President Bush Links War in Iraq to Vietnam President Bush reached for historical precedents in his defense of the war in Iraq during a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He likened the war in Iraq to past conflicts in Japan, Korea and Vietnam – saying that ideology was at the core of them all.
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Hear Jeffrey Record, professor of strategy at the U.S. Air Force's Air War College

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President Bush Links War in Iraq to Vietnam

Hear Jeffrey Record, professor of strategy at the U.S. Air Force's Air War College

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/13886260/13886236" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

President Bush reached for historical precedents yesterday in his defense of the war in Iraq, saying the U.S. could draw lessons from the wars it once fought in Asia. To assess the president's comparisons, we've called Jeffrey Record. He is professor of strategy at the U.S. Air Force's Air War College. The views he expresses are his alone. Welcome to the program, Professor Record.

Professor JEFFREY RECORD (Strategy, U.S. Air Force's Air War College): Good to be with you.

YDSTIE: I'd like to start with a brief clip from the president's speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars yesterday. Let's listen.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: There are many differences between the wars we fought in the Far East and the war on terror we're fighting today. But one important similarity is, at their core, they're ideological struggles.

YDSTIE: The president went on to compare militarists in Japan and communists in Korea and Vietnam to al-Qaida and insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Professor Record, is the comparison accurate?

Prof. RECORD: I think, of course, we're dealing with al-Qaida, with a non-state actor, whereas in Japan, Imperial Japan, we were dealing with a major power. Yes, I mean, to a certain extent the communists were, of course, motivated by an ideology, and the Japanese militarists were motivated by a racial ideology that told them that it was their destiny to rule East Asia.

YDSTIE: Also, the President said that United States fought for freedom and democracy in Asia from Japan to Korea to Vietnam, as he says that Americans are fighting for democracy in Iraq. Do you see parallels there?

Prof. RECORD: Well, I think it's important to remember that in Korea and Vietnam we were fighting on behalf of two dictatorships - South Korean dictatorship and then the Vietnamese dictatorship. They were fighting communists and of course we had a common enemy. But to call the South Vietnamese government and the South Korean government in the 1950s and '60s freedom and democracy I think is a bit of a misnomer.

YDSTIE: On Vietnam, President Bush said that at the time there were skeptics who believed that the killing there would end if Americans withdrew, and then he said this to the VFW.

President BUSH: 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, reeducation camps, and killing fields.

YDSTIE: And the President was, of course, suggesting that a similar horror could unfold in Iraq if the US withdraws. Do you think history supports his argument and the current situation in Iraq would be similar to that after we withdrew from Vietnam?

Prof. RECORD: Clearly, after Vietnam with the communist victory, those who had served the South Vietnamese government, and certainly those who had served the United States, were gravely mistreated. They were locked up in reeducation camps and detention centers under very, very unpleasant conditions. I think, you know, no one really knows how this war in Iraq is going to end, but I think it's quite possible that if we were to pull out quickly that there would be an acceleration of ethno-sectarian violence in Iraq and perhaps even some kind of regional war between Sunnis and Shia.

YDSTIE: Is it useful, do you think, to compare the Iraq conflict with these past conflicts?

Prof. RECORD: I'm not persuaded that it really is. The president also spoke quite a lot about the post-war situation in Japan where we had fostered democracy there. And I think that analogy really doesn't apply to Iraq at all. The conditions that we had in Japan in the late 1940s were exceptionally favorable to the kind of social experimentation that we conducted in Japan. And those conditions simply are not present in Iraq.

YDSTIE: Thank you very much.

Prof. RECORD: You're very welcome.

YDSTIE: Jeffrey Record served as assistant province adviser in the Mekong Delta during the Vietnam War. He's the author of "Making War, Thinking History: Munich, Vietnam, and Presidential Uses of Force from Korea to Kosovo."

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