George Bush made a few important comparisons in his speech just before the weekend. The one that got all the press — though not the most important one — was his comparison of Iraq to Vietnam. I’ve often responded to people who claimed that Iraq is another Vietnam by saying that the comparison is true in only two respects: if it is lost, it will be lost by political pressure at home, rather than military defeat on the battlefield, and if America surrenders and leaves, the consequences — for the region, America and the world — will be terrible.
Having lost the counsel of Karl Rove, the US president used this suggestion of mine, scoring a political master stroke by turning his critics’ favourite rhetorical weapon against them. (Just kidding. I doubt Bush realises he actually has a few supporters in South Africa. He certainly won’t know it from reading the local press.)
Beyond the headline-grabbing Vietnam comparison, Bush also made an interesting comparison with Japan, which is in many ways even more worth reading. The scepticism about establishing democracy in Japan sounds eerily familiar, yet not only did history prove the sceptics wrong, Japan would also become one of the world’s most peaceful and prosperous countries — even scaring Americans with their sheer economic success.
He likewise used South Korea as an example, but missed an opportunity to include Germany in his list. After its defeat it was occupied for years, was described as a “quagmire” by the media several years after the end of the war, and yet today is a free, First World country. I guess you can’t expect miracles from an illiterate redneck.
Reading Bush’s speech, I find it hard to understand why people who describe themselves as “liberal” (or, for that matter, “democrats”) are so implacably opposed to the Bush doctrine. As I wrote in a comment over at Commentary South Africa, it’s all so simple to some people. The glee on the part of opponents of intervention in Iraq is almost palpable every time another bomb explodes, or another political setback happens.
Would those who advocate surrender, or predict the certainty of civil war, have said the same thing about South Africa in the wake of Boipatong and the breakdown of negotiations? Or after the rolling mass-action campaign and the Bisho massacre? Or when Chris Hani was assassinated and civil war looked unavoidable? Would they have said that negotiations are futile, peace is an idealistic myth and the cause is lost? My guess is they would have.
Though the situation obviously differs in the sense that no foreign military intervention precipitated the fall of apartheid, the fact is that political negotiations are complicated, sensitive and dangerous. The reasons for success, if it comes, will be many and complex. The reasons for failure, if that’s what it is to be, will be many and complex too.
The only thing that’s easy is the sort of ill-disguised I-told-you-so politics of war opponents. It does not suggest pragmatic realism, nor an understanding of the way forward, nor even the wisdom of hindsight. Instead, it shows a venal need to be proven right, rather than to be doing right.
But most importantly, war opponents and the advocates for a speedy withdrawal fail to see the larger historical picture. George Bush does. They fail to appreciate that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. George Bush does.
If you don’t believe me, do read his entire speech. It’s interesting, if nothing else.