Historians have accused US President George W. Bush of twisting history by comparing a hasty US withdrawal from Iraq to the bloody wars in East Asia following the US pullout from Vietnam.
"That's nonsense. It's a distortion," historian Robert Dallek told the Los Angeles Times on Thursday, August 23.
"We've been in Iraq longer than we fought in World War II," he said.
He contended that the disaster in Iraq "is the consequence of going in, not getting out."
Bush warned on Wednesday, August 22, that a hasty US withdrawal from Iraq would trigger a bloodbath like the one in Southeast Asia after the US defeat and retreat from Vietnam in 1973.
"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,'" he told a group of cheering war veterans in Kansas City, Missouri.
Bush also likened nation-building and military operations in Iraq to democracy-fostering efforts in Japan and the decision to defend South Korea, respectively.
He quickly swallowed earlier criticism of Iraqi Premier Nour el-Maliki's government.
"Prime Minister Maliki's a good guy, good man, with a difficult job, and I support him."
But experts accused Bush of misinterpreting history to serve his own political agenda.
"My understanding of the history of the Vietnam war and the lessons of that differs rather dramatically from Bush's," said Robert Hathaway, an Asian expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, told Agence France-Presse.
He gainsaid Bush's claim that the US withdrawal from Vietnam had caused the collapse of the South in 1975.
Hathaway contended that the south collapsed because its people and army simply did not care enough about the US-installed government to fight in its defense.
"So one of the lessons, at least for me, is the American tragedy in Vietnam is that military force by an outside power -- a power that many people in Vietnam viewed as an occupying force -- was not sufficient to create the political conditions for genuinely popular government in South Vietnam nor the political will to fight for that government," he said.
"Another lesson of Vietnam is that combination of great power and good intentions is not necessarily sufficient for America to impose its will on others."
Without a UN mandate, Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq to "liberate" its people from the Saddam Hussein regime.
Since then, the country has plunged into an abyss of overlapping civil conflicts that have divided its rival religious and ethnic communities, and left tens of thousands of civilians dead.
Retired US Brigadier General John Johns said Bush was "cherry-picking" history to support his case for staying the course in Iraq.
"What I learned in Vietnam is that US forces could not conduct a counterinsurgency operation," said Johns, an expert on counter-insurgency who served in Vietnam.
"The longer we stay there, the worse it's going to get."
Steven Simon of the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations, agreed.
"[Bush] emphasized the violence in the wake of American withdrawal from Vietnam. But this happened because the United States left too late, not too early," he said.
He refuted Bush's claim that the US withdrawal from Vietnam was to blame for the rise of Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
"It was the expansion of the war that opened the door to Pol Pot and the genocide of the Khmer Rouge. The longer you stay the worse it gets."
Dallek, the historian, accused Bush of twisting history to keep US troops in Iraq.
"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?"
Simons rejected Bush's claim that the US withdrawal from Vietnam was to blame for the rise of Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
"It was the expansion of the war that opened the door to Pol Pot and the genocide of the Khmer Rouge. The longer you stay the worse it gets," he said.
David C. Hendrickson, a specialist on the history of American foreign policy at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, agreed.
"The Khmer Rouge would never have come to power in the absence of the war in Vietnam — this dark force arose out of the circumstances of the war, was in a deep sense created by the war," he told The New York Times.
About 1.7 million Cambodians died during the Pol Pot-led Khmer Rouge's reign of terror from 1975 to 1979.
"The same thing has happened in the Middle East today. Foreign occupation of Iraq has created far more terrorists than it has deterred."
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