Bush at the VFW Convention
As is not uncommon at such gatherings, Bush began with a recitation of what the administration had done for veterans and veteran organizations. With wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he pledged to give the troops everything they need to fight and win – and give the returning veterans all the help they need to re-integrate into society.
What followed, surprisingly, was a lengthy and not always historically accurate description of America’s 20th century wars in the Pacific. Bush spoke approvingly of the transformations of post-World War II Japan and of South Korea after its 1950-1953 civil war into powerful free market economies and vibrant democratic allies of the U.S. in the great 20th century ideological struggle against communism. Both transformations were made possible by the ideals and the sacrifices of Americans who fought in these two wars, the same ideals and sacrifices on display in today’s Iraq.
The unacknowledged targets of the speech were today’s anti-war Members of Congress and the media. Unnamed doubters and nay-sayers of the 1940s and 1950s who opposed the whole notion of rebuilding and reforming foreign cultures were the vehicle for presidential refutation of those calling for U.S. forces to leave Iraq. Pointedly elaborating on just how wrong the “experts,” pundits, and press were, Bush recalled that prominent Americans said that Japan’s official religion (Shinto) and its imperial tradition were so engrained in the society and so anti-democratic that both would have to be suppressed before democracy could gain even a toe-hold in the political life of Japan. Neither was abolished, and today Japan is a strong ally in the 21st century’s ideological struggle against extremism.
A similar but shorter recitation about Korea followed. At its conclusion, Bush commented that 50 million Asians lived in freedom today because of the sacrifices of veterans, leaving an inference that Korea, like Japan, was a “victory.”
There was no such ambiguity when Bush turned to Vietnam, a war criticized by politicians from both main parties amplified by a defeatist media. He pointed especially to the theme, heard today with regard to Iraq, that the very presence of U.S. forces was part of the problem, not part of the solution. That, he said, was untrue then just as it is untrue today. But in 1972 the U.S. succumbed to that argument and pulled out of Vietnam.
And then came the presidential affirmation of more war, more death, more destruction for Iraqis, for U.S. forces in Iraq, and quite possibly for the U. S. itself: “The price of America’s withdrawal [from Indo-China] was paid by millions of innocent citizens.” And should the U.S. leave Iraq before the job is done, the terrorists will simply attack the U.S. homeland.
It is true that when U.S. forces withdrew from Vietnam and Cambodia, the communist regimes that took over inflicted a horrific price on the peoples of those countries. But what Bush didn’t mention was that the frequent incursions of U.S. forces into Cambodia weakened that government and made it easier for the Khmer Rouge to sweep to power. And lest we forget, it was the communist Vietnamese regimes that threw the Khmer Rouge out of power while the U.S. did nothing.
Bush pledged that for as long as he remained in the White House, the U.S. would not abandon Iraq like the U.S. abandoned Vietnam. He asserted that the surge had changed the dynamics on the ground in Iraq. As proof, Bush claimed that since the beginning of 2007, U.S. forces had killed or captured, on average, 1,500 al-Qaeda and other terrorists every month. Given this momentum, the White House would not do anything to interfere with “success.”
Bush ended by declaring that America’s moral position and political interests – freedom for the Iraqi people and liberty for all men and women in the Middle East – were one and the same and were shared by the Iraqi government headed by Prime Minister al-Maliki, “a good man with a difficult job.” Bush’s problem is he has only 18 months left to “win,” and the shorter the time left, the more insistent and close-minded he is likely to be – witness his criticism of the Iraqi prime minister.
For his part, al-Maliki simply rejoined “We care for our people and our constitution and can find friends elsewhere.”