What's Behind Bush's Vietnam-Iraq Analogy

President Bush's comparison of Iraq to Vietnam yesterday is stirring up a firestorm of scorn among antiwar Democrats such as Sens. Edward Kennedy and John Kerry. But Bush loyalists say that the president's aim was not to court hard-line antiwar legislators but rather to court those who are on the fence about supporting continued funding for the unpopular conflict.

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President Bush's comparison of Iraq to Vietnam yesterday is stirring up a firestorm of scorn among antiwar Democrats such as Sens. Edward Kennedy and John Kerry. But Bush loyalists say that the president's aim was not to court hard-line antiwar legislators but rather to court those who are on the fence about supporting continued funding for the unpopular conflict. White House advisers had been concerned that backing for the war was eroding, and something dramatic had to be done. They came up with the idea of using the Vietnam analogy as a way to rejuvenate the debate and turn it to their favor by warning that a precipitous Vietnam-like withdrawal from Iraq would be a catastrophe for the people in the region and undermine U.S. credibility. It's a risky plan, Republican strategists admit, because so many Americans remember Vietnam as a failure in so many ways. Many historians also disagree with Bush's analysis, arguing that America's involvement in Vietnam made things worse for Southeast Asia and was misguided throughout. Historian Robert Dallek, for example, says the "shadow" of Vietnam hangs over the Iraq war in part because Americans have become convinced that both are "quagmires." But Bush believes that winning the Iraq war is vital and wanted to make the case in a new way, so he agreed to raise the specter of Vietnam.

—Kenneth T. Walsh