“Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left,” Mr. Bush said. “Whatever your position in that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like ‘boat people,’ ‘re-education camps’ and ‘killing fields.”‘
But that’s a dangerous road to go down, as historians are sure to point out, because whatever mistakes the U.S. made in getting out of Vietnam, they pale in comparison to the ones the country made going in. As Robert Dallek told the Los Angeles Times:
“It just boggles my mind, the distortions I feel are perpetrated here by the president,” he said in a telephone interview.
“We were in Vietnam for 10 years. We dropped more bombs on Vietnam than we did in all of World War II in every theater. We lost 58,700 American lives, the second-greatest loss of lives in a foreign conflict. And we couldn’t work our will,” he said.
“What is Bush suggesting? That we didn’t fight hard enough, stay long enough? That’s nonsense. It’s a distortion,” he continued. “We’ve been in Iraq longer than we fought in World War II. It’s a disaster, and this is a political attempt to lay the blame for the disaster on his opponents. But the disaster is the consequence of going in, not getting out.”
Bush also called Nouri al-Maliki “a good guy, a good man with a difficult job, and I support him.”–an apparent effort to walk back from yesterday’s comments distancing himself from the Iraqi prime minister.
UPDATE: Full text here.
UPDATE2: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman (and presidential contender) Joe Biden has this reaction to the President’s speech:
President Bush today attempted to draw an analogy to Vietnam, but in fact it’s the President’s policies that are pushing us toward another Saigon moment – with helicopters fleeing the roof of our embassy – which he says he wants to avoid.