"A baby boomer who came of age during the turbulent Vietnam era and spent the war stateside as a member of the Texas Air National Guard, the president called himself amazed by the sights of the onetime war capital. He pronounced it hopeful that the United States and Vietnam have reconciled differences after a war that ended 31 years ago when the Washington-backed regime in Saigon fell.
"My first reaction is history has a long march to it, and societies change and relationships can constantly be altered to the good," Bush said after speeding past signs of both poverty and the commerce produced by Asia’s fastest-growing economy.
The president said there was much to be learned from the divisive Vietnam War — the longest conflict in U.S. history — as his administration contemplates new strategies for the increasingly difficult war in Iraq, now in its fourth year. But his critics see parallels with Vietnam — a determined insurgency and a death toll that has drained public support — that spell danger for dragging out U.S. involvement in Iraq.
"It’s just going to take a long period of time for the ideology that is hopeful — and that is an ideology of freedom — to overcome an ideology of hate," Bush said after having lunch at his lakeside hotel with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, whose country has been one of America’s strongest allies in Iraq, Vietnam and other conflicts. Yahoo News
Well, at least he got to visit, finally. Maybe someone can tell me what he is talking about in the highlighted sections. Does he mean that Vietnam has "arrived" and is an acceptable "freedom state?" Does he mean that he thinks of Iraq as a decade long project as VN was? What does he mean?
Oh, by the way, that guy at present arms just by Bush in the picture, I think I remember his great-uncle.
You make many good points in your article. I would like to supplement them with some information:
I am a 2 tour Vietnam Veteran who recently retired after 36 years of working in the Defense Industrial Complex on many of the weapons systems being usedby our forces as we speak.
If you are interested in a view of the inside of the Pentagon procurement process from Vietnam to Iraq please check the posting at my blog entitled, “Odyssey of Armements”
The Pentagon is a giant, incredibly complex establishment,budgeted in excess of $500B per year. The Rumsfelds, the Adminisitrations and the Congressmen come and go but the real machinery of policy and procurement keeps grinding away, presenting the politicos who arrive with detail and alternatives slanted to perpetuate itself.
How can any newcomer, be he a President, a Congressman or even the Sec. Def. to be – Mr. Gates- understand such complexity, particulary if heretofore he has not had the clearance to get the full details?
Answer- he can’t. Therefor he accepts the alternatives provided by the career establishment that never goes away and he hopes he makes the right choices. Or he is influenced by a lobbyist or two representing companies in his district or special interest groups.
From a practical standpoint, policy and war decisions are made far below the levels of the talking heads who take the heat or the credit for the results.
This situation is unfortunate but it is ablsolute fact. Take it from one who has been to war and worked in the establishment.
This giant policy making and war machine will eventually come apart and have to be put back together to operate smaller, leaner and on less fuel. But that won’t happen unitil it hits a brick wall at high speed.
We will then have to run a Volkswagon instead of a Caddy and get along somehow. We better start practicing now and get off our high horse. Our golden aura in the world is beginning to dull from arrogance.
I think Bush is laying out “the case” for why he has no intention of leaving Iraq (events may override his intentions, however).
A couple of points that I found quite interesting from today’s related article in the NYT, covering Bush’s Vietnam visit:
* The Decider’s administration is quick to point out that there aren’t many historical parallels between Iraq and Vietnam. Hadley mentions that the “domino effect” didn’t pan out precisely the way people thought it might. It’s a bit ironic to me that the current crop of neocons thought that a similar domino effect would sweep democracy across the Middle East.
* It’s mentioned that Bush (and Clinton) view full economic engagement with, e.g., China and presumably Vietnam, may be a way of undermining one-party rule. I’m wondering if either Bush or Clinton would have the same viewpoint with respect to Cuba?
What, indeed, “does he mean”? My initial guess would be he means ‘it can’t, it can’t it can’t (picture petulant child stamping his foot)have been an idiotic idea from the start. So we have to stay there as long as I’m president. And we will even if I have to break the friggin Army to do so’.
That’s what I think he means. And by the way…in the Times article on his trip he seems to indicate that he still believes the reason that we lost the war was because “we quit”. He did not, I might add, define who “we” was. This, from this guy? It’s too rich with irony to comment further on.
Great post, as usual.
First quote: sounds like pointless blather which means he was answering a question and attempting to think on his feet which usually results in pointless blather.
Second quote: I guess he thinks we would have won in Vietnam if we had stayed longer and he’s going to prove that by staying in Iraq. How much time is left until we have been in Iraq as long as our time in WWII?
The second highlighted remark is basically saying “we aint getting out of Iraq as long as I am the Decider”.
And the first highlight the decider has clarified in the next remark:
“We’ll succeed,” Bush added, “unless we quit.”
Bush:Vietnam War Offered Lessons for Iraq
So I suppose he just means the same thing all the time. Maybe this ISG thingy that’s got the corporate media all fluttering does not mean much after all. And the Democrats are not going to defund anything but will now get their share of the blame for not doing anything. And if McCain gets elected as the next President we’ll be in Iraq for another good while. Its time to face up that this is going to be at least a decade long project.
Great post Col. Lang and Mr. Larson. At 39, I wasn’t old enough to fully grasp the significance of what was going on during the Vietnam war – and have had to supplement my information with readings and posts from the people who were there. While not related to Vietnam, I did watch a very interesting documentary regarding the US invasion of Okinawa in the Pacific theatre which really marked the decline of the British and European ‘super’ power and the rise of the US. I get the sense we are seeing a bit of the same here in Iraq. As Mr. Larson pointed out so eloquently, our golden aura is indeed looking quite dull – but it also makes me wonder who is waiting in the wings to take over.
As always, thank you for your posts Colonel Lang.
Brad Leiter just posted a joke that’s germane to your comments Pat: Q: What’s the difference between Iraq and Vietnam? A: Bush had a plan for getting out of Vietnam.
Be that as it may, my guess is that the deciderer has fuzzy notions about what he means. It’s been obvious for some time that he’s chickenhawked his way through life so why stop now? The patina of religiosity that he wears does little to hide the fact that he’s an idealist who lets testosterone and guts (bred on the fields of battle at Yale as a cheerleader) determine what’s right vs. what’s wrong.
We can dump on the poor man forever; the jokes are too cruel and often demonize a fellow whose main fault is mediocrity and a hopeless mishmash of despair and megalomania. Hannah Arendt’s study of evil of banality has become somewhat a cliche (sadly), but it applies to a nation and a leader whose most telling character trait is mumbling vacuous platitudes. (Yes, I know, that’s a tautology, but it’s true nonetheless; it’s like saying empty to the nth degree.)
But seriously, to comment on Ken Larson’s very sincere remarks: I am reminded of the historical debate between the various Italian republicans during the time that machiavelli was formulating his ideas. The question revolved around whether a virtuous republic should resemble Sparta or Athens. The dichotomy here is that between a military-style ethos that prized simplicity and material asceticism over exhuberant and what could be called extravagant materialism.
Plato favored the former, Aristotle the latter. It seems that Machiavelli opted for Aristotle’s view but used Roman imperial republicanism as the model for a “mixed polity.” To make a long story short, the US founding fathers followed machiavelli in this view, realizing at the start that a state must adopt imperial ambitions to allow the greatest amount of liberty.
My guess is that the brick wall that Mr. Larson posits will by necessity face the US with something of a revision of the founding fathers’ preises. In a country that consumes vast quantities of total world resources, where more is wasted than large swaths of the world’s population need to survive, where obesity is a chronic health problem–that this country will ultimately fail due to its bloated self-conceit and inability to constrain its own appetites.
With that failure–probably temporary–the country will have to some form of self-analysis that might lead to an ethos much like Sparta’s. The hope here then will become that it does not also adopt the military ethos whose ultimate expression seems to be some form of undemocratic control regime.
The lesson for Iraq that he takes from Vietnam is: “We’ll succeed unless we quit.”
And Vietnam has arrived in that it’s open to US companies, just like the other “good commies” in China. The “ideology of freedom” = capitalism, not democracy.
Well, Ed, if you consider that the US declared war on Japan and Germany in December 1941, and that the Germans surrendered in May 1945 and the Japanese in August 1945, that would mean our actual time AT WAR was roughly 3-1/2 years. Bush declared war on Iraq in March 2003 and it is now November 2006. I’d say we’re probably past the point you’re looking for, i.e., this war is longer than our participation in WWII. Disgusting, right? Especially considering the state of Iraq and the U.S. military after the latest 3-1/2 years compared to our situation in August 1945.
The Chief True Believer chanted in Vietnam “Chief among lessons for the war in Iraq, he said, was that “we’ll succeed unless we quit”. Pathetic propaganda, but it is worse to believe it. If US troops were still in Vietnam, the war of liberation from the foreign colonizers would still be ongoing. The valley on the Central Coast where I spent a year was retaken by the communists two years later in 1972 once US troops were gone. Pacification, Vietnamization, Death and Maiming were all for nothing.
The ideologues in the White House and Pentagon will never grasp that they are foreign devils to the Iraqis. The only way to colonize Iraq is with mass force supplied by the Draft and paid with exorbitant taxes with torture and death for generations to come.
“We’ll succeed unless we quit.” Bush seems to be obsessed with not being seen as a quitter, as a guy who did get the job done. It is the subtext of so many of his remarks on Iraq. It also reminds me of of something Santayana said. “A fanatic is one who redoubles his effort even after losing sight of his goal”
God help us.
There is a lot of context for the current relation between Vietnam and the “Western” Industrialized countries.
Most of it is green and has dollar signs on it.
Cheap Asian labor is pouring money into the fat cats’ pockets. Bush is right at home in the modern Vietnam.
George Bush is the Democratic Party’s greatest asset. He will continue to be invaluable throughout the rest of his Presidency. The American people regard him as irrelevant now, and all his efforts to self-inflate will just make them loathe him all the more.
The real deciders, all 300,000,000 of them have made their decision.
On the subject of VN. Bush was recently asked if he saw any comparisons between VN and Iraq and responded that this time around there is more support at home for the troops. I personally never witnessed anything approaching disrespect for guys who served in VN, and so see no difference whatsoever in that regard. I don’t want to stir up bad memories for anyone, but the evidence seems to be that “spitting on veterans” was an urban legend spread by the rightwing, just as allegations of people being “pro-terrorist” is today.
I would bet that Kerry’s testimony discussed here recently was the major poke in the eye to vets, that and inadequate assistance from the VA to those needing medical and social services in re-entering civilian life.
Am I mistaken?
See, what Bush is saying is that Iraq, like Vietnam, will eventually be reduced, or to his way of thinking, elevated, by history, to proverbial “comma” status. I wonder if that in order to accomodate the notion that what has happened in Vietnam — that they eventually came around to our way of doing business — and therefore was a worthy goal to push forward, can be reconciled conversly, with the fact that our actions, in both Vietnam and Iraq, can just as easily be seen to have been a hinderence to that forward march to freedom. That in his rush to justify, or at least elevate both conflicts to the high status of a “comma”, the Decider has missed the fact that that same “comma” may indeed be a pause that can last, say ten, twenty, or thirty years.
“the evidence seems to be that “spitting on veterans” was an urban legend”
I was spat on a by a Momma Cass type in a flowered mumu in March or April, 1968 while standing in front of the terminal (believe there was just one then) at San Francisco International waiting for a bus to take me to Travis Air Force Base. I was a captain and was in uniform. She walked up to me, spit on my chest and stood there looking at me. I asked her if she did that often. She said yes. I asked her if she were in college. She said she was. I asked her if the “girls” had a duty roster for spitting on soldiers. She said yes. I went back into the terminal and had a drink.
I claim that this story is true. pl
cynic librarian wrote:
>>>>>>We can dump on the poor man forever; the jokes are too cruel and often demonize a fellow whose main fault is mediocrity and a hopeless mishmash of despair and megalomania. Hannah Arendt’s study of evil of banality has become somewhat a cliche (sadly), but it applies to a nation and a leader whose most telling character trait is mumbling vacuous platitudes. (Yes, I know, that’s a tautology, but it’s true nonetheless; it’s like saying empty to the nth degree.<<<<< Well written post cynic...but its the FAMILY Bush that is the central issue here. And their insidious, longterm, and dark, negative influence over American national security policy. I don't know about spitting on soliders. It never happened to me, or any other Nam vet I knew or know. But I don't doubt PL for a second. However, if anyone, anyone, thinks that the vast, vast, vast majority, were anything other than 100% supporative of the boys (their sons, brothers, nephews,friends) returning from Nam...they don't know anything about the American people. Anything different is the myth. And it is pushed far and wide. And myth is a nice way of putting it. And there is an agenda behind why it is pushed.
and given the way things have gone since 1968, I would not be surprised if the Momma Cass type you described voted for Bush in the last 2 elections and was now driving around in an SUV with a “Jesus Is Coming” bumper sticker and a “Support the Troops” yellow ribbon….
It finally occurs to me that maybe officers were of special interest to people like that. pl
Thanks. That’s the first direct confirmation I ever heard. I’m deeply saddened and ashamed to hear it happened. It’s beyond my comprehension.
Maybe so…but it still sickens me to hear about it. I’m sorry you had to endure that.
I believe that the decider has a new set of circumstances on his hands in Iraq. Things appear to have shifted.
An ally is an ally is an ally. We have helped out Iran a lot in the Middle East. Without expending a drop of blood or treasure, Iran has been rid of a great menace to its nation…by the United States.
And with a real prospect of American troops leaving Iraq, apparently Iran is quietly saying, “Not so fast.”
After all, if the US leaves Iraq, and the Iraqi Shiites need help…who are they going to turn to?
Running around torturing and murdering people with death squads ain’t the same thing as taking on an organized Sunni armed force.
Colonel Lang, if we leave, will the Shiites need help?
If that is a serious question, the Iranians will take care of them. pl
Interesting irony to Bush “we quit” thesis.
The U.S. could not sustain the war effort in Vietnam partly because so many of his generation were boozin’, snortin’ and smokin’ instead of volunteering to serve in Vietnam.
‘specially in the “Champagne Unit” of the Texas Air Guard.
Or has he forgotten?
Or, worse, he feels guilty and wants to make up for it… by sacrificing the lives of other young men?
My head aches….
Question in response to Ken Larson’s “hit the brick wall” Pentagon insight:
What do a you think a Brick Wall Moment will look like, when it comes? How similar to or different from those of Britain and France at the Suez Canal, circa 1956?
This is an invitation to speculation, because I would like to know the composition of those bricks, the thickness of that wall, and how close we are to it. The brake lines don’t seem to be connected and we’re going way too fast to jump out onto the pavement.
I was a peace activist back in those days, PL. I went around to neighborhoods asking people to sign petitions to end the war. At one house, the conversation got heated. The old man who answered the door started screaming at me. He threatened me with a gun. I was a 15 year old girl.
Should I make more of this than you make of some woman spitting on you? Should I carry with me for the rest of my life the idea that anyone who supported the war was a crazed homicidal maniac?
I was trying (in my 15-year old school girl way) to do the best I could, within my very limited means, to end what I thought was a horrific war – a waste of human flesh on both sides. All I knew was, I didn’t want to see any of my classmates get sent over to the meat grinder. I wanted all the guys to come home.
Tensions were high on both sides. Lots of people called me a traitor. Maybe lots of people called you a baby-killer. I know I didn’t think that about returning vets (hell, I married one), but I guess it’s possible there were people who did. Did you think people like me were traitors?
Well, someday we’ll all get over Vietnam. Or we’ll all just finally die, and that will be the end of it.
Too bad all Bush “learned” was that if we’d stayed longer, and killed more people on both sides, it would have ended up “better.” Or something.
My (Welsh-identified though technically American) wife told me the other day she saw a (Korean era?) vet alone in the local diner the other day and picked up his tab, seven bucks or some such, and he cried because it was so unexpected. She did it to honor my own father, who was gunnery officer on HMS Sheffield against the heavy cruiser Hipper in the Battle of the Barents Sea up towards Murmansk.
My apologies for the incident in San Francisco.
Bush’s plan, whatever the reason or psychological motivation, is to keep us fighting in Iraq right through election day 2008.
He and the Republican Party
together will say, “We stayed the course unto this
very day. Are the Democrats
man enough to keep staying
the course? Or are they a
bunch of quitters?” That
will be the Bush/Republican
theme for election 2008. And being just as stuck in
Iraq in 2008 as now will be
very helpful to the kind of
campaign the Republicans plan to run. The plan is to
force upon the Democrats the
Hobson’s choice of either going down in history as the
cowards who lost Iraq, or
staying the course long enough that the Iraq war becomes “one more Democrat
war” for the Republicans to
run against in 2012.
How can the Democrats avoid stepping into that
neatly layed trap? They are
just going to grab the bull
by the horns of the dilemna,
and run a totally Cut And Run candidate on a Cut And
Run platform, with a Cut and
Run Vice Presidential candidate as well. And the
slogan will have to be: Cut
and Run and Take the Consequences. Put that starkly, the American Voters
will be given a chance to
choose between Cut and Run
or Stay the Course. That makes the stark choice into
the Voters’ stark choice.
If the Voters agree to support Cut and Run, then the Voters will have agreed
to own the consequences.
When caucus-time comes in
my state, I plan to vote for
the cuttest and runningest
candidate in the contest.
For us, listening to our president may be somewhat akin to what ancient Greeks may have felt when they journeyed to the Delphic Oracle and tried to decipher the Pythia’s words.
Some recent research ties the spacy behavior of the Pythia to inhalation of ethylene. Which causes one to wonder: any of that in Texas?
Oh, and I never got spat upon, but I was cussed out and called a baby killer a few times.
As I re-read and think about cynic librarian’s comment, it occurs to me that if we do a national cultural self-analysis, we
should give ourselves more
than two models to consider
as guidepaths to a way forward. I would like to see us at least consider the
model perfected here over
untold thousands of years
by the Indian Nations, whose
approach to land management,
among other things, made this continent the garden spot which our First Settler
ancestors (or predecessors),
found here. That model was
time-tested, and could have
something to offer us. Perhaps more and better than
Athens or Sparta.
Right after I got back from VN, while still in unifom, I walked by the Avalon Ballroom early on a warm San Franciscan night, and a group of hipsters sitting on the front steps gave me the evil eye. I stopped, and then they stopped, and in that second before things got really ugly I reached into my jacket pocket real slow. And then I whipped out my mime camera and took their picture — it reduced them all to laughing hyenas. Then I walked on down the street without saying a word.
Could someone tell me how long a foreign country is going to be permitted to control the United States Government?
For those of you who do not know who Chris Bowers is, Chris Bowers predicted the result of the last election and helped mightily to produce it. Karl Rove didn’t and couldn’t.
It was a horrendous war, but then, all wars are horrendous. In this case there must be some reason why millions of Vietnamese chose to leave the country when the the NLF/VC took over.
No, dear lady, we (my boys and I) would not have thought you a traitor. We would have thought it was cute, a 15 year old girl circulating petitions would not have struck us as treason, the opposite actually, even if we might have disagreed with you about the issue. Besides, leaving aside the age issue, none of them had seem an American woman for so long that the last thing they would have wanted was to be ugly to one. On the other hand, those who marched in the streets of America carrying the enemy’s flags and chanting that they wanted the NLF to win were another matter. My men, and I, did not consider them to be pacifists at all. pl
I recall being ordered not to wear uniform to work on “demonstration days” to avoid “inflaming and provoking” the protesters.
Having Harman on the Intelligence committee merely hands America’s intelligence product to Israel.
When working on a defence project that involved an Israeli component, I watched an Israeli Engineer innocently ask for the schematics of the IFF we used (same as US). Fortunately the project manager overheard the request and queried as to why this device had any relationship at all with the systems they were providing. He retreated blabbering gibberish and didn’t try again (He disappeared back to Israel shortly after). I was subsequently told that such activities were a regular occurence and that the State Department hated the Israelis guts for this, but could do little about it for political reasons.
During Gulf War One, when the Israelis threatened to attack Iraq themselves, I wondered what would have happened if our engineer had handed over those blueprints.
I say this as a prelude to my point.
Israel and AIPAC will not allow us to leave Iraq. If we leave, the U.S. economy will go south very quickly. Do not expect the Democrats push too hard for leaving either.
Don’t look at me, I’m an American working for a Czech company that sells IT to DARPA. We have a fellow from Hanoi in the company whose family came to the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic to pay with their labor for the weapons the Czechs were selling N Vietnam to fight us. He’s gone back now and set up a satellite office in Ho Chih Minh City (which everyone including him calls Saigon) where they work on the simpler coding projects. He and the other Vietnamese I’ve known here, all from the North, tell me that the government there is a joke now; all the young people want to go into business and the Communist Party is having trouble keeping its memebership up. It’s certainly not a liberal government but a kind of senilocracy, you dress it in its old war uniforms and humor it now and again but basically ignore it.
Then again Walrus, you sound like an AIPAC poster child for how “the Left” blames everything on “the Zionist conspiracy.”
The Israelis are ruthless bastards who have their backs against the wall, or think they do, which just confirms them in their ruthlessness. So they try to grab our military secrets and do other hardcore stuff, as would any other country in their situation who could get away with it. I doubt very much they could ‘crash the US economy,’ especially since even after all their liberalization (which has created great class differences among Israeli Jews where none had hitherto existed) they are pretty much dependent on the US to put the dime in. Right now they benefit from an odd situation in US politics where a small number of very wealthy right-wing Jews cashes in on the blind pro-Israel sentiment of my parents’ generation and the improbable backing of right-wing Christians to get US support for some pretty damn irresponsible Israeli policies. This is not a stable situation, it will not last, they do not control the world (or even the US Jewish community) and they will not come all hook nosed and suit-wearing after your lovely batik’ed granola-eating blonde daughters.
Like you, I hope the AIPAC ascendency will not last. I’m not worried about nice Jewish boys chasing any daughters, I have jewish roots.
The AIPAC ascendency, to the extent that it really exists, is built on a pretty flimsy base. The Israelis have a much broader range of debate on Palestinian issues than there is in the States; the hard hawks ascendency there is based mostly over despair that there is any reasonable way out of the mess. Some days I’m afraid this is true, but I don’t think that there’s an unreasonable way out, either. The US and Israel just don’t have the power and certainly not the will to perform the Biblical level of butchery required. If AIPAC has so much power in the US, maybe they can get the Americans to set up Long Island as a Jewish state to take in the refugees when the dam finally breaks…Oops, nope, AIPAC would lose the US fundie backing right there.
The current Zionist hawk coalition are some very strange bedfellows indeed, and strange bedfellows tend to end up in messy divorces.