Bush on the lesson of Vietnam: Stay longer

The president's "new defense" of the war in Iraq.

Published August 22, 2007 4:15PM (EDT)

The president's "new defense" of the war in Iraq? Pretty much the same as his old defense of the war in Iraq: The war in Iraq is part of a larger war on terrorism, and that war is a lot like World War II, the Korean War and some other wars in which we've fought.

Oh, and it turns out that the war in Iraq is also a lot like Vietnam -- and not just because members of the Bush family have found a way not to fight in it. Actually, the president didn't say today that the war in Iraq is like Vietnam -- he's sort of done that before -- but he did suggest that we should take heed of the lessons of Vietnam as we think about our next steps in Iraq.

And what would those lessons be?

1. We should always support the troops: While there may be "legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left," Bush said that there is "no debate" in his mind "that the veterans from Vietnam deserve the high praise of the United States of America."

2. We should have stayed in Vietnam longer: "Then, as now, people argued the real problem was America's presence, and that if we would just withdraw the killing would end ... The world would learn just how costly these misimpressions would be ... 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,' 'reeducation camps,' and 'killing fields.'"

3. Pulling out of Vietnam helped precipitate 9/11: "There's another price to our withdrawal from Vietnam, and we can hear it in the words of the enemy we face in today's struggle, those who came to our soil and killed thousands of citizens on September the 11th, 2001. In an interview with a Pakistani newspaper after the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden declared that the American people had risen against their government's war in Vietnam and they must do the same today. The No. 2 man, Zawahiri, has also invoked Vietnam. In a letter to al-Qaida's chief of operations in Iraq, Zawahari pointed to 'the aftermath of the collapse of American power in Vietnam and how they ran and left their agents.' Zawahiri later returned to this theme, declaring that Americans 'know better than others that there is no hope in victory. The Vietnam specter is closing every outlet.' Here at home, some can argue our withdrawal from Vietnam carried no price for American credibility. But the terrorists see it differently. We must listen to the words of the enemy. We must listen to what they say."

By Tim Grieve

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

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