Thursday, August 23, 2007

Wildly off in all directions

That's the course George W Bush's mind takes when discussing the dog's breakfast that his administration has made of Iraq.

Bush has become famous for comparing past wars with his mess in the Middle East. Either in speeches, using the military as a political backdrop, or through spokespersons, Bush demonstrates either a complete misunderstanding of the history of his country's past wars or he is intentionally lying to create an atmosphere by which to compare the "errors" or "successes" of past administrations to the imperatives he sees in Iraq.

Let's look at Korea, a situation which Bush mouthpiece Tony Snow made analogous to a future Iraq with a continuing US military presence to provide stability. Except that Bush (and Snow's mouth) didn't expect anyone to actually look at the situation in Korea. In 1950 the United States took wartime control of the armed forces of the Republic of Korea. The US still has that control. The Republic of Korea has no say in the employment of its armed services in the defence of it territory. That comes from the Pentagon. Is this the kind of control Snow was talking about?

Korea may be a bad choice for another reason. The Bush administration has made occasional references to the Korean War as the kind of success they would like to see Iraq become. Perhaps the comparison does have some value, because it was Korea where US military intervention reached a turning point from accomplishing a specific mission to extending it beyond the original mandate.

The Korean War started on 25 June 1950 when North Korea attacked South Korea. The South Korean army collapsed under the pressure of the North Korean attack. US intervention was swift and, after some initial setbacks, a United Nations force under US command, rallied and drove the North Koreans back over the border at the 38th parallel. By 6 October 1950, UN forces led by the US and UK had accomplished the mission of driving the invading North Korean forces out of South Korea. And then, something went off in the minds of both US and British political leaders: They could boot a communist regime out of North Korea and unify the Korean peninsula. In a vote, the UN General Assembly resolved that Korea should be reunified and rehabilitated. The UN Security Council, with no Soviet representative present, approved a resolution allowing the American led UN force to enter North Korea with military forces.

What makes this a crucial moment in US foreign policy is that it took a new view of dealing with regimes the US didn't like. The military option had been placed ahead of any other process. And, as this commenter at TPM Muckraker says:
I think if people want to make the Korean War analogy, they should do it right. Bush sees the Korean War as a symbol of our commitment to fight aggression and lay the groundwork for development and, eventually, democracy, in South Korea. But we had achieved the liberation of South Korea by October 1950, mere months after the war began. We then made the disastrous decision to push into North Korea in an effort to topple the communist government there. That triggered Chinese intervention, and the war developed into a stalemate that dragged on for three more years. The eventual ceasefire returned things essentially to the status quo ante, an outcome we could have achieved at much lower cost had we not chosen to expand the war.

So, yes, the Korean War analogy is quite apt. Just not in the way Bush means it. The decision to invade Iraq in March 2003 looks a lot like the ultimately futile decision to invade North Korea in October 1950.

The Korean War became a quagmire. To this day the number of civilians killed is not really known and it is simply stated as "in the millions".

Yesterday, Bush, who avoided service in Vietnam and failed to complete his service engagement with the National Guard, compared his involvement in Iraq, and the need to remain locked in a quagmire, with the "errors" made in Vietnam. And by "errors" he means the decision to withdraw from Indochina.

Bush's past references to Vietnam fly in the face of his speech yesterday.
In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge began a murderous rule in which hundreds of thousands of Cambodians died by starvation and torture and execution.
Bush has that wrong. The Khmer Rouge came to power after the Nixon administration entered Cambodia created instability and forced the North Vietnamese deeper into league with Pol Pot. It was the botched action of the Nixon administration which led to the killing fields of Cambodia.

The distortions abound in Bush's speech, but one thing rings true. Both Vietnam and Iraq are quagmires and, given Bush's distorted reference to it, he has opened a Pandora's Box which should haunt him. The newspapers went nuts:
Appearing on CNN today after the coverage of the Bush speech, former Reagan adviser and magazine editor David Gergen said, "He may well have stirred up a hornet's nest among historian. 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?'" He added: "It's surprising to me that he would go back to that, and I think he's going to get a lot of criticism." Gergen also pointed out that after 30 years Vietnam "has actually become quite a thriving country." He suggested that, as in that example, there will be some kind of bloodbath when we eventually pull out of Iraq, but perhaps it, too, will eventually prosper. The Washington Post quoted Steven Smith, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations: "The president emphasized the violence in the wake of American withdrawal from Vietnam. But this happened because the United States left too late, not too early. It was the expansion of the war that opened the door to Pol Pot and the genocide of the Khmer Rouge. The longer you stay the worse it gets."
I see the words of Dick Cheney in Bush's speech. Cheney has long harboured a bitter anger at the system which saw Richard Nixon ejected from the presidency. He finds fault in the power of public opinion, particularly where it forced Nixon's hand on Vietnam.

Cheney was making a speech yesterday - through his witless sock puppet.

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