THE only similarity between Vietnam and Iraq is that in both cases the United States got itself involved in another country's problems without understanding what they really were or how its intervention might affect them. Beyond that there are no lessons from Vietnam relevant to Iraq. Yet on Wednesday, in the first of two major speeches about the Iraq situation, President Bush tried to justify his policies and intentions there by reference to Vietnam.

A serious complaint made against Mr Bush has been that he lacks any deep historical perspective, so in a sense it is encouraging to find, even at this late stage, that he is trying to draw lessons from the past. Unfortunately, however, Wednesday's speech showed that he, or whoever does his research, tries to bend the past to fit the present.

Thus Cambodia's “killing fields” were attributed to US withdrawal from Vietnam whereas their principal cause was America's bombing of North Vietnamese supply lines which brought down Cambodia's government and made possible the Khmer Rouge's brutal intervention. Mr Bush also invoked the role of the United States in building stable democracies in South Korea and Japan as examples of what might be achieved with Iraq in time. But such comparisons are misleading: South Korea had been attacked by the forces of North Korea and China which were repulsed by a UN force led by the United States; Japan was a defeated nation which retained its unity under its Emperor during American's seven years of occupation.


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