It is a shame and it is embarrassing to us all when President Bush travels 8,000 miles only to wind up avoiding reality again.
And it is pathetic to listen to a man talk unrealistically about Vietnam, who permitted the “Swift-Boating” of not one but two American heroes of that war, in consecutive presidential campaigns.
But most importantly — important beyond measure — his avoidance of reality is going to wind up killing more Americans.
And that is indefensible and fatal.
Asked if there were lessons about Iraq to be found in our experience in Vietnam, Mr. Bush said that there were, and he immediately proved he had no clue what they were.
“One lesson is,” he said, “that we tend to want there to be instant success in the world, and the task in Iraq is going to take a while.”
“We’ll succeed,” the president concluded, “unless we quit.”
If that’s the lesson about Iraq that Mr. Bush sees in Vietnam, then he needs a tutor.
Or we need somebody else making the decisions about Iraq.
Mr. Bush, there are a dozen central, essential lessons to be derived from our nightmare in Vietnam, but “we’ll succeed unless we quit,” is not one of them.
The primary one — which should be as obvious to you as the latest opinion poll showing that only 31 percent of this country agrees with your tragic Iraq policy — is that if you try to pursue a war for which the nation has lost its stomach, you and it are finished. Ask Lyndon Johnson.
The second most important lesson of Vietnam, Mr. Bush: If you don’t have a stable local government to work with, you can keep sending in Americans until hell freezes over and it will not matter. Ask Vietnamese Presidents Diem or Thieu.
The third vital lesson of Vietnam, Mr. Bush: Don’t pretend it’s something it’s not. For decades we were warned that if we didn’t stop “communist aggression” in Vietnam, communist agitators would infiltrate and devour the small nations of the world, and make their insidious way, stealthily, to our doorstep.
The war machine of 1968 had this “domino theory.”
Your war machine of 2006 has this nonsense about Iraq as “the central front in the war on terror.”
The fourth pivotal lesson of Vietnam, Mr. Bush: If the same idiots who told Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon to stay there for the sake of “peace With honor” are now telling you to stay in Iraq, they’re probably just as wrong now, as they were then ... Dr. Kissinger.
And the fifth crucial lesson of Vietnam, Mr. Bush — which somebody should’ve told you about long before you plunged this country into Iraq — is that if you lie your country into a war, your war, your presidency will be consigned to the scrap heap of history.
Consider your fellow Texan, sir.
After Kennedy’s assassination, Lyndon Johnson held the country together after a national tragedy, not unlike you did. He had lofty goals and tried to reshape society for the better. And he is remembered for Vietnam, and for the lies he and his government told to get us there and keep us there, and for the Americans who needlessly died there.
As you will be remembered for Iraq, and for the lies you and your government told to get us there and keep us there, and for the Americans who have needlessly died there and who will needlessly die there tomorrow.
This president has his fictitious Iraqi WMD, and his lies — disguised as subtle hints — linking Saddam Hussein to 9/11, and his reason-of-the-week for keeping us there when all the evidence for at least three years has told us we need to get as many of our kids out as quickly as possible.
That president had his fictitious attacks on Navy ships in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964, and the next thing any of us knew, the Senate had voted 88-2 to approve the blank check with which Lyndon Johnson paid for our trip into hell.
And yet President Bush just saw the grim reminders of that trip into hell: the 58,000 Americans and millions of Vietnamese killed; the 10,000 civilians who’ve been blown up by landmines since we pulled out; the genocide in the neighboring country of Cambodia, which we triggered.
Yet these parallels — and these lessons — eluded President Bush entirely.
And, in particular, the one over-arching lesson about Iraq that should’ve been written everywhere he looked in Vietnam went unseen.
“We’ll succeed unless we quit”?
Mr. Bush, we did quit in Vietnam!
A decade later than we should have, 58,000 dead later than we should have, but we finally came to our senses.
The stable, burgeoning, vivid country you just saw there, is there because we finally had the good sense to declare victory and get out!
The domino theory was nonsense, sir.
Our departure from Vietnam emboldened no one.
Communism did not spread like a contagion around the world.
And most importantly — as President Reagan’s assistant secretary of state, Lawrence Korb, said on this newscast Friday — we were only in a position to win the Cold War because we quit in Vietnam.
We went home. And instead it was the Russians who learned nothing from Vietnam, and who repeated every one of our mistakes when they went into Afghanistan. And alienated their own people, and killed their own children, and bankrupted their own economy and allowed us to win the Cold War.
We awakened so late, but we did awaken.
Finally, in Vietnam, we learned the lesson. We stopped endlessly squandering lives and treasure and the focus of a nation on an impossible and irrelevant dream, but you are still doing exactly that, tonight, in Iraq.
And these lessons from Vietnam, Mr. Bush, these priceless, transparent lessons, writ large as if across the very sky, are still a mystery to you.
“We’ll succeed unless we quit.”
We will succeed against terrorism, for our country’s needs, toward binding up the nation’s wounds when you quit, quit the monumental lie that is our presence in Iraq.
And in the interim, Mr. Bush, an American kid will be killed there, probably tonight or tomorrow.
And here, sir, endeth the lesson.