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Late author's history lesson for Bush: You're no Truman
Published: Wednesday July 4, 2007
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Examining the history of American foreign policy since World War II in next month's Vanity Fair, author and journalist David Halberstam undercuts President Bush's assertion that his presidency will be viewed in the same vein as Harry Truman's, and concludes that America's folly in Iraq is largely the by-product of historical ignorance.

Halberstam, in his last magazine piece written before his sudden death in April, explains that he is familiar with Truman's legacy because of a book he wrote on the Korean War, The Coldest War, which will be published in September.

"Yes, like Bush, Truman was embattled, and, yes, his popularity had plummeted at the end of his presidency, and, yes, he governed during an increasingly unpopular war," Halberstam writes. "But the similarities end there."

Unlike Truman, who -- Halberstam observed -- had to reign in General Douglas MacArthur from widening the Korean War to include all-out war with China, Bush used his political capital in the wake of Sept. 11 and his "ever so malleable" military commander, Tommy Franks, to pursue his goal of war with Iraq.

"The key operative in all this was clearly Vice President Cheney, supremely arrogant, the most skilled of bureaucrats, seemingly the toughest tough guy of them all," Halberstam wrote, "but eventually revealed as a man who knew nothing of the country he wanted to invade and what that invasion might provoke."

Halberstam equates Republicans' attempts at mid-century to paint Democrats as soft on Communism to "today's White House attacks (against) Democrats and other critics for being soft on terrorism, less patriotic, defeatist, underminers of the true strength of our country."

Tracing history further through the 20th Century, Halberstam said the US invasion of Iraq came about because the Bush administration was unaware of the lessons of the Vietnam War and failed to adapt the country's foreign policy to reflect changing geopolitical realities as America emerged as the world's sole super power after the Cold War.

Halberstam, a Pulitzer Prize winning author and journalist, was killed in a car accident in April.

Excerpts from Vanity Fair:


Still, it is hard for me to believe that anyone who knew anything about Vietnam, or for that matter the Algerian war, which directly followed Indochina for the French, couldn't see that going into Iraq was, in effect, punching our fist into the largest hornet's nest in the world. As in Vietnam, our military superiority is neutralized by political vulnerabilities. The borders are wide open. We operate quite predictably on marginal military intelligence. The adversary knows exactly where we are at all times, as we do not know where he is. Their weaponry fits an asymmetrical war, and they have the capacity to blend into the daily flow of Iraqi life, as we cannot. Our allies—the good Iraqi people the president likes to talk about—appear to be more and more ambivalent about the idea of a Christian, Caucasian liberation, and they do not seem to share many of our geopolitical goals.