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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of September 10 - 16, 2003

Opinion Columns

New war, same message

Commentary by Pat Murphy


In another generation, another Texan in the White House who also was beleaguered by war asserted that failure was no option. He implored Americans to sacrifice resources and young menís lives, to endure: he said he could see a light at the end of a dark tunnel.

But the bitter taste of defeat in Vietnam and repudiation at home is all Lyndon Johnson found. He decided in 1968 to slink into politically blemished retirement.

George W. Bush was 29 years old in 1975 when the United States finally conceded defeat--that 47,393 GI deaths and 153,363 wounded, not to mention tens of billions of dollars in costs, couldnít guarantee triumph in Vietnam.

Now Bush is president and, as Iowa Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, a Vietnam-era Navy jet pilot, said about Iraq:

"This may not be Vietnam, but it sure smells like it."

Similarities between the U.S. operations in Iraq with the Vietnam War are greater than the differences.

Lyndon Johnson was given to swagger as is Bush Jr., who strutted aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln in his "Top Gun" jumpsuit to prematurely proclaim "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq. When Iraqi guerilla attacks on U.S. troops escalated, he responded, "Bring Ďem on," as if Baghdad was the O.K. Corral.

LBJ transformed Vietnam into a major war under false pretenses by using the fictional "attack" on the destroyer USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin to strong-arm Congress into a war resolution. Bush Jr.ís claims that Iraqís weapons of mass destruction were an imminent threat whipsawed Congress into approving the attack on Iraq. No weapons of mass destruction have been found.

Johnson used the specter of countries toppling like dominos under communism to take a stand in Vietnam. Bush Jr. now uses the specter of Iraq as the heart of terrorism as justification since doomsday weapons have been elusive.

LBJ ran up record debt with his "guns and butter" spending on massive military operations in Vietnam as well as Great Society programs. Bush Jr. has frittered away a huge Treasury surplus and driven the nation into at least a $500 billion deficit through enormous tax cuts and now wants $87 billion immediately for operations in Iraq.

Vietnam earned the dark nickname "quagmire." The United States was bogged down during terms of three presidents (John Kennedy, Johnson and Richard Nixon). Bush Jr.ís advisers estimate occupation in Iraq at least five years, perhaps more. Who knows how long in Afghanistan.

Just as Lyndon Johnson rejected possible defeat and hurled men and money at Vietnam, Bush Jr. was unstinting about Iraq in his Sunday televised speech. "(W)e will do what is necessary, we will spend what is necessary, to achieve this essential victory in the war on terror, to promote freedom and to make our own nation more secure."

The U.S. didnít convert Vietnam into a democracy. Can Bush Jr. be any more successful in Iraq?

 

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