Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Iraq and Vietnam: Selling the Stab-in-the-Back Myth

(Cartoon by John Sheriffius)

Bush's recent speech comparing Iraq to Vietnam justifiably garnered a great deal of attention. Most commentators tackled one or both of the two glaring issues — how inaccurate Bush's analogy was, and the question of why he made it. Here's the video of the speech and the transcript.

How Wrong was Bush?

Bush's erroneous, outrageous revisionism received the first wave of reaction. Froomkin delivered a great survey of reactions in three columns last week, "The Analogy Quagmire," "Behind Bush's Vietnam Revisionism," and "The Lost Year."

The Los Angeles Times obtained two on-target reactions (highlighted by Froomkin):

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, criticized Bush's speech, saying the president "continues to play the American people for fools."

"The only relevant analogy of Vietnam to Iraq is this: In Iraq, just as we did in Vietnam, we are clinging to a central government that does not and will not enjoy the support of the people," he said. "Unless the president acts on that lesson from history and works toward a federal solution in Iraq, there is no prospect that when we leave, we will leave anything stable behind.

"In fact, the president's policies are pushing us toward another Saigon moment -- with helicopters fleeing the roof of our embassy -- which he says he wants to avoid.

"Al Qaeda in Iraq didn't exist before we invaded. It is a Bush fulfilling prophecy," he added.

Historian Robert Dallek, who has written about the comparisons of Iraq to Vietnam, accused Bush of twisting history. "It just boggles my mind, the distortions I feel are perpetrated here by the president," he said in a telephone interview.

"We were in Vietnam for 10 years. We dropped more bombs on Vietnam than we did in all of World War II in every theater. We lost 58,700 American lives, the second-greatest loss of lives in a foreign conflict. And we couldn't work our will," he said.

"What is Bush suggesting? That we didn't fight hard enough, stay long enough? That's nonsense. It's a distortion," he continued. "We've been in Iraq longer than we fought in World War II. It's a disaster, and this is a political attempt to lay the blame for the disaster on his opponents. But the disaster is the consequence of going in, not getting out."

Senator John Kerry, who actually served in Vietnam, made a statement that received plenty of coverage:

“Invoking the tragedy of Vietnam to defend the failed policy in Iraq is as irresponsible as it is ignorant of the realities of both of those wars,” Senator Kerry said. “Half of the soldiers whose names are on the Vietnam Memorial Wall died after the politicians knew our strategy would not work. The lesson is to change the strategy not just to change the rhetoric. We want democracy in Iraq, but Iraqis must want it as much as we do. Our brave soldiers can’t bring democracy to Iraq if Iraq’s leaders are unable or unwilling themselves to make the compromises that democracy requires. No American soldier should be sacrificed because Iraqi politicians refuse to resolve their sectarian and political differences.

“It is unfortunate that President Bush would want to invoke a false comparison of Vietnam to Iraq, but not surprising that he would oversimplify the differences and overlook the tragic similarities. As in Vietnam, we engaged militarily in Iraq based on official deception. As in Vietnam, more American soldiers are being sent to fight and die in a civil war we can’t stop and an insurgency we can’t bomb into submission. If the President wants to heed the lessons of Vietnam, he should change course and change course now.”

Crooks and Liars has the video of Republican David Gergen's reaction on CNN:

[Bush has] tried all along to say this is not Vietnam. By invoking Vietnam he raised the automatic question, well, if you've learned so much from history, Mr. President, how did you ever get us involved in another quagmire? Why didn't you learn up front about the perils of Vietnam and what we faced there?...

But here's the other point, that if you look at Vietnam today, you have to say that Vietnam at the end, after 30 years, has actually become quite a driving country. It's a very strong economy. So there are those who say, yes, when we pull back there were bloodbaths in the immediate aftermath, but after that the Vietnamese started putting their country together. Is that not what we want Iraq to do over the long term?...

The other issue and why it's dangerous territory for him to go into Vietnam and the Vietnam analogy is reason we lost Vietnam in part was because we had no strategy. And the problem we've got now in Iraq, what is the strategy for victory? If the strategy for victory is let our troops give the Maliki government enough time to get everything solved, and the Maliki government is going nowhere, as everybody now admits, you know, what strategy are we facing? What strategy do we have to win in Iraq? It's not clear we have a winning strategy in Iraq. And that's what cost us Vietnam, and that's why we eventually withdrew under humiliating circumstances."

The White House was proud of this speech, and sent out extensive excerpts in advance. Before its delivery, Josh Marshall (who has a doctorate in American history) observed:

According to advance reports, President Bush will tomorrow invoke the specter of Vietnam in defense of his failed Iraq policy.

But isn't this quite possibly the worst argument for his Iraq policy?

Going forty years on, it is not too much to say that virtually none of the predicted negative repercussions of our departure from Vietnam ever came to pass.

Asia didn't go Communist. Our Asian allies didn't abandon us. Rather, the Vietnamese began to fall out with her Communist allies. With the Cold War over, in strategic terms at least, it's almost hard to remember what the whole fight was about. If anything, the clearest lesson of Vietnam would seem to be that there can be a vast hue and cry about the catastrophic effects of disengagement from a failed policy and it can turn out that none of them are true.

Even more interesting is another argument President Bush is poised to make: namely, that Vietnam is more than just an analogy. He will argue that the terrorist threat we face today is in some measure the result of our withdrawal from Vietnam, as it emboldened the terrorists to attack us.

Rick Perlstein demolished both Bush's Vietnam and Cambodia analogies. Steve Benen examined how, as with Bush's Vietnam analogy, Bush's Korea analogy was accurate, but not in the way Bush intended, how Bush perversely distorted the arguments of the historian he quoted but did not name, and how the Bush administration, for all its rhetoric, may be giving up on the whole democracy thing.

Frank James and Greg Mitchell were among the many who questioned Bush's invocation of Graham Greene's The Quiet American. Hilzoy touched on it in her superlative piece here (and offered a fun counter-analogy contest here), while Digby delved into the depth of Bush's extremity and Driftglass quoted the late Steve Gilliard.

Bush's analogy is all the more remarkable because as many commentators noted and Jon Stewart shows, Bush has vehemently rejected Vietnam comparisons in the past. As historian Allan Lichtman puts it, Bush's speech "is not revisionist history. It is fantasy history." Bush and the movement that supports him learned the wrong lessons from Vietnam and stubbornly insist on repeating its most disastrous mistakes.

Why Did Bush Deliver That Speech?

(Cartoon by conservative Michael Ramirez on 2/19/07, as previously featured in Rightwing Cartoon Watch.)

So Bush's analogies were spectacularly, even offensively wrong as well as dangerous. Why did he make them? I think there are three broad reasons. One is that the Bush administration has rarely truly been challenged on its abuses of reason and rhetoric, and they just don't care. It sounded good at the time, so they went with it. They think they define reality. (The digs against The Quiet American and unnamed reporters were also characteristic anti-intellectualism by Bush.) Another is that they are true believers; they actually think their distorted view of history is the truth. The third reason, related to the previous two, is that Bush is stalling for time, trying to hang his historically disastrous ineptitude and mendacity in Iraq on the Democrats. He is once again seeking to divide the country, save his own ass and that of his party by vilely pushing another Dolchstosslegende, the stab-in-the-back myth. ("And we would have fostered democracy in the Middle East, too, if not for you Defeatocrat kids and your damn hippie dog!")

On L.A. NPR show Left, Right and Center (on Friday, 8/24/07) conservative Tony Blankley suggested that two "myths" existed on Vietnam. Basically, he claimed that liberals view Vietnam's grand lesson as not entering into a quagmire, whereas conservatives view the lesson as, essentially, the stab-in-the-back — America could have "won" if not for liberals and the press eroding public support. Blankley then waggishly suggested that Bush offered his Vietnam analogy because the number of people that believe the stab-in-the-back story (Blankley posited 45% of the country) outnumber those who approve of Bush; Bush did it to raise his poll numbers. I'd love to see actual poll numbers on the matter, but I highly doubt it's anywhere close to 45% (all the readers participating in a Washington Post online discussion with reporter Peter Baker were outraged by Bush's analogy). Meanwhile, Ariana Huffington rightly challenged Blankley for pretending that both narratives were equally valid and there was no objective reality to the Vietnam War.

Regardless of the actual numbers, conservatives do exist who believe, or at least promote, exactly this sort of revisionism (and apparently have never seen The Fog of War). This attitude is already on display for the 2008 presidential race. Consider Rudy Giuliani's recent piece in Foreign Affairs magazine (mentioned in the Digby post above). Almost certainly ghost-written, the piece is unvarnished Norman Podhoretz, Giuliani's foreign policy advisor, one of the fathers (literally) of the neocon movement, and one of several neocons insisting we must now bomb Iran. Giuliani/Podhoretz urges:

America must remember one of the lessons of the Vietnam War. Then, as now, we fought a war with the wrong strategy for several years. And then, as now, we corrected course and began to show real progress. Many historians today believe that by about 1972 we and our South Vietnamese partners had succeeded in defeating the Vietcong insurgency and in setting South Vietnam on a path to political self-sufficiency. But America then withdrew its support, allowing the communist North to conquer the South. The consequences were dire, and not only in Vietnam: numerous deaths in places such as the killing fields of Cambodia, a newly energized and expansionist Soviet Union, and a weaker America. The consequences of abandoning Iraq would be worse.

This is of course, completely wrong in almost every respect, with the Cambodia charge particularly outrageous. Podhoretz almost certainly believes it, and Giuliani at least believes it will sell. (Giuliani has also outdone himself in demonizing his opponents with more abusive rhetoric.) But it's not just Podhoretz, Giuliani and Bush. After Bush delivered his speech, Digby exclaimed:

Holy shit. I didn't hear the whole speech, just read the excerpts and the saw the cable coverage. Bush didn't really evoke The Quiet American did he? Setting aside the fact that he almost assuredly hasn't read it, unless he's admitting that the US involvement in Iraq was a dangerously naive and arrogant undertaking, it wouldn't exactly bolster his case.

Who's writing his speeches these days, Jonah Goldberg?

Prescient, as always! While Goldberg didn't write the speech himself, he heartily approved:

The mainstream media and a lot of liberal-leaning analysts seem to think it's politically foolish or reckless for Bush to compare Vietnam to Iraq because they have one very specific narrative in mind when it comes to that war: America shouldn't have gotten in, couldn't have won, and then lost. What they have long failed to grasp is that's not the moral of the story in the hearts of millions of Americans who believe that we could have won if wanted to and it was a disaster for American prestige and honor that we lost (whether we should have gone in is a murkier question for many, I think). This is a point the Democrats fail to grasp: being on the side of surrender in a war is popular enough during the war, but if you succeed lots of Americans will later get buyer's remorse and feel like it was a mistake and the next generation will see things very differently than their anti-war activist parents. Karl Rove made this point in his exit-interview with Gigot, I think, and he's right. Pulling out of Vietnam was an enormous short term victory for the Democrats and a long term curse.

Leaving aside that it was two Republican presidents, Nixon and Ford, who oversaw our withdraw from Vietnam, Goldberg is expertly debunked by Barbara O'Brien (Maha):

I agree with Goldberg that there are “millions of Americans who believe that we could have won if wanted to and it was a disaster for American prestige and honor that we lost.” In a nation of more than 300 million you can find several million people who believe just about anything. However, I doubt that remorse over what happened to southeast Asians flickered through all that many wingnut hearts. It was, as Goldberg said, all about “prestige and honor”…

He fails to understand that millions of Americans in the early 1970s wanted us to stay in Vietnam, and these are the millions who kept alive the “we could have won had we stayed” notion. It wasn’t “buyer’s remorse,” because minds didn’t change. Somewhere in America there may be a handful of people who opposed the Vietnam war at the time but came to regret ending it, but I’ve never met such a person. The hawks, on the other hand, nursed their bitterness and shame, stubbornly refusing to notice that leaving Vietnam had no bad effects on the United States. Which, IMO, amounted to big honking empirical proof that what happened to South Vietnam was not a vital interest of the United States, and we shouldn’t have sent troops there to begin with.

What Really Happened in America is that once we were out of Vietnam the whole nation dropped the subject like a hot potato.

The stab-in-the back myth holds infinite appeal for conservatives. As Digby and others have observed, conservatives believe that conservatism can never fail, it can only be failed. That's why so many Bush backers such as Goldberg, Peggy Noonan and many neocons have since tried to claim, ridiculously, that monumental failure George W. Bush isn't a "true" conservative (as I've discussed elsewhere, while he's not a Goldwater or fiscal conservative, he's absolutely a conservative, merely a far right authoritarian one). Similarly, conservatives believe that conservative policies cannot fail, they can only be failed. The stab-in-the-back plays perfectly into this. Add to this the traditional conservative addiction for demonizing someone, an evil Other, whether it be foul communists, nefarious terrorists, or those America-hating liberals. Consider the traditional conservative outlook that the poor are poor because of a lack of character (it's their fault), while the rich and powerful deserve their station without question. All of it amounts to a mindset that is profoundly unreflective and opposed to introspection, that always finds fault with someone or something else. (The religious faith of authoritarian conservatives also dovetails with this.) The conservative conceit is that the Republican party believes in personal responsibility, and while this may be true of some of the rank and file, for at least 40 years it hasn't been true of most big Republican players. Blaming others for their own faults is one of their defining characteristics.

Why is all this important? Because these people will never stop. The current administration and their backers are the Nixon and Reagan gang all over again (literally, in some cases). Even the less revisionist conservatives seem haunted by Vietnam and driven in dangerous directions by it. During the first Gulf War, President George H.W. Bush remarkably exclaimed, "By God, we've kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all." The current crew and their intellectual brethren on the right wing blogs clamor for reductive thinking. This black and white, we're good-they're bad, simplistic mindset leads to bad policies and disastrous decisions. In her fantastic post "The Power of (Right Wing) Myth," Barbara O'Brien examines the right wing hunger for reducing every conflict to simplistic caricatures of Churchill, Chamberlain, and Hitler:

In the rightie mind, any attempt to avoid war is “appeasement.” In his new book A Tragic Legacy, Glenn Greenwald writes (p. 177) that when Ronald Reagan signed the INF treaty with the Soviet Union in 1988, rightie editorialists everywhere evoked Neville Chamberlain and accused Reagan of “appeasement.” Earlier, in 1984, Newt Gingrich scorned Reagan’s rapprochement with Gorbachev as “the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolph Hitler met with Chamberlain in 1938 at Munich.”

Got that? All “enemies” are Hitler (whatever you think of Gorbachev, he’s hardly Hitler). So much as meeting with “enemies” is Chamberlain and Hitler at Munich. So how do we deal with nations whose interests don’t harmonize with ours? Rightie mythos leaves us with no option but war.

Poor reasoning leads to poor policy. The stab-in-the-back myth in particular is not merely more political bullshit to deploy after the latest screw-up that inevitably comes with a corrupt, inept administration. The Vietnam edition of the stab-in-the-back myth significantly contributed to our invasion of Iraq in the first place.

Infallible Imperialism

The Boston Globe provides a nice, quick overview on Vietnam revisionism, foreign policy and the Bushies, and highlights statements from Dick Cheney and neocon and bomb-Iran advocate Joshua Muravchik (a member of the far right American Enterprise Institute (AEI)). Meanwhile, "An Unfinished War," chapter one of George Packer's excellent book The Assassin's Gate, focuses on the neocons and the formation of their worldview. One of the key players Packer profiles is Robert Kagan, co-founder of the infamous Project for a New American Century with William Kristol, his frequent collaborator and co-author. (Frederick Kagan, Robert's brother, also works at AEI and has been publicly credited as the author of Bush's current "surge" strategy in Iraq.) Packer describes Robert Kagan's sense of history:

The son of a Yale professor of Greek history, Kagan is about the same age as I, but we learned the opposite lesson from the historical moment of our early years. After Vietnam, I (and everyone I knew) feared American overreach; Kagan (and the new generation of conservatives) feared American drift. "When I was in college in the late seventies, I remember all of us thinking that those hippie antiwar guys who came before us were a little ridiculous," Kagan said when we met in Washington in early 2004. "That somehow wasn't the way to be. I came of age really after Vietnam. The seventies were my formative experience in the broadest sense, because then it was all — at least as far as I saw — American weakness, leading to these catastrophes: Iran, Afghanistan, Nicaragua. Just the weakness and the embarrassment of Jimmy Carter."


Kagan might be more sophisticated than Goldberg or Podhoretz/Giuliani (or Ron Dreher), but he shares the same basic outlook:

The end of the Cold War, he argued, was precisely the moment not to withdraw but to extend. America shouldn't mourn the loss of balance of power but instead use its unrivaled power all around the world to pursue its interests and its values — which almost always go together. No corner of the earth is too distant or obscure to be allowed to fester dangerously or be deprived of the benevolent effects of American hegemony, namely democracy and a stable peace. Seeking to revive the spirit of Reagan, Kagan reached farther back to Theodore Roosevelt and "the idea that the American people should take a hand in shaping mankind's destiny, that playing such a role accords honor, and that the right to such honor must be earned." For Kagan, the extension of democracy around the world was as much about America's national destiny as it was about doing good things for unhappy people in foreign countries. The values might be universal, but only one country could secure them. Kagan was expressing a kind of nationalism, not so different in ambition from the British nationalism of Kipling's white man's burden (without the racial baggage), the French mission civilisatrice (without the religious baggage) and the antique Pax Romana (without an actual empire).

The strain of national messianism is as alien to the hard-boiled realism of Nixon, Kissinger and the first Bush as it is to the Wilsonian utopianism of liberals who believe in international law. Though they supported many of the same interventions in the nineties, Kagan dismissed these liberals as "a shrinking camp of internationalists with nothing but airy 'humanitarianism' on their side." Unlike them, he was a nationalist, and he had no faith that the Clinton administration would carry out the call to greatness. "The present generation of Democratic leaders simply does not have the stomach for world leadership," Kagan wrote. The only hope lay in the Republicans. His mission was to purge the party of realism and restore the higher aims of the great ex-president who was disappearing into the sunset of senescence out on the coast.

[pp. 20-21]

At its heart, this is an imperialist mindset, however nobly intentioned — but then, Alden Pyle embodies that in The Quiet American. Glenn Greenwald has examined how widespread and accepted imperialism is in the "serious" foreign policy community. However, the neocon version is often even more militant, bloodthirsty and callous. Johann Hari, on the National Review cruise, interviewed Norman Podhoretz, who delivered (emphasis mine):

…the standard-issue Wolfowitz line about how, after September 11, the United States had to introduce democracy to the Middle East in order to change the political culture that produced the mass murderers. For somebody who declares democracy to be his goal, he is remarkably blasé about the fact that 80 percent of Iraqis want U.S. troops to leave their country, according to the latest polls. "I don't much care," he says, batting the question away. He goes on to insist that "nobody was tortured in Abu Ghraib or Guantánamo" and that Bush is "a hero." He is, like most people on this cruise, certain the administration will attack Iran.

"I keep telling people we are in World War Four," Podhoretz declares. He fumes at Buckley, George Will, and the other apostate conservatives who refuse to see sense. He again declares victory. And for a moment, here in the Mexican breeze, it is as though, thousands of miles away, Baghdad is not bleeding.

(Digby delves into Podhoretz in more depth here.) Podhoretz' aggressive denial of reality is bad enough, but this is essentially the Vietnam-era attitude "We had to destroy the village in order to save it" (touched on by Hilzoy here, as linked previously above). This is the mindset that cares little for the actual wishes of the "liberated," but obsesses that they should show gratitude. Bush in particular has been consistently fixated on this, and was frustrated and mystified last year when his clearly-deserved accolades did not pour in:

"President Bush made clear in a private meeting this week that he was concerned about the lack of progress in Iraq and frustrated that the new Iraqi government -- and the Iraqi people -- had not shown greater public support for the American mission, participants in the meeting said Tuesday. . . .

"[T]he president expressed frustration that Iraqis had not come to appreciate the sacrifices the United States had made in Iraq, and was puzzled as to how a recent anti-American rally in support of Hezbollah in Baghdad could draw such a large crowd."

That's one large, tough bubble he's in. How can he not understand why he and America are so disliked, or learning of it, not make an effort to understand it? Bush's imperialist attitude and personal, arrogant narcissism coheres perfectly with the stab-in-the-back myth — every setback is someone else failing him, someone else's mistake. Currently, blaming Maliki and the relatively powerless Iraqi government is the fashion. If only those ungrateful Iraqis would get their act together, everything would be fine. Just as previously, in his mind, the intelligence officers Bush's administration browbeat, misrepresented and ignored failed him, the state department he rebuffed failed him, the generals failed him, the press failed him, and those damn Democrats failed him, somehow even when they were out of power and Bush and his gang called every shot exactly as they wanted. But Bush believes, or wants to believe, that history will not fail him, for he has been Righteous. How dangerous is it when people with such power believe they can do no wrong? How dreadful is it when they view Vietnam not as a cautionary tale, but a battle that must be re-fought?

Prior to invading Iraq, the neocons and other key players in the Bush administration — Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Bush himself — did have minor differences in focus. Regime change in Iraq was probably most ardently pushed by Wolfowitz prior to 9/11. However, all of them shared a hawkish if not pugnacious approach. And as many commentators have noted over time, almost all of them lacked any type of military service. Almost all of them subscribed to some version of Vietnam revisionism, at least to the degree that they fervently believed they could do things better and wanted the chance to prove it. They thought they were smarter than even Kennedy and Johnson's "best and brightest"; they were infallible. As isolated crackpots they could do little real harm, but now they were systematically spread throughout the government. As Packer writes:

..After the disputed election, when the younger Bush's national security team began to take shape, one found sprinkled throughout the government the names of neoconservatives who knew one another from years in and out of power, and whose ideas for the post-Cold War world had come into focus in the nineties: Wolfowitz, Feith, Wurmser, Shulsky, Stephen Cambone, and others at the Pentagon; Wolfowitz's former aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, John Hannah, and William J. Lutti in Vice President Cheney's office; Stephen Hadly, Elliott Abrams, and Zalmay Khalilzad on the National Security Council; John Bolton at State; Perle, Kenneth Adelman, and R. James Woolsey on the advisory Defense Policy Board. Their patron was Cheney and the new secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld was a hard-edged old Cold Warrior, an aggressive nationalist. Cheney, Rumsfeld's protégé, colleague, and pal through several administrations, came from the same stock.

[pp. 37-38]

The superb Frontline episode "The Dark Side" focuses on how this simpatico group worked their will across departments. Packer continues:

Many of these officials had served at the middle levels under Reagan, embracing his hawkish idealism. The fall of communism and the emergence of the United States as the world's only superpower had given them a sense of historical victory. They had spent the nineties watching the first Bush administration return to narrow realism and the Clinton administration founder from crisis to crisis, squandering Reagan's triumph. They had made their long march through the think tanks and policy journals, honing their ideas and perfecting their attacks. Now they were coming back to power as insurgents, scornful of the entrenched bureaucracy, the more cautious moderates of their own party (including the new secretary of state, Colin Powell), and the tired, defeated Democrats. They were supremely confidant; all they needed was a mission.

[p. 38]

A conflict Bush rarely invokes is World War I, where many of the major players were eager for war and had absolutely no idea what they were entering. Carrying the shame of Vietnam and the hubris of WWI and countless other conflicts, the Bush administration eagerly, viciously fought against all wise counsel, common sense and empirical data to create the worst foreign policy blunder in American history.

So far.

Where to Now?

Santayana's famous line is that "those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." To the extent that they have studied history, the Bush administration has learned the wrong lessons, defaced and re-written the books, attacked the librarians and other patrons, and burned down the library. Bush, Cheney and others in the administration are so hostile to reason and closed to persuasion it's hard to know where to start. However, debunking bullshit, promoting honest discussion and limiting their power all seem wise.

Debunking bullshit is one of the things the liberal blogosphere does best, and with this Bush speech more historians and journalists spoke out (if not enough, and not always forcefully enough). It's important to get the "first draft" of history right, as well as the second, third and any subsequent drafts. ( Rick Perlstein's fine compilation post "Bright, Shining Lies" is specifically designed to help debunk Bush's Vietnam revisionism.)

The Bush administration has rarely presented the situation in Iraq honestly or with any complexity. In that void, it's all the more important to inject candor and maturity into the national discourse, as Barbara O'Brien does here:

Vietnam and Iraq are similar in that they present the same paradox — that victory could equal defeat. By that I mean using enough military force to utterly crush the warring factions would amount to throwing away our political objectives. The operative phrase, I believe, is “Pyrrhic victory.” To those who continue to complain that we could have “won” in Vietnam, and could still “win” in Iraq, I say, of course. But this isn’t a game. Get over childish ideas about “victory” and “defeat” and see the bigger picture, for once.

Instead of talking about winning and losing, we should clearly understand what our objectives are in Iraq and then consider how those objectives might be achieved. Military “victory” and “defeat” are abstractions that don’t apply to the reality.

Lastly, everything that can be done to constrain the power of the Bush administration must be done. In February, Dan Froomkin penned "How the press can prevent another Iraq," all the more relevant given "The president's escalating war rhetoric on Iran," as noted by Glenn Greenwald and many others. As James Fallows wrote (also in February), "War with Iran would be a catastrophe that would make us look back fondly on the minor inconvenience of being bogged down in Iraq." Congress has been disappointing in not restraining Bush, specifically on Iran, but they must be pushed to do so, because the stakes are very high and Bush and his administration just do not learn. Anyone who looks at Vietnam, then Iraq, and still says, "I want some more of that — let's double-down in Iran," is a madman and not fit to govern.

(Cartoon by Mike Lukovich)

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

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