Iraq Is Korea?
Bush's latest appalling historical analogy.
Once, when Snow tried to elaborate on the concept, he only dug himself deeper:
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, ever since the 1953 armistice, U.S. troops have been on the front lines in South Korea, not "over the horizon." Only next year will they begin to shift into a "support" role and redeploy south of Seoul.
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.
When the insurgency first gained force in Iraq, Bush and his top advisers claimed similar guerrilla groups tried to disrupt the Allied occupation of Germany after World War II (though, in fact, this claim was mythical).
When the insurgency dragged on, Bush drew comparisons with the Philippines, which is now a thriving democracy (though he didn't point out that the counterinsurgency campaign in the Philippines was unacceptably brutal by today's standards and that it took 40 years longer to establish democracy).
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).
And time and time again, Bush has likened himself to Harry Truman, whose entire Cold War policy—not just his war in Korea—was unpopular in its day (though Bush has created nothing like the international agencies and alliances—NATO, the Marshall Plan, the Bretton Woods agreement, and so forth—that formed Truman's postwar order).
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.
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.