Behind Bush's Vietnam Revisionism

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Thursday, August 23, 2007; 12:38 PM

President Bush's contentious speech on the recent history of American warfare yesterday was one element of a new White House PR campaign intended to solidify crumbling Republican congressional support for the war in Iraq and put Democrats on the defensive.

Bush's most controversial assertion -- that U.S. troops could have prevailed in Vietnam had they stayed longer -- is a neoconservative fantasy that almost all historians ridicule. But the overall campaign may still work.

Here's the text of the speech. I wrote about it at some length in yesterday's column.

How the Speech Was Made

Maura Reynolds and James Gerstenzang write in the Los Angeles Times: "With just three weeks to go before a crucial progress report on Iraq, the White House has launched a new communications effort to frame the debate by casting the war in historical terms. . . .

"Aides said the president felt it was necessary to revamp his message in the weeks before Army Gen. David H. Petraeus delivers a progress report that Congress mandated.

"White House counselor Ed Gillespie and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove worked with the president on the speech. There was a sense in the White House that the president's rhetoric on Iraq, though consistent, was also becoming somewhat repetitive.

"'The repetition is necessary and by design,' White House communications director Kevin Sullivan said in an interview, adding that the language is usually fresh to every new audience. 'However, the president was aware of wanting to set the table for the upcoming report and the discussion that will follow it in a new way that was both compelling and illustrative. We've done this work before, and it was beneficial to the American people.'"

Reynolds and Gerstenzang quote a "former official who left the White House recently" as saying the president intentionally set out to turn a perceived weakness -- historical comparisons to Vietnam -- into a strength.

"'Vietnam has been wrung around the administration's neck on Iraq for a long time,' he said. 'There are many analogies or comparisons or connections that could cut against the administration's position, but this is a connection that supports the administration's position."

Ewen MacAskill writes in the Guardian: "The speech was aimed primarily at what White House officials privately describe as the 'defeatocrats', the Democratic Congressmen trying to push Mr Bush into an early withdrawal."

Richard Sisk writes in the New York Daily News: "A Republican source said White House strategists, believing anti-war Democrats will liken Iraq to the Vietnam War 'quagmire,' launched a preemptive strike 'to inoculate Bush.'"

But where did they get the idea that we should have stayed longer in Vietnam -- when the prevailing view is that we should have left earlier? (Or never have gone in to begin with?)

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