As he promised, President Bush’s speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars yesterday contained a number of comparisons between Iraq and the Vietnam war: “Then as now, people argued the real problem was America’s presence and that if we would just withdraw, the killing would end … The world would learn just how costly these misimpressions would be.”
The Times’s Thom Shanker has a fine roundup of historians’ reaction to the analogy, but of course the blogosphere has plenty of less-academic responses.
“Whatever one thinks of the stunning cynicism and immorality of the Nixon/Kissinger strategy, the American people at least understood and I suspect strongly approved of an agreement that allowed America to extract itself from a terrible and bloody quagmire that had killed over 58,000 US troops and millions of Vietnamese,” writes Scarecrow at the liberal blog Firedoglake.
“I’m not sure Americans cared what happened next; they just wanted out, and the agreement got them out, slowly, late, after too many deaths, but eventually out. Looking back, I doubt there are many Americans who think we should have followed the advice Bush is now offering; do they really believe we should have heeded the warnings of dire consequences of withdrawal from a country that had no real strategic interests for the US and is now a friendly trading partner?”
Bob Franken at The Hill feels that the president is “ignoring perhaps the most important similarity. The major U.S. military commitment in both conflicts came as the result of U.S. government deception: the Gulf of Tonkin in Vietnam and Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.”
Jonah Goldberg at The Corner finds such views shortsighted: “The mainstream media and a lot of liberal-leaning analysts seem to think it’s politically foolish or reckless for Bush to compare Vietnam to Iraq because they have one very specific narrative in mind when it comes to that war: America shouldn’t have gotten in, couldn’t have won, and then lost. What they have long failed to grasp is that’s not the moral of the story in the hearts of millions of Americans who believe that we could have won if wanted to and it was a disaster for American prestige and honor that we lost (whether we should have gone in is a murkier question for many, I think). This is a point the Democrats fail to grasp: being on the side of surrender in a war is popular enough during the war, but if you succeed lots of Americans will later get buyer’s remorse and feel like it was a mistake and the next generation will see things very differently than their anti-war activist parents.”
To which P. O’Neill at Best of Both Worlds responds directly: “What else could America have done to have ‘won’ in Vietnam? Nuclear weapons? Incidentally, those against the Vietnam war weren’t for American ‘surrender.’ They were for letting Vietnam sort out its own problems.”
The president’s reply to that, one supposes, would be that Vietnam did an unacceptable job of sorting out those problems. The bigger question, presumably, is whether the Iraqis can do any better.
- Should we just relax about sports and steroids? The controversial Princeton philosopher Peter Singer, writing in The Japan Times, thinks so. He approvingly cites the work of the Oxford medical ethicist Julian Savulescu, who feels sports “should drop the ban on performance-enhancing drugs, and allow athletes to take whatever they want, as long as it is safe for them to do so.” Singer writes:
Savulescu proposes that instead of trying to detect whether an athlete has taken drugs, we should focus on measurable indications of whether an athlete is risking his or her health. So, if an athlete has a dangerously high level of red blood cells as a result of taking erythropoietin (EPO), he or she should not be allowed to compete. The issue is the red blood cell count, not the means used to elevate it.
To those who say that this will give drug users an unfair advantage, Savulescu replies that now, without drugs, those with the best genes have an unfair advantage. They must still train, of course, but if their genes produce more EPO than ours, they are going to beat us in the Tour de France, no matter how hard we train. Unless, that is, we take EPO to make up for our genetic deficiency. Setting a maximum level of red blood cells actually levels the playing field by reducing the impact of the genetic lottery. Effort then becomes more important than having the right genes.
Some argue that taking drugs is “against the spirit of sport.” But it is difficult to defend the current line between what athletes can and cannot do in order to enhance their performance …
Moreover, I would argue that sport has no single “spirit.” People play sports to socialize, for exercise, to keep fit, to earn money, to become famous, to prevent boredom, to find love, and for the sheer fun of it. They may strive to improve their performance, but often they do so for its own sake, for the sense of achievement. Popular participation in sport should be encouraged. Physical exercise makes people not only healthier, but also happier. To take drugs will usually be self-defeating.
“Usually” self-defeating, I guess — but can we also assume there are plenty out there who would be made “happier” by an Olympic gold, no matter how it was achieved?