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January 29, 2007

Bush: "We Won In Vietnam"

I had planned a longer, more reflective post about this, but as Bryan at HotAir is posting about "Heading for the Exits In Iraq," my hand is forced.

One of the most provocative statements Tony Snow made was that President Bush, looking at the bustling capitalism and emulation of America in Saigon (I won't call it by its other name), stated: "We didn't lose in Vietnam. We won."

Thirty years later, of course. (I depart now from his actual statements to relay my own impressions of the statement.) We lost the war, which was really just the battle, but in the bigger war of ideas and systems and institutions, we "won." Vietnam is on its way, the story went, to becoming a pro-American Pacific Tiger. We left Vietnam in ignominius defeat, but, in the long view, we actually won. We did just enough to create the circumstances under which Vietnam would one day prosper and embrace America-style values.

Snow mentioned this anecdote at length, and then later again alluded to our "victory" in Vietnam.

I was struck by this, because it seemed to me -- and I hope I'm not playing the role of clumsy Kremlinologist here -- to suggest that the Bush administration has reduced its definition of "victory" in Iraq to an almost comically-low level. (It would be comical, but for the tragedy.) And that perhaps the Administration now believes that a helicopters-leaving-from-the-embassy-rooftop defeat is all but inevitable, and that their hopes are now pinned on the long view of history -- sure, just like in Vietnam, we'll have "lost," but in the fullness of time, we'll actually win.

I don't say this is necessarily a sell-out position; if defeat is an inevitablility, then it's an inevitablility, and one is left to grasp for straws of hope. A clean win, in the conventional sense, in Iraq is just about almost outside the realm of possibility, barring a nearly miraculous rescue of the situation by the surge, David Petraeus, and the Iraqis themselves. And thus Bush might be now seriously thinking about an alternate definition for "victory." Perhaps Iraq will descend into a truly barbaric maelstrom of civil war, ethnic cleansing, and terrorism, and perhaps, in the near term (10-15 years) the country will be dominated by pro-Iranian mullahs (resisted by Al Qaeda-backed wahhabists), but, having removed a tyrant from power, they'll make their own mistakes, fight their own wars, before ultimately settling on a more decent, peaceful, and America-friendly political model.

And thus vindicating the war, and Bush, in 2037, give or take five years.

Was Tony Snow offering up a trial balloon for a new, and vastly diminished, definition of victory? Was the Symposium the preview of the Administration's Plan B spin for defeat?

Perhaps I'm reading too much into the statement, but he spoke at some length on the "We won Vietnam" notion, and later mentioned it again, all in a speech that (of course) concluded with a long passage about Iraq.

Mickey Kaus wrote about the much less abitious terminology about "victory" Bush employed in the State of the Union:

"It is still within our power to shape the outcome of this battle." Modest! Yes, the President also said "let us... turn events toward victory." But turning things toward victory isn't the same as .. victory. Rhetorically, was Bush setting the stage for a sloppy outcome--with the "surge" only making that outcome a bit better than it otherwise would be? Just asking! ...

It may very well be that Bush views his capacity to "shape" the "victory" in Iraq in even more modest terms than we had previously imagined.

It goes without saying, incidentally, that this argument is self-defeating as spin. If it is true that we cannot really shape the evolution of a country's politics, and that such growth will be largely organic and resist outside efforts at cultivation, then we could have saved 2600 American lives and departed from Iraq a few months after the invasion. (And such an argument, of course, buttresses Democrats' calls for an immediate bug-out -- if we can't really change anything, and we're going to "win" anyway, what exactly are we doing there losing Marines and soldiers to snipers and IEDs?)

While it may not work as spin, it might actually be true that we could lose the war in Iraq and yet, ultimately, see the peaceful, prosperous Muslim nation there we'd always hoped for.

Though, of course, one usually doesn't wait 30 years to find out if a country has won a war or not.

More Background... including some interesting points raised by Andrew Sullivan, here.

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posted by Ace at 02:45 PM

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