Bush invokes Vietnam to defend his policies in Iraq, at least one blogger suffers serious injuries biting his hands attempting not to respond in a scathing undiplomatic undignified manner
President George Bush invoked Vietnam and other historical events in an effort to defend his policies in Iraq. I am going to try and be diplomatic here, but frankly, the man spent the Vietnam War partying while his peers fought and died for America, so this is going to be a challenge. I will be concise and just discuss the logic of some of his key statements and avoid too many digressions. Even more, I will try to give him credit where credit is due, I’m really tired of Bush bashers and would rather remove myself from that crowd, they are doing the country more harm than good.
Well, first Mr Bush says that there is a legitimate debate about the Vietnam war, both about how and why we got into it, and about our withdrawal. True enough. In fact almost anything can be legitimately debated, so it’s not exactly a stretch to say this, but still, got to give the man his props for being willing to debate an issue. Then he followed up with:
“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,’ “
Classic “does not follow” false argument. Or as some would say, “correlation does not equal causation.” Yes, some terrible things happened in Southeast Asia after the US withdrawal. Saying that those were a direct result of the withdrawal or wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t withdrawn is more than a stretch, it’s pure speculation. It ignores the terrible things that happened before we withdrew and it ignores the role America played in setting the stage for some of those terrible things. And especially it ignores the fact that the people who opposed the withdrawal confidently predicted that far worse things would happen if we withdrew from Vietnam.
Mr Bush continues:
“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,”
Well, even if I agree with his idealistic take, Iraq and Afghanistan are so different from our war with and subsequent occupation of Japan that this is a classic “comparing apples to oranges” false argument. Japan was an ethnically unified modern nation state with strong democratic institutions and civil society, a nation that attacked the United States and lost a legal war fought with organized armies under at least the nominal rule of international law and norms. Neither Afghanistan nor Iraq could be described as a modern nation state, and in both cases America invaded and occupied them under the thinnest of legal pretexts. (One might also note that the number of post war casualties in occupied Japan was zero, which makes it hard to use as an analogy for either current occupation.)
Bush goes on to invoke Korea:
“The defence strategy that refused to hand the South Koreans over to a totalitarian neighbour helped raise up an Asian Tiger that is a model for developing countries across the world, including the Middle East.”
Um, another “apples to oranges” comparison. First one has to ignore the US’s ignominious and undemocratic role in creating a divided Korea in the first place. Second, we did not invade and occupy South Korea, we defended them from invasion by a neighbouring state both during the war and afterwards. Lastly, a point that needs be made, we were protecting a brutal military dictatorship in South Korea, that managed to transform into a democracy without any help from the USA. Some would even argue that it’s high time that we withdrew from South Korea, could we put that on the table for debate?
If this is Bush’s idea of providing historical justification for remaining in Iraq, I am underwhelmed. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that he is either unfamiliar with history or deliberately misusing it to make his case. I can think of better examples for heaven’s sake, the Philippines or Puerto Rico for starters. I can only assume that his examples were chosen because they represented such extremes of both positive and negative, and he is hoping that the typical American will not be able to see how tortured and inaccurate they are as historical analogies. Speaking logically what Bush is mostly doing is called observational selection or “counting the huts and ignoring the misses,” with some slippery slope arguments thrown in or implied.
Looking at the above graph, I would suggest drawing a different lesson from the Vietnam War. Let’s get out now and save thousands of American lives. Yes, bad things are going to happen in the Middle East as the locals settle their scores. It’s too late to prevent that, in fact it’s already happening. Keeping Americans in the crossfire isn’t going to help, and arguably is making it worse. Not only is there nothing shameful in admitting a military campaign has failed and pulling back, it conserves our strength and increases our options.
Even Julius Casar knew that withdrawal is always an option, he invaded England twice and both times realized it was hopeless and withdrew. This doesn’t seem to have hurt his place in history. And no, English barbarians didn’t become emboldened and get on ships and sail to Rome to attack the Coliseum.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is central to illustrating the post and it is not being used for profit. Credit: Lies.com)