50 More Years in Iraq?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, May 31, 2007; 12:52 PM

The White House, long irritated by the frequent use of Vietnam as a metaphor for Iraq, embraced its own analogy yesterday: South Korea.

There's an undeniable attraction to holding up America's military presence in South Korea as a model for Iraq: Our soldiers stationed there aren't dying in large numbers every month.

But in other ways, the analogy is troubling. And flawed. And dangerous. And telling.

It's troubling because American troops have been in South Korea for more than 50 years -- while polls show the American public wants them out of Iraq within a year.

It's flawed because in South Korea, unlike Iraq, there's something concrete to defend (the border with North Korea); and because Iraq, unlike South Korea, happens to be in a state of violent civil war.

It's dangerous because the specter of a permanent military presence in Iraq is widely considered to be one of the most inflammatory incitements to Iraq's ever-growing anti-American insurgency, and may even be destabilizing to the entire region.

And it's telling because it gives credence to persistent suspicions that establishing a long-term strategic presence in the Middle East was a primary motivation for this misbegotten war in the first place.

The Coverage

Terence Hunt writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush envisions a long-term U.S. troop presence in Iraq similar to the one in South Korea where American forces have helped keep an uneasy peace for more than 50 years, the White House said Wednesday. . . .

"'I think the point he's trying to make is that the situation in Iraq, and indeed, the larger war on terror, are things that are going to take a long time," [White House spokesman Tony] Snow said. "But it is not always going to require an up-front combat presence."

But, Hunt writes: "The comparison with South Korea paints a picture of a lengthy U.S. commitment at a time when Americans have grown weary of the Iraq war and want U.S. troops to start coming home. . . .

"Asked if U.S. forces would be permanently stationed in Iraq, Snow said, 'No, not necessarily.' He said that the prospect of permanent U.S. bases in Iraq were 'not necessarily the case, either.'

"Later, Snow said it was impossible to say if U.S. troops would remain in Iraq for some 50 years, as they have in South Korea. 'I don't know,' he said. 'It is an unanswerable question. But I'm not making that suggestion. . . . The war on terror is a long war.'"

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