The Left Loses the Vietnam War
By Robert Tracinski
In political battles--and all too frequently in war itself--victories are rarely complete, defeats are rarely final, and the real significance of a battle is often not evident for years, even decades afterward.
America's defeat in Vietnam, for example, was seemingly a triumph for the anti-war left, which had long proclaimed the war to be unwinnable quagmire. Yet the years following that defeat--the era of American retreat and "national malaise"--proved so traumatic that the American people have never wanted to repeat them. Thus, what the anti-war radicals regarded as a vindication ended up discrediting the left on foreign policy for a generation. You could say that they won the political battle over the war--but they lost the peace.
Today, we may be seeing the final chapter of that process. The left is losing the Vietnam War itself--losing Vietnam, that is, as a rhetorical high ground from which to pillory any advocate of vigorous American military action overseas.
In a speech last week, President Bush surprised everyone by citing Vietnam as an analogy to Iraq. Just as we paid a "price in American credibility" for our abandonment of Vietnam, he argued, so we will suffer an even worse blow to the credibility of American threats and American friendship if we retreat from Iraq.
The New York Times, borrowing "military parlance," described this as Bush's attempt at "preparing the battlefield--in this case for the series of reports and hearings scheduled on Capitol Hill next month." The military terminology is appropriate, since this war will not be won or lost only on the battlefield in Iraq; it will be won or lost in the political battles that will be fought in Washington, DC.