"You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."
Those two sentences, spoken by John Kerry last week, tell a lot about the mindset of many -- not all, but many -- Democrats who supported him for president in 2004 and who, as this is written, are looking forward to Democratic victories this week. One thing they tell us is that Kerry's mindset is still back in the Vietnam era.
Today, the statement is literally untrue: No one is "stuck in Iraq" unless he or she volunteers, and the educational and economic levels of our military personnel are higher than those of civilians in the same age cohort. Kerry was evidently thinking back to the late 1960s, when there was a military draft and a college dropout could find himself drafted and "stuck" in Vietnam.
Kerry's explanation for his bizarre refusal to apologize for two days and then his grudging off-camera apology was that he was trying to make a joke about the stupidity of George W. Bush (even though Kerry's grades at Yale were slightly lower than Bush's). But his words were not wholly out of line with previous statements by him and other Democrats characterizing American troops as perpetrators rather than heroes.
There was Kerry's 1971 "Genghis Khan" testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as his December 2005 statement that troops were "terrorizing" women and children. Sen. Dick Durbin likened American service members to Nazi storm troopers and the Khmer Rouge, and Sen. Edward Kennedy suggested that Abu Ghraib under our "new management" was comparable to Saddam Hussein's regime of torture and murder.
Behind all these statements is an unspoken assumption that American service members are incompetent and vicious.
It's unusual in American history for a conflict to be seen by a substantial part of the political class through the lens of an earlier war. Yet many Democrats view Iraq through the lens of Vietnam -- or their version of it.
Now, as then, they want to see American withdrawal even if that means defeat. Yet Iraq is plainly not Vietnam. There were more than 20 times as many American deaths in Vietnam as there have been in Iraq. And withdrawal from Iraq would be vastly more dangerous than withdrawal from Vietnam turned out to be.