While George W. Bush's many critics and detractors portray him as facing the same dilemma as Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam, Bush himself seems determined to proceed the way Harry Truman did in Korea -- or, as some might put it, as Winston Churchill did after Dunkirk.
Leading Democrats like Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan have been calling for troop pullouts from Iraq starting in four to six months. The Iraq Study Group co-chaired by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, The New York Times tells us, will recommend a "gradual pullback" of troops, direct negotiations with Iran and Syria and pressure on Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians.
But Bush seems unpersuaded. "There's one thing I'm not going to do," he said at last week's NATO summit in Riga, Latvia. "I'm not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete."
In this, Bush has the support of others. Defense Secretary-designate Robert Gates opposes a quick pullout. So does the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Central Command's Gen. John Abizaid.
Retired generals who have criticized Bush testified that we should send more troops into Iraq. Democrats seem disinclined to use their congressional majorities to cut short our mission in Iraq lest they be blamed for the unpleasant consequences many predict.
So maybe the Vietnam analogy will not apply. And it shouldn't, because it's misleading. The communists' Tet offensive was a smashing defeat for them, not us, as outlined in Peter Braestrup's 1977 book "Big Story." Military historian Lewis Sorley has shown how after Tet, Gen. Creighton Abrams produced a strategy that was proving successful -- until Congress prevented the United States from fulfilling its promises of aid against the North Vietnamese offensive in 1975.
In Iraq, our enemies may not be making all the progress they seek, and changes in our military tactics are likely. Many argue for embedding more U.S. troops in Iraqi Army units. Other recommendations may come from the review commissioned -- evidently out of dissatisfaction with current operations -- by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Peter Pace.
Bush, like Truman and Churchill, seems determined not to concede defeat. And remember that for Truman on Korea and for Churchill after Dunkirk, no promising military courses were immediately apparent. Truman, after firing Gen. Douglas MacArthur, had forsaken the threat -- a nuclear attack -- that his successor Dwight Eisenhower deployed to get the communists to agree to a truce.