on “the lessons of Vietnam” by a guy who spent that war hiding out in the Texas Air National Guard, drinking beer and malingering by skipping out on monthly drills. (It was good to be the son of a powerful Texas congressman.)
Those of us who lived through the Vietnam era, or have since studied declassified documents from the Johnson and Nixon administrations, have walked away with much different lessons:
Super-power status is meaningless against a enemy fighting on and for their own land and willing to incur and take unlimited casualties.
- Puppet governments set up under foreign occupying forces are viewed by their own people as illegitimate and therefore cannot govern.
- The hurdle for an occupying army is very high – they need to win. The hurdle for an indigenous insurgency is much more achievable – they simply need to not lose.
- When the vast majority of Americans cease to support a foreign war, that war is lost – period.
- Retreat from Vietnam did not result in a “domino effect,” in the region, as threatened.
- When we retreated from Vietnam the Viet Cong did not “follow us home.”
- Our retreat from Vietnam did not result in permanent estrangement, just the opposite.
- The only Vietnamese who “followed us home,” were refugees who have since become among some of the most highly educated and successful American citizens.
And if you believe that, then I have a war in the Middle East to sell ya.
We've gone through so many iterations of the Bush doctrine with Iraq that I've lost the thread. But this appears to be a whole new version of the Bush doctrine: Never give up. Never admit defeat no matter how many soldiers are dying each week (especially since none of them are related to you.) Keep fighting.... no matter the cost in treasure or to our nation's soul. Because, as long as we keep fighting no one can say we lost. No one can say we cut and ran.
It's not a new idea. In fact it's just a reworked version of the military doctrine of another George... George Custer.
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