Monday, September 10, 2007

George Bush's Cross Eyed History

George Bush's latest assault on logic in defense of his misadventure in Iraq came in a speech to the VFW this week. With a supposedly historical perspective, the president cited analogies with our country's military conflict with Japan and its subsequent reconstruction as a democracy, with our involvement in Korea, and even with the war in Vietnam.

Of course, as he drew his comparison with Korea and Japan, he neglected to point out that we had been attacked by Japan, that the South Koreans had been invaded by North Korea. He neglected to point out that, in the case of Iraq, we were the unprovoked assailants, we were the invaders. The president still chooses to blur this particular fact with oblique and opaque allusions that connect Iraq to the Sept. 11 attacks. This, though he has acknowledged (when pressed) that no connection has ever been proven to exist between Hussein's Iraq and the al Qaeda attacks of 2001.

Perhaps the most galling aspect of Bush's cartoon history of American militarism is his perversion of the facts in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. In the past the president has spoken out of opposing sides of his mouth at the same time: In one breath, praise for trade agreements and WTO membership for Vietnam (for the same regime we spent 50,000 American lives opposing); and in the next, saying our only major mistake in Vietnam was that we "quit too soon."

This week he attained a new low. Bush cites the horrors of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge "killing fields" as the kind of thing we can expect in Iraq if we leave now, as we left Vietnam in the 1970's. He attributes that genocidal catastrophe to those same vaguely defined "forces against freedom" we fought throughout Southeast Asia.

Perhaps there are parallels to be drawn, but not the deluded fables the president would concoct.

Our commander in chief would do well to remember that the Khmer Rouge rose to power in a Cambodia that had tried to remain uninvolved in the Vietnam War, that had found itself in coup induced political chaos, showered in secret bombings and ultimately invaded by U.S. troops. Eventually a puppet dictator fell and Pol Pot came to power and set about a program of "re-education" for the Cambodian people. This supposed education combined ethnic cleansing with ideological fervor to render one of the most devastating genocidal episodes in human history. It was the unified Vietnamese who ultimately challenged the Khmer Rouge, invading and deposing the regime, and unearthing "the killing fields."

Our legacy in the region would be colored by the fact that U.S. Special Forces and the Thai military with our backing would choose to provide support to Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge as they retreated into the hinterlands after being routed by the Vietnamese. We would oppose the new Vietnamese backed regime as they sought representation in the United Nations. We would insist that the Khmer Rouge delegate more legitimately represented the Cambodian people. We saw this as a strategic move against Vietnam as it aligned with the Soviet Union at the time. With our tacit approval our "strategic friends" in China would punish the new Vietnamese regime for its actions in Cambodia with military strikes along their border.

Yes, a thorough reading of history would serve us all well as we consider our calamity in Iraq. We might have learned by now that galvanizing disparate threats into a common enemy and lensing all conflict through ideology only renders our actions blunt, brutal and ultimately regrettable. But the reading our president proposes isn't one that draws such lessons from the past. Rather he offers up ever more simplistic fables and vapid mythology: The stuff wars are made of... they almost always have been.

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