Bush Changes Tack on Iraq Parallels to Vietnam War

By Monisha Bansal | July 7, 2008 | 8:32 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - In a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Wednesday, President George W. Bush compared the war in Iraq to the Vietnam War -- a comparison that many analysts say is "flawed."

"Today, the names and places have changed, but the fundamental character of the struggle has not changed," said Bush in Kansas City, Mo. "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.Pres. George W. Bush

"Then as now, people argued the real problem was America's presence and that if we would just withdraw, the killing would end," Bush said. "The world would learn just how costly these misimpressions would be.

"In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge began a murderous rule in which hundreds of thousands of Cambodians died by starvation and torture and execution," Bush added.

"In Vietnam, former allies of the United States and government workers and intellectuals and businessmen were sent off to prison camps, where tens of thousands perished. Hundreds of thousands more fled the country on rickety boats, many of them going to their graves in the South China Sea," he noted.

"Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left," Bush added.

"Whatever your position is on 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,' the president said.

"There was 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," he said.

But Bernard Finel, a senior fellow with the American Security Project, said, "There are clearly a lot of flaws" with the analogy between the two wars.

"I think the point he was trying to make is that after the Vietnam War there was a great deal of human suffering and that following our withdrawal from Iraq there is also a chance there could be significant human suffering," he told Cybercast News Service. "There is certainly some truth to that, although we have very different situations.

"In the Vietnam situation you essentially had one country which was invaded by another country, all their political institutions being wiped out, a new political and military structure being put in place. They'd been in a long ongoing struggle," Finel said.

He said the situation in Iraq is only analogous if you assume "that if we pulled out the Shi'a would see their role as now conquering the rest of Iraq, whereas that probably isn't how things would play out in reality."

But Jim Phillips, a research fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at the conservative Heritage Foundation, told Cybercast News Service , "The speech was meant to reframe the Iraq debate and reclaim the moral high ground.

"Up 'til now, advocates of abandoning Iraq have self-righteously claimed to have a higher moral sense as 'anti-war' crusaders, as if the war in Iraq will end if and when the U.S. troops withdraw," he said. "They have ignored or downplayed the disastrous humanitarian and strategic consequences of embracing defeat in Iraq.

"President Bush is reminding people that the consequences of a U.S. retreat will be catastrophic for the Iraqi people, who will be plunged into a much greater bloodbath, as well as for surrounding countries that will be destabilized by a premature U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq," Phillips added.

But the liberal Center for American Progress, which has often likened the war in Iraq to Vietnam, rejected Bush's comparison, saying "the price for our occupation of Iraq is greater."

The group also took issue with President Bush's past rejection of such parallels.

In April 2004, Bush called the analogy "false."

"I also happen to think that analogy sends the wrong message to our troops, and sends the wrong message to the enemy," the president said.

"Why the president chose to liken Iraq to Vietnam, after having denied the analogy previously, is curious," Justin Logan, a foreign policy analyst with the libertarian Cato Institute, told Cybercast News Service .

"Most Americans now view Vietnam as a quagmire in which we should never have been involved and one that had a slew of costs beyond the more than 58,000 Americans who died there," he said. "Why the president has decided he now wants to argue Iraq in that context is something I can't explain."

During his speech, Bush said, "I recognize that history cannot predict the future with absolute certainty. I understand that. But history does remind us that there are lessons applicable to our time. And we can learn something from history."

Phillips added, "The Bush administration up until recently has avoided the Vietnam analogy for fear that it would be taken by some as an admission that Iraq is an 'unwinnable' war.

"But now that Congress appears to be increasingly inclined to pull the plug on the war, the president is taking the opportunity to remind people of the disastrous consequences of the shameful 1973 to 1975 congressional cutoff of support for the Vietnamese government," he said.

"This eventually led to the violent imposition of communist regimes not only in Vietnam, but in Laos and Cambodia," he added. "And in Cambodia's 'killing fields,' the communist Khmer Rouge regime exterminated more than 1.5 million people."

"There was an important debate during Vietnam about whether losing or winning there would predetermine success or failure in the Cold War," said Logan. "A decade and a half after losing in Vietnam, we won the Cold War. The president would be well advised to consider that fact."

digg_skin = 'compact'

Make media inquiries or request an interview about this article.

Subscribe to the free CNSNews.com daily E-Brief.

E-mail a comment or news tip to Monisha Bansal

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.