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Historically challenged, Bush fabricates a war
News-Journal Corporation
August 25, 2007

On Aug. 22, 1945 -- just six days after the end of World War II -- a team of French paratroopers dropped into South Vietnam, or Indochina as it was known at the time. The incursion began the first phase of a long war that would embroil and defeat France, then the United States over the next three decades, killing millions along the way.

On Aug. 22, 2007, speaking before the Veterans of Foreign Wars, President Bush rewrote that history. The problem in Indochina wasn't misguided American involvement. It was American withdrawal. "One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam," Bush said, "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.' " With that single sentence, it was as if the two million Vietnamese, hundreds of thousands of Cambodians and 57,000 Americans who died as a result of the American campaign before withdrawal had been an insignificant sideshow to the devastation that followed, especially in Cambodia.

But that devastation had been enabled by the war John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon insisted on fighting -- and, under Nixon, secretly expanding into Cambodia. By the time the secret bombing of Cambodia was done in 1973 (when Congress, not Nixon, halted it), half as much bomb tonnage had fallen on that country as on Japan during all of World War II. A previously stable regime was wrecked by millions of internal refugees while the murderous Khmer Rouge could recruit and massacre to their blood-lust's content.

There's no denying that by the time of America's withdrawal in 1975, Vietnam and Cambodia had become terror zones. But what and who had made them terror zones had as much to do with American policy, most of it misguided, much of it criminal, as with power struggles within Vietnam and Cambodia. That those were also murderous doesn't excuse what fueled and enabled them. Rather, it underscores the depth of American responsibility.

How Bush can turn such lessons into vindication for his argument that American involvement in Iraq should not end seems inexplicable, but not in the context of this administration's history. This is the president who manipulated facts, fears and intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to war in 2003, who manufactured bogus links between Iraq and al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein and 9/11.

The president's imagination isn't at odds only with history. In the last few days Bush managed to distance himself from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki by acknowledging a "certain level of frustration" with him, then calling him "a good guy" the next day and leaving it up to "the Iraqi people" to decide if Maliki should remain prime minister, then approving the release of an intelligence report the day after that discredits the Maliki government's ability to lead Iraq, which conveniently shifts the burden of Iraqi security back to the Americans. In Bush's words, "If we were to abandon the Iraqi people, the terrorists would be emboldened, and use their victory to gain new recruits."

They don't need a victory for that. The American invasion opened their recruiting office. The occupation keeps the office busy. Every day added to the quagmire is a victory for the "terrorists." For Bush, every day gets him closer to handing off a catastrophe of his creation to the next president.

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