Iraq – Not Vietnam at All, But Actually Korea

The story had been has been bubbling under the surface for a few days – two separate reports of a visit a number of Texas-based supporters paid to President Bush recently. The president’s version of the story goes like this – “a bunch of our buddies from Texas” visited the White House and asked him a fawning question, “Man, how come you’re still standing?” He gave them the hero-answer – “I’m inspired by doing this job. I believe strongly in the decisions I have made. I firmly believe that we are responding to this initial challenge of the 21st century in proper fashion.”


The Nelson Report gives a quite different version of the story – some “big money players up from Texas” managed to “get out exactly one question” before Bush went off on “an extended whine, a rant, actually, about [how] no one understands him, the critics are all messed up, if only people would see what he’s doing things would be OK, etc.”


People do see things differently.  The odd thing is, via Think Progress, there seems to be a third version of the story.  Columnist Georgie Anne Geyer in the Dallas Morning News reports that friends of the president from Texas were “shocked recently to find him nearly wild-eyed, thumping himself on the chest three times while he repeated, ‘I am the president!’ He also made it clear he was setting Iraq up so his successor could not get out of ‘our country’s destiny.'”


That’s odd, particularly when coupled with an odd detail in this – he now makes all his friends call him “Mr. President.”  It is not clear that applies to his wife or his parents.

Some might find all this a tad scary.  Others, the crew at Fox News, might find it all heartening – something to do with that authoritarian cult of personality thing they’ve got going over there.


The business may be catching, as we find the Republican senator from South Carolina, getting all defensive and kind of losing it


During a luncheon speech to 100 constituents in Spartanburg, DeMint also took issue with the now widespread belief that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, saying the executed Iraqi dictator had “stockpiles of chemical weapons” that still exist.


DeMint devoted most of his comments to the current immigration debate in the Senate. But he spoke about the war when a woman in the audience stood and asked him how long U.S. troops will remain in Iraq.


“Al-Qaida knows that we’ve got a lot of wimps in Congress,” DeMint said. “I believe a lot of the casualties can be laid at the feet of all the talk in Congress about how we’ve got to get out, we’ve got to cut and run.”


Jon Soltz over at, one of our vets from multiple tours of Iraq, gets ticked off –


Wimps are people like Senator DeMint who don’t want to ask the tough questions or face facts, which is why he’s idiotically clinging to the idea that there were WMD in Iraq.  Any stockpiles of weapons found in Iraq were useless – either inert or rusted and unusable because of their age.  Senator DeMint is living in some sort of twisted fantasy land, where democracy, not failed policy, is responsible for too many American lives lost in Iraq, and where bad intelligence is miraculously valid.  He should click his ruby slippers three times and join us back in the land of reality, or resign from the Senate.


Well, when people feel they are being attacked they do say the oddest things.  You have invested your entire self-image in something that has gone in the weeds, for good reasons that now anyone can see, and when people point to the reality of how it’s just not working out, and actually never will, and actually never could, you naturally lash out.


Or you simply refuse to click your ruby slippers three times and join the rest of us back in the land of reality. You work on other ways of thinking about what went sour, as Reuters reports here


President George W. Bush would like to see a lengthy U.S. troop presence in Iraq like the one in South Korea to provide stability but not in a frontline combat role, the White House said on Wednesday.


The United States has had thousands of U.S. troops in South Korea to guard against a North Korean invasion for 50 years.


Democrats in control of the U.S. Congress have been pressing Bush to agree to a timetable for pulling troops from Iraq, an idea firmly opposed by the president.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said Bush would like to see a U.S. role in Iraq ultimately similar to that in South Korea.


“The Korean model is one in which the United States provides a security presence, but you’ve had the development of a successful democracy in South Korea over a period of years, and, therefore, the United States is there as a force of stability,” Snow told reporters.


Huh? Josh Marshall is not impressed


It is hard not to take this as another example that the White House is seriously out of touch with both history and reality when it comes to Iraq.


Let’s run through a few differences. First, Korea is an ethnically and culturally homogenous state. Iraq, not a culturally or ethnically homogenous state. And needless to say, that has been a point of some real difficulty. Second, Korea a democracy? Well, yes, for about fifteen years. Without going into all the details, South Korea was a military dictatorship for most of the Cold War.


A deeper acquaintance with the last half century of Korean history would suggest that a) a fifty year occupation, b) lack of democracy and c) a hostile neighbor were deeply intertwined. Remove B or C and you probably don’t have A, certainly no A if you lose both B and C.


The more telling dissimilarity is the distinction between frontline troops and troops for stability. At least notionally (and largely this was true) US troops have been in South Korea to ward off an invasion from the North. US troops aren’t in Iraq to ward off any invasion. Invasion from who? Saudi Arabia? Syria?


No, US troops are in Iraq for domestic security, in so many words, to protect it from itself, or to ensure the continued existence of an elected, pro-US government.

That tells you that the US military presence in Iraq will never be as relatively bloodless as the US military presence in Korea since it has no external threat it’s counterbalancing against. In a sense that the US deployment in Korea has never quite been, it is a sustained foreign military occupation.


Well, you don’t have to think of it that way, of course. The idea, though, does have the smell of desperation.


See also Fred Kaplan, rather exasperated – “It’s no news that George W. Bush and his handlers don’t know much about history, but their latest stab at pretending otherwise is among their most ludicrous.”


In fact he does quite believe this –


Let’s set aside for a moment whether the comparison is valid – much more on that to come – and ask why on earth Bush would make it. Huge numbers of U.S. troops have been in South Korea for 57 years. Do Bush and Snow really mean to suggest that U.S. troops will still be stationed in Iraq in the year 2060 and beyond?


Well, yes – maybe. But here’s the deal –


In 1950, the United States beat back North Korea’s invasion of South Korea, became embroiled in a Chinese-assisted guerrilla war, fought the Communists to a stalemate, and, in 1953, after suffering 54,000 combat deaths, negotiated a truce (but not a formal peace). Ever since, American troops – at present, 37,000 of them, stationed at 95 installations across the Korean peninsula – have remained on guard at the world’s most heavily armed border.


In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq, overthrew its regime (which posed a hypothetical threat), and, in the four years since, has kept about 150,000 troops in the country to kill terrorists (who weren’t in Iraq before the war), to train the Iraqi army (which the Bush administration, for still-mysterious reasons, dismantled at the occupation’s outset), and to keep a “low-grade” sectarian civil war (which erupted amid a vacuum of authority) from boiling over.


In the half-century-plus since the Korean armistice of 1953, just 90 U.S. soldiers have been killed in isolated border clashes in Korea. In the mere four years since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003, more than 3,000 American servicemen and women have been killed, and the number rises every day.


To sum up, we intervened in South Korea as a response to an invasion and as part of a broad strategy to contain Communist aggression. We intervened in Iraq as the instigator of an invasion and as part of a broad strategy to expand unilateral American power. We remained in South Korea to protect a solid (if, for many years, authoritarian) government from another border incursion. We are remaining in Iraq to bolster a flimsy government and stave off a violent social implosion.


Other than that, they’re just alike. But Kaplan points out that’s madness –


In no way does one experience, or set of lessons, shed light on the other. In Iraq, no border divides friend from foe; no clear concept defines who is friend and foe. To say that Iraq might follow “a Korean model” – if the word model means anything – is absurd.


Then there is the theater of the absurd, White House spokesman Tony Snow’s daily White House press conference


Q: So you’re not suggesting that U.S. troops would be there for over 50 years in a –


Snow: No, no, I’m not. I don’t know. It is an unanswerable question, but I’m not making that suggestion.


Q: You’re not suggesting that there’s a parallel between the Korean model today and the Iraqi model today, in terms of U.S. force posture?


Snow: No, what I’m saying is you get to a point in the future where you want it to be a purely support role. But no, of course, we’re in active combat …


Q: [W]hen you talk about this Korean model, would that kick in whether things are going poorly after the surge or going well after the surge? I mean, do you have to maintain a stability of some sort?


Snow: … I’m not going to get into any of the details of those sorts of things.


But he does, his tap shoes in flames –


Here is – what the president means by [the Korean model] is that, at some point, you want to get to a situation in which the Iraqis have the capability to go ahead and handle the fundamental matters of security. You have the United States there in … an “over-the-horizon” support role, so that if you need the ability to react quickly to major challenges or crises, you can be there, but the Iraqis are conducting the lion’s share of the business – as we have in South Korea.


But that’s flat-out wrong. Since the 1953 armistice, our troops actually have been on the front lines in South Korea, not “over the horizon.”  They will they begin to shift into a “support” role and redeploy south of Seoul – next year. No one pointed that out.


But then, Kaplan notes, something else is happening here –


There is one way that the two wars are similar: The Korean War in the early 1950s, like the Iraq War today, was deeply unpopular among the American people. (Dwight Eisenhower won the 1952 presidential election partly because he promised to “go to Korea” and end the war – a pledge that he made good on.) Now, whether due to hindsight or forgetfulness, the Korean War doesn’t seem so bad. By likening that war to the present war, Bush and Snow are trying to convince us that, in the future, the Iraq war won’t seem so bad either.


This is the implicit message of all the historical analogies Bush & Co. have palmed off in recent years – that, bad as things might seem, they’re no worse than similar events seemed in the past.


And you can make history be whatever you want – it’s a matter of perspective.


You remember that when the “insurgency” in Iraq first started getting way out of hand, the president his top advisers claimed similar guerrilla groups tried to disrupt the Allied occupation of Germany after World War II.  It was repeated endlessly on the Fox News opinion – it was so sad no one studies history these days. It turned out to be pure crap – there were no long years of our soldiers getting picked off by snipers and Germans hiding in the hedges blowing up jeeps. No one remembered that – no veterans had stories, there were no news clips. They dropped that line.  It was worth a try.


As things dragged on comparisons with the Philippines came next.  That’s now a thriving democracy. See? When people pointed out that took forty years, and we did our share of really nasty stuff, they dropped that line.


Kaplan notes the third historical comparison –


When Iraq’s constitutional convention was mired in conflict, Bush and his top Cabinet members noted that our own forefathers took eight years to get from the ramshackle Articles of Confederation to the Constitution we now cherish (ignoring the vast social, cultural, and political differences between federalist America and contemporary Iraq).


They dropped that too. It was a bit silly.  But still the president is still on that Harry Truman thing.  Truman’s Cold War policy was amazingly unpopular, and now everyone sees he was right all along. So there!  On the other hand Truman came up with a few things the Current Occupant would find just stupid – NATO, the Marshall Plan, the Bretton Woods agreement – because they have to do with working with others in a sort community of nations.  So you don’t bring up that sort of thing.


Kaplan isn’t nice –


To President Bush, history is not a complex record of the past, to be studied intensively for lessons. It’s a grab bag of myths and half-truths, to be dredged for political effect – a device that provides rhetorical cover, and allows evasion of responsibility, in the face of gross and obvious failure.


Well, no one wants to face that. Better to dazzle everyone with false history.  No one does study history these days.  You can rely on the public’s willful, intense and proud shallowness.  And if you believe it all yourself, so much the better – for after all, if we understood reality as it really is we’d be immobilized. Delusion is useful.  Heck, it makes life possible.


Of course, there was some official disapproval (Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Democrat, California) –


The White House announcement that they view South Korea as the model for a permanent U.S. military presence in Iraq is further evidence of how dangerously out of touch with reality this administration is.


On a strictly historical level, the comparison is comical. A high school student could tell you that there are virtually no similarities between the Korea and Iraq. The administration’s inept attempts to come up with tortured historical analogies to try to justify a failed policy should be another reminder just how little credibility they have on the issue.


The frightening truth is that there are obviously people within the Bush administration who believe that it is a good idea to occupy Iraq military on a permanent basis, which is why we have fought so hard in Congress to establish a clear policy to prevent permanent military bases in Iraq.


The overwhelming majority of Iraqis want an end to the occupation, and for the White House to suggest that it will continue for another fifty years, or perhaps permanently, only fuels the insurgency and further endangers our troops.


The American people are also calling for an end to the occupation, and the fact that the administration has responded by saying they think the occupation should be permanent just underlines not only how out of touch they are, but how critical it is for Congress to intervene to bring an end to this failed policy.


Well yes, you want to enflame the insurgency, you do say things like this. It’s not only wrong-headed and ignorant, it makes matters worse.  Why do it?


There’s a lively discussion of all this on at Josh Marshall’s site, and one of his readers offers this


I find it hard to believe that people are actually taking Bush’s Korean analogy seriously with respect to Iraq. And, so far, the Democratic Congress seems to be giving him a pass on it. The timing was good, of course. He caught Congress with barbeque on their collective chin.


As you noticed, there are some remarkable differences between Korea and Iraq, not the least of which is the fact that there never was a Korean resistance to our occupation of the South or to the Soviet occupation of the North, following the liberation, division and occupation of Korea after World War II. The struggle for unification between the South and the North came down to a rather traditional war and a test of military power between the US on one side and the Soviets and China on the other.


The proper analogy for Iraq is still Vietnam. While the government we created in South Korea was functional and able to control its population, the government we have created in Iraq, like the government we created in South Vietnam, has been largely irrelevant. In Iraq, Shiites and Sunnis are fighting us, our al Maliki government, the Kurds, each other and themselves in a last-man-standing free-for-all. While it’s tempting to try to find some method to the madness of the last few years, you won’t find it in a 50-year plan to control the oil supply of the Middle East. That’s a pipe dream that didn’t survive the occupation. By floating the Korean occupation as an analogy for Iraq, Bush has created one more leaky vessel to cling to as his presidency is swept into the backwaters of history. We may be in Afghanistan 50 years from now, but we won’t be in Iraq.


Marshall comments –


To a degree I agree the whole ‘control the natural resources of the region’ idea didn’t survive ‘first contact’, to paraphrase the US Army line about military planning. But denial is a useful thing. And a lot of the flailing about of recent years, actually most of it, has been an effort to find some way to sustain the original vision.


But Duncan Black has the last word


Why Do We Stay In Iraq?


The answer is unknowable because there isn’t one. There are a variety of powerful actors who have different motives. It’s as true, if not more true, for the continued occupation as it was for the initial invasion.


George Bush started the war because Saddam tried to killed his Dad and because he wanted to prance around on an aircraft carrier in a flight suit. He later got stubborn about the whole thing when those mean Democrats started criticizing him, and he began to buy into the transformational rhetoric due to his increasing messianic bent. And, now, it’s about his “legacy.”


Dick Cheney started the war because of his insatiable lust for the black stuff. Dick Cheney keeps us in Iraq because of his insatiable lust for the black stuff.

Don Rumsfeld went to war to prove that he could achieve any military result with 3 marines, an armed aerial drone, and his left pinky. He stayed in Iraq because George Bush told him to and because he still needed to prove his awesomeness.


AEI and Viceroy Jerry went to war because they were excited about their new libertarian paradise laboratory.


Paul Wolfowitz had grand dreams about transforming the Middle East into who knows what.


Tom Friedman and others went to war because they have the mentality of 5 years olds and they thought that the smartest thing we could do was whip out our giant schlong and wave it around for awhile. Tom Friedman and others stay in Iraq because they think that if they don’t keep popping cialis (“If your occupation lasts longer than 6 months…”) the world will notice our little tiny shriveled up thingy.


Karl Rove went to war so his boy could prance on the aircraft carrier and win re-election. He stays because leaving Iraq will anger wingnuttia.


Lots of other people stay in Iraq just because they don’t like to admit they’re wrong. Their egos are more important anything.


The sensible liberals at Brookings were so stupid they thought Saddam was a threat. They were the stupidest people of all, because that was about the only thing which had nothing to do with why we invaded Iraq. They stay in Iraq because they’re unable to accept responsibility for their actions.


Democrats went to war because they were scared of losing their elections. They stay there because they’re scared of losing elections.


Ultimately it’s all centered around oil, the endless needs of the military industrial complex, and various other financial interests masquerading as ideology. But there isn’t one reason, just a grand harmonic convergence of wingnuttery.


So we stay.  Deal with it, just don’t make up crap.


On the other hand, it is now June, and it may be all over but the shouting.  Just look up what was said on 30 November last year


AMMAN, Jordan – Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said Thursday that his country’s forces would be able to assume security command by June 2007 – which could allow the United States to start withdrawing its troops.


“I cannot answer on behalf of the U.S. administration but I can tell you that from our side our forces will be ready by June 2007,” Maliki told ABC television after meeting President Bush on Thursday in Jordan.


Cool. Done. Fixed.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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2 Responses to Iraq – Not Vietnam at All, But Actually Korea

  1. Ken Larson says:

    I am a 2 tour Vietnam Veteran who recently retired after 36 years of working in the Defense Industrial Complex on many of the weapons systems being used by our forces as we speak.

    Politicians make no difference.

    We have bought into the Military Industrial Complex (MIC). If you would like to read how this happens please see:

    Through a combination of public apathy and threats by the MIC we have let the SYSTEM get too large. It is now a SYSTEMIC problem and the SYSTEM is out of control. Government and industry are merging and that is very dangerous.

    There is no conspiracy. The SYSTEM has gotten so big that those who make it up and run it day to day in industry and government simply are perpetuating their existance.

    The politicians rely on them for details and recommendations because they cannot possibly grasp the nuances of the environment and the BIG SYSTEM.

    So, the system has to go bust and then be re-scaled, fixed and re-designed to run efficiently and prudently, just like any other big machine that runs poorly or becomes obsolete or dangerous.

    This situation will right itself through trauma. I see a government ENRON on the horizon, with an associated house cleaning.

    The next president will come and go along with his appointees and politicos. The event to watch is the collapse of the MIC.

    For more details see:

  2. Pingback: The Psychology of the Thing « Just Above Sunset

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