President Bush wants a nation running short on patience with the Iraq war to take a long view, comparing it to U.S. involvement's in Asia that lost popular backing but eventually proved their worth and led to lasting peace.
"The ideals and interests that led America to help the Japanese turn defeat into democracy are the same that lead us to remain engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq," Bush said Wednesday in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
"The defense strategy that refused to hand the South Koreans over to a totalitarian neighbor helped raise up an Asian Tiger that is a model for developing countries across the world, including the Middle East," Bush said.
Bush often uses historical comparisons in urging patience on Iraq, but White House aides hope a specific focus on Asia will get skeptics to rethink their positions on Iraq and get beyond the daily, violent setbacks there.
Bush even cites Vietnam as a cautionary tale for those urging troop withdrawals today.
"Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left," Bush said. "Whatever your position in that debate, 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,' 're-education camps' and 'killing fields.'"
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., quickly dismissed Bush's position.
"President Bush's attempt to compare the war in Iraq to past military conflicts in East Asia ignores the fundamental difference between the two," he said. "Our nation was misled by the Bush administration in an effort to gain support for the invasion of Iraq under false pretenses, leading to one of the worst foreign policy blunders in our history."
Bush's speech at the VFW is the first in a planned two-punch combo.
After comparing the current war against extremists with the militarists of Japan and the communists in Korea and Vietnam in Wednesday's speech, he plans to discuss the war in Iraq in the context of its implications for the broader Middle East in a speech next Tuesday at the annual American Legion convention in Reno, Nev.
In the aftermath of Japan's surrender, many thought it was naive to help the Japanese transform themselves into a democracy, Bush will tell the VFW conventioneers. He said critics also complained when America intervened to save South Korea from communist invasion. And in Vietnam, Bush said, people argued that the real problem was the U.S. presence there, "and that if we would just withdraw, the killing would end."
"The advance of freedom in these lands should give us confidence that the hard work we are doing in the Middle East can have the same results we have seen in Asia - if we show the same perseverance and sense of purpose," Bush said.
The president's address at the convention was preceded by a two-day parade of presidential hopefuls and Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, who addressed the group Monday.
Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, are to report to Congress before Sept. 15 about the impact of the troop buildup that Bush ordered in January. Their report will provide the basis for Bush's decisions about the way forward in Iraq.
Meanwhile, Bush has notably tempered his view of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
When they met in Jordan last November, the president called al-Maliki "the right guy for Iraq." Now, he continually prods al-Maliki to do more to forge political reconciliation before the temporary military buildup ends.
"I think there's a certain level of frustration with the leadership in general, inability to work - come together to get, for example, an oil revenue law passed or provincial elections," Bush said in Canada on Tuesday.
Crocker echoed Bush's frustration with the lack of action by al-Maliki's government.
"Progress on national level issues has been extremely disappointing and frustrating to all concerned - to us, to Iraqis, to the Iraqi leadership itself," Crocker said.