Back to the future

Nixon in 1969. Bush in 2005.

By Tim Grieve

Published December 1, 2005 5:08PM (EST)

As we noted earlier today, the New York Times is comparing George W. Bush's "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" with Richard Nixon's 1969 speech on the "Vietnamization" of the Vietnam War. The matching covers shown above are the product of a War Room reader's imagination. The similarities between the two plans are not.

There are differences between Bush's "National Strategy" speech and Nixon's Vietnamization vision, of course: Nixon didn't start the Vietnam War, so he may have felt more free to acknowledge the problems it presented -- the first of which, he said, was that "many Americans have lost confidence in what their government has told them about our policy."

"The American people cannot and should not be asked to support a policy which involves the overriding issues of war and peace unless they know the truth about that policy," Nixon said. "Tonight, therefore, I would like to answer some of the questions that I know are on the minds of many of you listening to me. How and why did America get involved in Vietnam in the first place? How has this administration changed the policy of the previous administration? What has really happened in the negotiations in Paris and on the battle-front in Vietnam? What choices do we have if we are to end the war? What are the prospects for peace?"

It's hard to imagine the current occupant of the White House speaking with that sort of clarity. He can't or won't come to terms with the fact that Americans have lost confidence in him. And he simply has no answer -- or at least not one that is both plausible and politically palatable -- for the question of why America went to war in Iraq in the first place. But when it comes to a plan for getting out of that war, Bush sounds an awful lot like his predecessor.

Nixon in 1969: "The precipitate withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam would be a disaster not only for South Vietnam but for the United States and for the cause of peace."

Bush yesterday: "Setting an artificial deadline to withdraw would vindicate the terrorists' tactics of beheadings and suicide bombings and mass murder -- and invite new attacks on America."

Nixon: "An announcement of a fixed timetable for our withdrawal would completely remove any incentive for the enemy to negotiate an agreement. They would simply wait until our forces had withdrawn and then move in."

Bush: "Setting an artificial deadline to withdraw would send a signal to our enemies -- that if they wait long enough, America will cut and run and abandon its friends."

Nixon: "If necessary ... we will withdraw all our forces from Vietnam on a schedule in accordance with our program, as the South Vietnamese become strong enough to defend their own freedom."

Bush: "And as the Iraqi security forces stand up, coalition forces can stand down -- and when our mission of defeating the terrorists in Iraq is complete, our troops will return home to a proud nation."

Nixon delivered his Vietnamization speech in November 1969, but the last U.S. ground troops didn't leave Vietnam until March 1973. More than 8,000 American soldiers died in the meantime.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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George W. Bush Iraq Iraq War Middle East War Room