Video: Iraq vs. Vietnam

By Military analyst
updated 8/27/2007 8:49:40 AM ET 2007-08-27T12:49:40

Last week, with about three weeks to go before General David Petraeus renders his report on progress in Iraq, President Bush delivered a speech in which he tried valiantly to engender support for American strategy there. The audience, members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, was enthusiastically supportive.

Bush’s observation about the self-sacrifice and patriotism of those who have served in uniform was well done, and we must always remember that today we can enjoy our lives only because generations of young people have sacrificed theirs. We can’t extol the virtues of these brave Americans often enough, and I never tire of thinking how lucky we are to have produced such giants.

The other principal focus of the president was that precipitous withdrawal from Iraq would be a disaster for both the United States and Iraq. He’s right about that too, though one can’t avoid the observation that had we begun conducting a proper counterinsurgency four years ago, Iraq would be much closer to genuine success than it is now and we would be withdrawing at leisure. Nevertheless, Bush is correct to castigate those who argue for bringing everyone home immediately, because it would be bad for Iraq and dangerous for our troops. Those who say that we should immediately pile over 160,000 Americans into various conveyances to speed them back home either: (1) dodged military service, or (2) did serve but were not paying much attention at the time. There is no more difficult military mission than a withdrawal, and those that have been attempted in haste have usually ended disastrously.

But when Bush invoked the specters of past wars to support his assertions, he waded into water well over his head.

Bush begins to fabricate history
Among other things, he suggested that the proximate cause of the genocide in Cambodia was our withdrawal from Vietnam. Absolute nonsense. The Khmer Rouge’s murderous regime established itself long before the American combat presence in Vietnam ended.

Mr. Bush also opined that the post-war orgy of retribution in Vietnam was the proximate result of our withdrawal as well. This, too, is a fabrication.

I first went to Vietnam in 1967, as our forces were building there. At the height of our involvement, we had well over half a million Americans engaged, and we ultimately lost more than 58,000.

By the time I got to Vietnam for my second tour, on the 4th of July in 1972, most Americans had gone home in a withdrawal that had begun more than a year earlier. I joined the Vietnamese Airborne Division as it was fighting the North Vietnamese Army near the Demilitarized Zone. When I left six months later, I was among the last American combat soldiers in Vietnam. The Vietnamese government did fall, but not until two years later. There were about three years between American withdrawal and communist victory -- a very poor example of the point the president was trying to make.

Perhaps the most startling aspect of President Bush’s speech is that his assertion about Vietnam is diametrically opposed to his own public position not long ago, when he argued that the wars in Vietnam and Iraq were nothing alike. Most experienced military people agreed with him then and thus can’t possibly agree with him now. Of course everyone, including the president, is entitled to his opinion and is entitled to change it, too, but he’s not entitled to fabricate evidence to support it.

Who is ignorant of the lessons of history?
So, Bush’s speech is infuriating: his argument that we should not abandon Iraq precipitously is fundamentally a good one, but he undermines a militarily sound course of action with specious nonsense that is demonstrably false, easily refuted by any sentient being with a passing knowledge or understanding of recent history.

It has always been something of a public amusement to make sport of President Bush’s apparent ignorance. And it would be regrettable if neither Bush, nor his speechwriter, nor even his chief of staff has any substantive grasp of the events the president cited in his speech. It would be far worse however, if Bush does indeed understand the lessons of history but believes that his audience is easily convinced to ignore them.

Jack Jacobs is an MSNBC military analyst. He is a retired U.S. Army colonel. He earned the Medal of Honor for exceptional heroism on the battlefields of Vietnam and also has three Bronze Stars and two Silver Stars.

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