Opinion Focus

Eugene Robinson
Washington Post Columnist
Tuesday, September 4, 2007; 1:00 PM

Washington Post opinion columnist Eugene Robinson was online Tuesday, Aug. 21 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss his recent columns and the latest news.

Latest Column: Good Morning, Vietnam! (Post, Sept. 4)| Discussion Group: Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood

The transcript follows.

Archive: Eugene Robinson discussion transcripts


Eugene Robinson: Hi, everyone. The day after Labor Day always seems like the real beginning of the year to me: the presidential campaign is about to get serious, the Petraeus report on Iraq is being pre-spun by all sides, Congress is back in town (for better or worse). I have a feeling that the September "showdown" over Iraq might end up being anticlimactic -- I still can't count enough votes on the Hill to force the president to change course. But I've been wrong before...


Santa Cruz, Calif.: Thanks for your column today. The parallels between Iraq and Vietnam are striking to me, not so much in the details on the ground but in the political dynamics here at home. In both cases we went to war on the basis of lies, and in both, cowardly politicians were unable or unwilling to acknowledge their errors. Instead, then and now, we continued to pour money and lives down a rat hole, for no good purpose. The only difference I can see is that Johnson, flawed as he was, agonized over the war. Bush, deep in his bubble, goes mountain biking and sleeps untroubled by the mayhem he has unleashed.

Eugene Robinson: I still find it hard to imagine why George Bush, in attempting to sell his Iraq policy, actually would invite comparisons to Vietnam. One other big difference between Vietnam and Iraq is scale -- Vietnam was a much bigger war, Iraq has much bigger stakes.


Fairfax, Va.: We don't often get the chance to see a propaganda surge as it is unfolding especially because, as someone once said, "the revolution will not be televised." This time however, Bush's rollout of Petraeus' "findings" on the surge (apparently before anybody else has received them) in close proximity to his thrilling drive-by visit to Iraq, really puts the propaganda aspect in full relief. So hopefully many will realize what is happening even if there is no one of courage on the airwaves to call propaganda propaganda. I mean, Katie Couric was at Uncle Petraeus' knee nodding along as he spins the miraculous story of how things suddenly are going so well after six years of disaster, and perhaps a few troops might be coming home maybe sometime. Help me out here, are we getting sandbagged again or what?

Eugene Robinson: I don't think everybody can be sandbagged if everybody sees it coming -- but then again, there have been polls showing an uptick in optimism that the war can be "won." The key audience on Capitol Hill seems not to have bought what the White House is selling, at least not yet. Sen. Warner's call for a withdrawal of troops -- even a token withdrawal -- put the administration on notice that Republicans aren't going to stick with the war forever. But there still aren't enough votes for a time-certain withdrawal, I think.


Washington: "Vietnam and Iraq is scale -- Vietnam was a much bigger war, Iraq has much bigger stakes" When we pulled out of Vietnam, 2 million of our allies in Cambodia and Vietnam were slaughtered. Now, 30 years later, the Vietnamese are one of our biggest emerging markets. If we were to pull out of Iraq, it would be a similar outcome of death. I hope the situation in Iraq ends up like our current relations with Vietnam.

Eugene Robinson: Most historians agree that the U.S. bombing of Cambodia won significant popular support for the Khmer Rouge. And of course you recall that it was the communist Vietnamese regime that finally intervened and halted the Khmer Rouge slaughter.


Annapolis, Md.: This latest semi-turnaround of Bush suggesting a possible drawdown because of the success worries me in that he is obviously changing his story so that he can claim "victory" at the end of his tenure. But in the past there were a lot of voters who didn't pay any attention to the facts -- just to what the president and his minions said -- and voted for him and his supporters. Do you think this is a Rove plan to try and win back the legislature? If they can convince enough people that he was right after all, we may never be able to turn around any of the disasters here and abroad this administration has gotten us into.

Eugene Robinson: Certainly the president and his supporters want to convince everyone that they did the right thing in Iraq. In the short term, they just want to get past September and the Petraeus report. The arithmetic suggests it would be hard for the Republicans to win back either house of Congress next year; the Senate is especially hard for them -- of the 34 seats that are up, 22 are currently occupied by Republicans. John Warner already has announced he is retiring, and former Gov. Mark Warner, if he decided to run, could take that seat for the Democrats.


College Park, Md.: Bush says that our hasty retreat from Vietnam created the "boat people" refugee crisis. We have not even withdrawn from Iraq yet, but the refugee crisis that Bush already has created is far worse than what happened as a result of the Vietnam war. What is the Bush administration doing right now to help all of the innocent refugees that he is responsible for?

washingtonpost.com: Marine's Bid to Pierce Refugee Logjam (Post, Sept. 2)

Eugene Robinson: Not nearly enough. For all the talk about the need to stand by our brave allies and supporters in Iraq, only a handful of Iraqis have been allowed to resettle in the United States. The refugee situation really hasn't caught on as a major issue, but it should.


Washington: Why didn't Bush think about Vietnam before he got us into this mess in Iraq? Don't we learn anything from history? Have we ever had success with this sort of military action? Not only does he tell lies to us about what's currently going on ("progress!?") but now he's trying to sell us a story about the past.

Eugene Robinson: That's what I find so stunning. He's trying to tell us that the U.S. should have persisted with the Vietnam War? Does he remember those years, or was that some kind of extended "lost weekend" for the young and wild George Bush?


Baltimore: The comparison between Iraq and Vietnam is not new -- I was noting it years ago, you noted it years ago. Yet the airwaves and op-ed pages still seem to be infested with people who go to any lengths to deny what most of us can see as plain truth. How many times must an opinion-maker be proven just plain wrong before they stop taking up valuable media info space?

Eugene Robinson: Maybe we all should have our work tested by Consumer Reports -- in 2007, Robinson issued this many wrong predictions, mangled this many historical references, employed this many mixed metaphors.


Sewickley, Pa.: I read your column today and then read a piece in Vanity Fair, " Going After Gore" by Evgenia Peretz. I hope every reporter assigned to the presidential campaign reads both pieces. Do you think, Gene, that reporters and the voters will look beyond the superficial in the coming election?

Eugene Robinson: I guess my answer is, compared to what? I think voters and journalists have the sense that the stakes in this election are unusually high and that the issues and the candidates need to be examined in depth. But I think there still will be a lot of people who don't bother to really inform themselves -- and a lot of media outlets who don't give them much help.


Arlington, Va.: What is hard to understand about continuing on in Iraq through Jan. 20, 2009 is that the next president -- Democrat or Republican -- would not want the albatross of the war marring his/her administration. I don't believe that any candidate, except maybe McCain, has made it a tenet to continue the war when he/she enters office.

Eugene Robinson: Not even McCain has said "if elected, I'm going to handle Iraq just like George Bush did" -- that, clearly, isn't going to win votes. The leading Republican candidates, though, all pretty much have said that they would stay in Iraq, and the leading Democrats pretty much have said they would start pulling out. I know that's a gross oversimplification, but I do think there is a difference between the two parties.


Baltimore: Why has all of the liberal media made a big deal about the White House writing the Petraeus report? I understand they fear it will be written in a less-than-truthful way. But what the media fails to stress is that the general will be in front of Congress himself, answering questions. Why must everybody on the left already be looking for ways to demonize Petraeus, a general who across the board is considered top-notch?

Eugene Robinson: I don't think anyone has demonized Petraeus -- quite the contrary, critics of the administration have said they want to hear the unvarnished report direct from the general, rather than have it put through the White House spin machine.

That said, I should point out that Petraeus basically came up with the strategy he now is implementing. When I execute a plan of my own design, I tend to think I'm doing pretty well -- unless the whole thing falls apart.


Washington, DC: Gene, were you around when Petey Greene was The Man? I am just so bummed out about the movie, in which, among other things, Dewey Hughes delivers a moving eulogy at Greene's funeral when the in fact the [censored] so-and-so fired him from WOL and then didn't even so much as send a condolence card to the family after his death. I know movies are entitled to take liberties, but deifying Dewey Hughes should not be one of them.

washingtonpost.com: Left Out of the Picture (Post, Aug. 20)

Eugene Robinson: I missed Petey's real heyday. But I know that a lot of people have problems with the movie's portrayal of some people and events.


McLean, Va.: Closing the Guantanamo prison is now a hot topic on the agenda of politicians, editorial writers and political columnists and commentators. It should be. Closing the prison will not erase the shame of torture and violations of the Geneva Conventions, but it will be a beginning. There is, however, another shame concerning Guantanamo that politicians and political commentators ignore -- that shame is the existence of Guantanamo Bay Naval Base itself. That 45-square-mile facility on Cuban soil is a legacy of American imperialism and colonialism wrest from Cuba while it was occupied by American troops and "legalized" by treaty in 1934 when Cuba was a dependency on the United States in all but name. Guantanamo Bay Naval Base is one of the reasons the peoples of Central and South America have little affection for the United States. As more and more governments in our southern hemisphere become hostile to American interests, should we not reexamine our imperialist policies, beginning with the occupation of Cuban land against the wishes of the Cuban government? How about doing a column on this?

Eugene Robinson: The United States has what amounts to a perpetual lease on Guantanamo Bay, and isn't about to give it up. Years from now, some future U.S. administration and some future Cuban government may work out a deal -- like Britain and China did about Hong Kong.


Eugene Robinson: Thanks, everyone. My time is up -- see you again next week.


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