June 29, 2005
Last night I poured myself a double scotch before watching the President’s speech. As it turned out, I needed it.
As I noted in an earlier column, I’m an old fart. Five more years and I will qualify for both Social Security and Medicare – if they’re still around. The trouble with getting old is almost everyday is another déjà vu experience. It seems the human race suffers from a nearly flat learning curve, because we keep repeating past mistakes with alarming frequency and enthusiasm.
Here’s what I mean. I took Bush’s speech last night and compared it to the speeches of two former presidents, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. The speeches were, like last nights', given at times when Americans were increasingly questioning the reasoning and logic behind the war in Vietnam.
The Selfless-Sacrifice Gambit:
Bush (6/28/05): Our mission in Iraq is clear: we're helping Iraqis build a free nation that is an ally in the war on terror. We're advancing freedom in the broader Middle East. We are removing a source of violence and instability and laying the foundation of peace for our children and our grandchildren.
Johnson (1965): We fight (in Vietnam) because we must fight if we are to live in a world where every country can shape its own destiny, and only in such a world will our own freedom be finally secure.
The Threat-to-America Gambit
Bush (6/28/05): The only way our enemies can succeed is if we forget the lessons of September the 11th, if we abandon the Iraqi people to men like Zarqawi and if we yield the future of the Middle East to men like bin Laden. For the sake of our nation's security, this will not happen on my watch. We have more work to do, and there will be tough moments that test America's resolve.
Nixon (1969): Our defeat and humiliation in South Vietnam without question would promote recklessness in the councils of those great powers who have not yet abandoned their goals of world conquest. This would spark violence wherever our commitments help maintain the peace -- in the Middle East, in Berlin, eventually even in the Western Hemisphere.
The I-Listen-To-Military-Experts Gambit
Bush (6/28/05): Some Americans ask me, If completing the mission is so important, why don't you send more troops? If our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them.
Johnson (1968): On many occasions I have told the American people that we would send to Vietnam those forces that are required to accomplish our mission there. So, with that as our guide, we have previously authorized a force level of approximately 525,000.
The They-Are-Animals Gambit
Bush (6/28/05): The terrorists ,,,, are waging a campaign of murder and destruction. And there is no limit to the innocent lives they are willing to take. We see the nature of the enemy in terrorists who exploded car bombs along a busy shopping street in Baghdad, including one outside a mosque. We see the nature of the enemy in terrorists who sent a suicide bomber to a teaching hospital in Mosul. We see the nature of the enemy in terrorists who behead civilian hostages and broadcast their atrocities for the world to see.
Johnson (1965): And it is a war of unparalleled brutality. Simple farmers are the targets of assassination and kidnapping. Women and children are strangled in the night because their men are loyal to the government. And helpless villagers are ravaged by sneak attacks. Large-scale raids are conducted on towns, and terror strikes in the heart of cities.
The Gift-of-Freedom Gambit
Bush (6/28/05): America's mission in Iraq is to defeat an enemy and give strength to a friend -- a free, representative government that is an ally in the war on terror and a beacon of hope in a part of the world that is desperate for reform.
Johnson (1965): Our objective is the independence of South Viet-Nam, and its freedom from attack. We want nothing for ourselves-only that the people of South Viet-Nam be allowed to guide their own country in their own way.
The Vietnamization/Iraqization Gambit
Bush (6/28/05): Today, Iraq has more than 160,000 security forces trained and equipped for a variety of missions. Iraqi forces have fought bravely, helping to capture terrorists and insurgents…
Johnson (1968): … the Government of South Vietnam started the drafting of 19-year-olds on March 1st. On May 1st, the Government will begin the drafting of 18-year-olds. Last month, 10,000 men volunteered for military service--that was two and a half times the number of volunteers during the same month last year. Since the middle of January, more than 48,000 South Vietnamese have joined the armed forces--and nearly half of them volunteered to do so.
The We-Are-Making-Substantial-Progress Gambit
Bush (6/28/05): …. we have continued our efforts to equip and train Iraqi security forces. We've made gains in both the number and quality of those forces. Today, Iraq has more than 160,000 security forces trained and equipped for a variety of missions. And the best way to complete the mission is to help Iraqis build a free nation that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself.
Johnson (1968): Our presence there has always rested on this basic belief: The main burden of preserving their freedom must be carried out by them--by the South Vietnamese themselves. South Vietnam supports armed forces tonight of almost 700,000 men--and I call your attention to the fact that this is the equivalent of more than 10 million in our own population. Its people maintain their firm determination to be free of domination by the North. There has been substantial progress…
Nixon (1969): Or we can persist in our search for a just peace through a negotiated settlement if possible, or through continued implementation of our plan for Vietnamization…-- a plan in which we will withdraw all of our forces from Vietnam …. as the South Vietnamese become strong enough to defend their own freedom.
The Light-At-The-End-Of-The-Tunnel Gambit
Bush: (6/28/05): Our strategy can be summed up this way: As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.
Nixon (1969): As South Vietnamese forces become stronger, the rate of American withdrawal can become greater.
The Don’t-Lose-Your-Nerve-Now Gambit
Bush (6/28/05): The work in Iraq is difficult and it is dangerous. Like most Americans, I see the images of violence and bloodshed. Every picture is horrifying, and the suffering is real. Amid all this violence, I know Americans ask the question: Is the sacrifice worth it? It is worth it. And it is vital to the future security of our country.
Johnson (1965): The war is dirty and brutal and difficult. And some 400 young men, born into an America that is bursting with opportunity and promise, have ended their lives on Viet-Nam’s steaming soil.
Nixon (1970): This week I will have to sign 83 letters to mothers, fathers, wives and loved ones of men who have given their lives for America in Vietnam….There is nothing I want more than to see the day come when I do not have to write any of those letters. I want to end the war to save the lives of those brave young men in Vietnam. But I want to end it in a way which will increase the chance that their younger brothers and their sons will not have to fight in some future Vietnam someplace in the world.
The Giant-Mistake Gambit
Bush (6/28/05): I recognize that Americans want our troops to come home as quickly as possible. So do I. Some contend that we should set a deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces. Let me explain why that would be a serious mistake. Setting an artificial timetable would send the wrong message… to the enemy, who would know that all they have to do is to wait us out.
Nixon (1969): An announcement of a fixed timetable for our withdrawal would completely remove any incentive for the enemy to negotiate an agreement. They would simply wait until our forces had withdrawn and then move in.
The We-Must-Win Gambit
Bush (6/28/05): And we fight today because terrorists want to attack our country and kill our citizens, and Iraq is where they are making their stand. So we'll fight them there, we'll fight them across the world, and we will stay in the fight until the fight is won.
Johnson (1965): We will not be defeated. We will not grow tired. We will not withdraw, either openly or under the cloak of a meaningless agreement.
Nixon (1969): It is not the easy way. It is the right way. It is a plan which will end the war and serve the cause of peace -- not just in Vietnam but in the Pacific and in the world.
Here’s the flaw in reasoning all three of these guys failed to see. To prevail in fighting against an indigenous insurgency we must win. The insurgents have a far lower hurdle to clear. All they must do is not lose.