The White House announced this week that it “would like to see a lengthy U.S. troop presence in Iraq like the one in South Korea,” where U.S. troops have been stationed for 50 years. Defense Secretary Robert Gates endorsed the “Korea model” on Thursday, and Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, who oversees daily operations in Iraq, called it a “great idea.”
Such enthusiasm for a protracted U.S. presence modeled after Korea is grimly ironic. Back in 1964, when “the war in Vietnam was only a small dark cloud on the very distant horizon,” President Lyndon Johnson privately told National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy that “getting into another Korea” was the very thing he feared:
I just stayed awake last night thinking of this thing, and the more that I think of it I don’t know what in the hell, it looks like to me that we’re getting into another Korea. It just worries the hell out of me. I don’t see what we can ever hope to get out of there with once we’re committed. I believe the Chinese Communists are coming into it. I don’t think that we can fight them 10,000 miles away from home and ever get anywhere in that area. I don’t think it’s worth fighting for and I don’t think we can get out. And it’s just the biggest damn mess that I ever saw.
PBS’ Bill Moyers recently highlighted this conversation between Johnson and Bundy in a feature called Listening to History. Watch it:
As Moyers noted, “That was May 1964. Two hundred and sixty Americans had been killed in Vietnam by then. Eleven years and two presidents later, when U.S. forces pulled out, 58,209 Americans had died, and an estimated 3 million Vietnamese.”