Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Response to a Vietnam-Iraq comparison

Posted by Craig Westover | 3:07 PM |  

Smartie at Powerliberal finds this article on Yubanet fascinating less for what it said, then what it doesn't say.

The article, "The Iraq-Vietnam Comparison," uses graphs to make a comparison between the positions of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents on the question of whether each of the respective wars “was a mistake.” The article concludes that during Vietnam, all three groups were in relative agreement that the Vietnam was a mistake. Relative to the Iraq war, there is a wide partisan divide on the question. Smartie observes --
The "independent" view of the war has been ignored in order to make the "partisan divide" point. While Republicans often argue that Democrats are out of step with mainstream opinion or filled with "irrational Bush hatred" or some such thing, as this graph shows Democratic attitudes have tracked fairly closely with those of the non-partisan independents. Indeed it is the stubbornly unchanging Republican views which put them out of the mainstream both with the current electorate and with the historical practicality of their own party, if the Vietnam graph is any indicator.

While many on the modern Right deride anyone who turns against the war as having gone Lefty on them, maybe they need to take a hard look at the data and see who, exactly, is out of touch on this life-or-death issue.
My response:

Smartie --

Once again you let your “irrational Bush hatred” get in the way of your thinking and you miss the chance to make an insightful point by taking the easy way out.
First, let’s dismiss the Vietnam comparison. It doesn’t hold. The “mistake” question did not have the same significance during Vietnam as it does for the Iraq war for two reasons. First, Vietnam was associated with Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat. Kennedy was still a God, and the general feeling was that he would have seen the error of his ways and gotten us out of the war. Republicans had no problem calling the war a mistake -- it was a Democrat war -- and Nixon was doing the “best he could” to get us out with honor.

Democrats had no problem calling the war a mistake -- Johnson was not Kennedy, he was not Northern bred and educated, he was an embarrassment compared to the sophistication and intellectual power of the best and the brightest of Camelot.. The question in the Vietnam war was not was it a mistake, but was it “quagmire?” In the eyes of Democrats it became Nixon’s war.

The “mistake” question takes on much larger significance for Iraq because (although not true) it is perceived by both Republicans and Democrats as an all-Bush war. It’s easy for Democrats to blame it on Bush; it’s hard for Republicans to admit Bush was wrong. A big gap is not a surprise.

Your observation of independents is astute, but you blow the interpretation. You use it to make a trite political point instead of asking what are the consequences of that attitude?

There are many people like myself that have always felt the war in Iraq was a mistake. If that’s the question, “yes” is my answer. It was my answer before we invaded, even assuming, as did Republicans and Democrats alike, that Bush was right in his assumptions. Regime change is not a valid reason to go to war without an overt threat. Democrats didn’t take that route however; they agreed with Bush, best case, or worst case, simply went along because at the time it was patriotic and popular. Regardless, they didn't grab the available moral highground.

But having said the war was a mistake, we are in it now, and we are the good guys. Say what you want about Bush lied, or the war was a mistake, or whatever, the fact is evident -- we put down the terrorist forces and Iraq is a better place than if we pull out before there is a stable government. What the graph portends is the latter is the politically popular course; it does not make the case that it is the strategically proper one.

Your argument should be that Bush is mishandling the war and offer up a candidate that has a victory strategy. At this point, I don’t see that from the Dems. All I see is self-congratulatory stuff like your post, which is gleeful about bashing Bush but hesitant to offer alternatives or accept any part of the blame for rush to judgment.

In that there is a Vietnam parallel. Vietnam protestors took credit for the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam but accepted no responsibility for the millions of civilians killed by communists in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos after the U.S. presence was gone. They took no responsibility for the drowning of thousands of people trying to escape Vietnam on little more than floating futons. But by then, the war protestors were out of college and too busy starting careers to worry about the color of the body count.

Today’s protestors wouldn’t ignore continued killing in Iraq like that -- they’d still blame Bush.