History, as Marx famously said (by way of paraphrasing Hegel), repeats itself -- "the first time as tragedy, the second as farce."
A catchy concept, to say the least. And while there's definitely something to it, it's also true that sometimes history does not repeat itself. Take American wars in Japan, the Koreas, Vietnam and Iraq. President Bush, addressing the Veterans of Foreign Wars, recently made a case -- a flawed case -- for a kind of core continuity linking these disparate conflicts. It's not that he didn't admit there are many differences among them ("There are many differences" among them, he said). But he mostly argued that American involvement over time across the Far East had ushered in post-war peace and prosperity, and that this demonstrated "a precedent for the hard and necessary work we're doing" in Iraq.
Sheesh. How do you equate total victory in Japan with bloody stalemate in Korea with congressionally mandated defeat in Vietnam ... and Iraq? Of course, it was the invocation of Vietnam -- the president offered a cautionary tale against withdrawal from Iraq by pointing to the ghastly fate of millions of South Vietnamese and other U.S. allies on our abandonment of them in 1975 -- that triggered media distress, with the liberal-elite-complex going dyspeptic over the implication that its beloved antiwar movement was culpable in the humanitarian disaster visited on anti-communists in Southeast Asia.
This is the point at which, as a good conservative, I should declare that this assessment of Vietnam is long overdue. And it is (although why the White House speechwriters brought in a quotation from Graham Greene -- a Reagan-hating, Castro-admiring, Kim Philby-defending leftist -- I'll never know). But that doesn't mean the Southeast Asian analogy -- basically, we can't let the Iraqi people down as we did the South Vietnamese -- is right.
Why? Well, for starters, South Vietnamese didn't kill American troops, didn't booby-trap buildings and towns, didn't turn temples into armed camps, didn't teach their young to throw rocks at GIs. To my knowledge, when training South Vietnamese army and police, American advisers didn't require body armor (not to mention armed U.S. guards) to ensure their survival. And South Vietnamese leaders weren't -- while Americans were fighting on South Vietnam's behalf -- eagerly courting American enemies, as, for example, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki seems to do every week with junkets to Iran and Syria. Where next, North Korea?