Today, during his first visit to Vietnam, President Bush was “asked about the war here over three decades ago and the comparisons to the war in Iraq today.” Bush said there was a comparison: As in Vietnam, “We’ll succeed unless we quit.” Watch it:
Bush’s remarks virtually mirror those made by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. As Bob Woodward detailed in his book State of Denial, Kissinger is a frequent advisor to President Bush and has delivered the message to top administration officials that “victory over the insurgency is the only meaningful exit strategy”:
Kissinger sensed wobbliness everywhere on Iraq, and he increasingly saw it through the prism of the Vietnam War. For Kissinger, the overriding lesson of Vietnam is to stick it out.
In his writing, speeches and private comments, Kissinger claimed that the United States had essentially won the war in 1972, only to lose it because of the weakened resolve of the public and Congress.
In a column in The Washington Post on Aug. 12, 2005, titled “Lessons for an Exit Strategy,” Kissinger wrote, “Victory over the insurgency is the only meaningful exit strategy.”
He delivered the same message directly to Bush, Cheney and Hadley at the White House.
Victory had to be the goal, he told all. Don’t let it happen again. Don’t give an inch, or else the media, the Congress and the American culture of avoiding hardship will walk you back.
The lesson from Vietnam is exactly the opposite of what Bush suggested. In fact, we can succeed by leaving. Bush acknowledged as much, stating Vietnam has show progress in recent years. Vietnam’s recovery demonstrates that a U.S. withdrawal does not doom a country to civil strife. America’s venture in Vietnam failed not because we left too soon, but because we left too late.