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More historians dismiss Bush's Vietnam analogy

... "This was history written by speechwriters without regard to history," said military analyst Anthony Cordesman. "And I think most military historians will find it painful ... because in basic historical terms the president misstated what happened in Vietnam."

Indeed, the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam did not create a domino effect of spreading communism, as was feared. Instead Vietnam went to war against two neighboring communist states, Cambodia and China. Now Vietnam and its two neighbors have embraced some free-trade principles and are trading partners with the U.S.

Presidents often turn to history as a source of comfort in times of war or domestic calamity, and Bush is said to be a serious reader of historical works.

While there still is no national consensus about the lessons of Vietnam, the fault lines that war created continue to shape American politics. But few at the time argued that the threat of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia justified keeping U.S. forces in Vietnam.

Cordesman noted that human tragedies similar to those that occurred in the aftermath of U.S. involvement in Vietnam already have taken place in Iraq.

"We are already talking about a country where the impact of our invasion has driven 2 million people out of the country, will likely drive out 2 million more, has reduced 8 million people to dire poverty, has killed 100,000 people and wounded 100,000 more," he said. "One sits sort of in awe at the lack of historical comparability."

It also struck some historians as odd that the president would try to use a divisive issue like Vietnam to rally the nation behind his policy in Iraq. "If we get into a Vietnam argument, the country is divided, but if you are going to try sell this concept that the blood is on the American people's hands because we left and were weak-kneed in Asia, that is a very tenuous and inane historical argument," said historian Douglas Brinkley.

Brinkley, who wrote a flattering book on Kerry during the 2004 campaign and edited the diaries of President Ronald Reagan, said Reagan was careful to rarely talk about Vietnam because of the passions it inspired.

Brinkley also has written a biography of President Dwight Eisenhower, and found fault with Bush's comparing the current war to the Korean conflict.

"We had a clear objective in Korea, to stop the aggressor," Brinkley said. "It is when we got expansionary in the mission that we ultimately had to withdraw. Eisenhower pulled us out of Korea. This notion that withdrawal is dishonorable is just ludicrous."

The president also likened himself to Harry Truman and his prosecution of the end of World War II and the start of the Korean War. But Bush largely is acting alone in Iraq, while Truman oversaw the beginning of multilateral containment of the Soviet bloc by supporting alliances ranging from the United Nations to NATO to the International Monetary Fund.

And while Bush might have tried to use history to make his point Wednesday, there was at least some risk of causing additional friction today.

Hathaway said Bush's depiction of Japan would likely "cause considerable discomfort it not outright unhappiness" there, particularly given Japan's extraordinary efforts to support the U.S. effort in Iraq.

"And now to find themselves to held up as an analogy to the war in Iraq will have a grating effect on many in Japan," Hathaway said....
Read entire article at Chicago Tribune