This week’s Democratic response to President Bush’s weekly radio address was delivered by former U.S. Senator Max Cleland. Cleland spent the address refuting the comparison Bush made this week between Iraq and Vietnam. In a speech at the VFW National Convention, the president used Vietnam as an example of why U.S. troops should stay in Iraq. “This week, President Bush gave a speech comparing the ongoing war in Iraq to the Vietnam War. He used this analogy in his latest plea to the American people for yet more time to continue his war,” Cleland began.

He spoke about his personal knowledge of Vietnam. “I know something about the Vietnam War. I know something about the price that was paid for continuing that war long after it was clear we could not succeed. I know something about years of war failing to produce a stable, secure, and democratic country. I know something about enemy attacks increasing and taking an ever higher toll on our troops. Fifty-eight thousand young Americans were killed in Vietnam. Three hundred and fifty thousand were wounded. I was one of them.”

Cleland mentioned the similarities he sees between Iraq and Vietnam. “There are similarities between the war in Iraq and the war in Vietnam. One of the lessons to be learned from Vietnam is that the commitment of American military strength alone cannot solve another country’s political weakness. This should be a somber warning to us all to responsibly end the war in Iraq and the additional loss of precious American lives. Congress has required the president to issue a report soon on the state of the war. This assessment gives him yet another opportunity to do the right thing and change course in Iraq.”

He made the Bush/L.B.J. comparison. “Unfortunately, it appears he will continue to argue that if the American people and the U.S. Congress will just be patient things will work out. He is likely to say that given more time victory is just around the corner. He is likely to argue that there is light at the end of the tunnel. But like political leaders during the Vietnam era, this President has a “credibility gap.” The majority of Americans see a profound difference between President Bush’s optimistic rhetoric and the grim reality which lies beneath.”

“Our history in Vietnam and the facts on the ground in Iraq today prove the American people are right. How do I know? Because I’ve seen this movie before. I know how it ends. I know that all the PR in the world didn’t change the truth on the ground in Vietnam and won’t change the truth on the ground today in Iraq,” Cleland said.

Then he turned to the topic of the truth about the war in Iraq, “What is this truth? The truth is that more than 3,700 Americans have already lost their lives, more than 20,000 have been wounded, and nearly $500 billion in American taxpayer funds have been expended. The truth is that despite this enormous sacrifice, we find ourselves mired in a civil war with no end in sight and Iraqis unable or unwilling to make the political decisions necessary to end this conflict. And the truth is President Bush’s decision to go to war and stay at war has actually encouraged thousands of new recruits for Al-Qaida in Iraq and around the world, has made the Middle East and other parts of the globe less safe, has alienated the Muslim world and allowed Al-Qaida – the enemy that attacked this nation six years ago – a chance to rebuild and restore its terror network.”

“The failures in Iraq are not the fault of our troops or their courage in battle. They have done everything asked of them and more. The conflict in Iraq is an Iraqi political problem, not a U.S. military problem. We can’t continue to sacrifice American lives, deplete our treasury and weaken our national security. We can’t expect our soldiers to continue to risk their lives especially when the Iraqi leaders themselves show no interest in achieving a peaceful political solution,” he continued.

Cleland concluded by stating his belief that the September Iraq progress report will ignore the truth, “President Bush’s report to Congress will attempt to show that his escalation has produced improved security in certain parts of Iraq. But it will ignore the stark truth in Iraq – – that his overall strategy to buy time for Iraqis to make the needed political decisions has failed and, just like Vietnam, we are enmeshed now in an open-ended war for which our troops and our country will pay the price for decades to come. That’s why we must act now. This fall, Democrats in Congress will continue to stand with our troops – and with the American people – – to remember the lessons of history – – and end the Iraq War.”

Wow, an actual policy debate in the Saturday radio addresses. It is about damn time, the Democrats start talking about the war again. I was tired of hearing regular people read fluff speeches for the Democratic response. The Democrats couldn’t have picked a better person than Max Cleland to set the record straight on both Iraq and Vietnam. I don’t think President Bush is any position to talk about the lessons of Vietnam, being that he was busy partying while others of his generation were dying or sacrificing limbs for their country. This was an outstanding radio response, and well worth checking out.

Full text of Cleland’s radio response 

Jason Easley is the editor of the politics zone at His column The Political Universe runs on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Jason is also the host of TPU Radio, which airs live Sundays at 7:00 PM (ET) at  


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