With positive military news continuing from Iraq, President Bush yesterday seized the moment. In a speech to the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Kansas City, Mr. Bush recalled the naysayers of the previous century who questioned Japan's suitability for democracy. He recalled others who regarded the setbacks in the fight against Communist aggression in Korea as evidence that that the war was a blunder. The first dissenters were wrong. The second were myopic.
"In the aftermath of Japan's surrender, many thought it naive to help the Japanese transform themselves into a democracy," the president told the old soldiers, some of them veterans of those foreign wars. "Then as now, the critics argued that some people were simply not fit for freedom... Critics also complained when America intervened to save South Korea from Communist invasion. Then as now, critics argued that the war was futile, that we never should have sent our troops in, or that America"s intervention was divisive here at home. Many of these criticisms were offered as reasons for abandoning our commitments in Korea. While it is true that the Korean War had its share of challenges, America never broke its word. Today, we see the result in the stark contrast of life on the Korean Peninsula."
To supporters of the effort in Iraq, the parallels are clear enough. Then as now, war is ideological. Then as now, war tests the American commitment to far-off peoples, with American credibility weighing in the balance. Then as now, the enemy makes clear that its sights are trained squarely on us.
For opponents of the war, it will be difficult to agree. It is nonetheless useful for the public to be reminded that ours is not the first generation to have doubts about our country's war policies. And, while history does not simply repeat itself, it is worth knowing that in the past, war doubts proved unjustified.
Many who oppose the war now see progress in Iraq after the "surge" of new troops. Sens. Carl Levin and Hillary Clinton have lent their voices to that chorus, and this poses difficult questions for their friends on the left. "We've begun to change tactics in Iraq, and in some areas, particularly in Anbar province, it's working," Mrs. Clinton said.
Just about everyone today applauds the foreign-policy goals and ideals that undergirded the commitment to Japan and Korea more than a half-century ago. If the good news of the surge continues from Iraq, the president's critics will no doubt ask why he didn't send enough troops in the first place. It's a fair question. But if the good news continues there won't be a logical basis to continue the clamor for withdrawal.