TIPP CITY, Ohio (Reuters) - President George W. Bush and fellow Republicans struggled on Thursday with comparisons between the U.S. wars in Iraq and Vietnam as the Senate’s top Democrat declared the Iraq lost.
A day after a White House meeting with lawmakers failed to resolve differences over whether to attach a troop withdrawal plan to a war funding bill, Bush and the Democrats continued their feud from afar.
Asked to compare Iraq to Vietnam, a war that still weighs on the American psyche three decades after it ended, Bush told an Ohio audience a premature U.S. withdrawal from Iraq could lead to chaos and death the same way war broke out between Vietnam and the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia after the fall of Saigon in 1975.
“After Vietnam, after we left, millions of people lost their life. My concern is there would be a parallel there,” Bush said, adding that “This time around, the enemy wouldn’t just be content to stay in the Middle East, they’d follow us here.”
Bush says he will veto legislation containing the $100 billion in war funding — money he requested — if Democrats persist in plans to attach a troop withdrawal timetable to it.
But in Washington, Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat and leader of the Senate majority, said he had taken a message to Bush in their White House meeting on Wednesday that “this war is lost” and Bush’s troop buildup plan “is not accomplishing anything” after insurgent bombs killed nearly 200 people that day in Baghdad.
Reid said his message for Bush was to recall the Vietnam war in the mid-1960s, when Reid said President Lyndon Johnson decided to send thousands more troops to Vietnam despite knowing the conflict unwinnable.
“The (Iraq) war can only be won diplomatically, politically and economically, and the president needs to come to that realization,” Reid said in a news conference.
Later Thursday on the Senate floor, Reid said: “As long as we follow the president’s path in Iraq, the war is lost. But there is still a chance to change course — and we must change course.” The war funding bill should contain a timeline to “reduce combat missions and refocus our efforts on the real threats to our security,” he said.
Bush conceded Americans are concerned about whether the United States can succeed in stabilizing Iraq and said Democrats have a role to play but that he would veto their legislation when it gets to his desk, possibly next week.
Many lawmakers believe serious talks toward a compromise will not take place until after a veto. Then, they say, there could be fresh legislation that would have “benchmarks” to gauge Iraq’s progress instead of withdrawal timetables.
“It’s disturbing that some on Capitol Hill believe they know more than the commanders on the ground, said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.
“His comment is in conflict with the senior military advisors who are implementing the Baghdad security plan, working to calm the violence and to protect the innocent men, women and children of Iraq who are being victimized by a vicious enemy.”
Republican lawmakers pilloried Reid.
“I can’t begin to imagine how our troops in the field, who are risking their lives every day, are going to react when they get back to base and hear that the Democrat leader in the United States Senate has declared the war is lost,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican.
Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell and Steve Holland in Washington