At first glance it seems bizarre that Bush invoked Vietnam in defence of his Iraq policy. After all, for years the Bush administration has argued that any parallel to Vietnam is nonsense. But there’s logic to what Bush is doing.
By mentioning Vietnam and Iraq in the same breath, Bush has guaranteed that his speech is getting plenty of attention. The hope is that this coverage will allow the message that the surge is making military progress to be communicated to the public. The other thing he is doing is more subtle, he’s trying to evoke the consequences of defeat not only in Iraq but at home. Americans, whatever their opinion of either Iraq or Vietnam, have no desire to experience the kind of funk that the country went into after its defeat in south east Asia. (These new TV ads by a pro-surge group play on this feeling)
The danger is that by evoking Vietnam, Bush makes people think that the war is already lost so you might as well come home before more US lives are lost. As Bush’s 2004 opponent John Kerry said today, “Half of the soldiers whose names are on the Vietnam Memorial Wall died after the politicians knew our strategy would not work.”