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U.S.: Bush Praises Al-Maliki, Says Withdrawal Would Be Another Vietnam

George W. Bush (left) and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki at the White House in 2006 (epa) August 22, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush today tried to erase doubts about his confidence in embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and warned that an early U.S. withdrawal would cause the kind of regional chaos not seen since the end of the Vietnam War.

His words today were in contrast to what he said on August 21 in Canada, where he was meeting with North American leaders to discuss the situation in Iraq. There, he failed to offer a direct endorsement of al-Maliki’s progress and seemed to suggest that the struggling leader might have to go.

Also on August 21, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker said U.S. support for al-Maliki's government was not a "blank check."

“Today the violent Islamic extremists who fight us in Iraq are as certain of their cause as the Nazis, or the Imperial Japanese, or the Soviet communists were of theirs. They are destined for the same fate.”

Al-Maliki fired back, calling such criticism “discourteous.”

Today -- in what many saw as an attempt at damage control -- Bush insisted that al-Maliki is doing as well as can be expected and still has the support of the United States.

"Prime Minister [al-]Maliki is a good guy, good man, with a difficult job, and I support him," Bush said. "And it is not up to the politicians in Washington, D.C., to say whether he will remain in his position. That is up to the Iraqi people who now live in a democracy and not a dictatorship."

Historical Lessons

In front of a gathering of mostly elderly veterans of foreign wars, Bush began his speech on a historical note: he described an attack that killed “thousands of Americans on a sunny morning,” perpetrated by enemy that used suicide bombers to spread its ideology and try to conquer a region.

He was referring not to Al-Qaeda and the attacks on September 11, 2001, but to Imperial Japan and its attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in December 1941. After a bloody battle in the Pacific, and victory by the United States, Bush noted that some critics said it was hopeless to try and help Japan recover from defeat.

But today, he said, Japan is one of America’s biggest allies and has one of the strongest economies in the world. The lesson, he said, was “sometimes the experts get it wrong.”

It was an attempt to convince the growing chorus of pro-withdrawal voices that historically, the United State’s willingness to stay the course has brought freedom, prosperity, and peace to former enemies. Bush said U.S. wars in the Far East -- Japan, Korea, and Vietnam -- were ideological struggles, and so is the current war against terror.

A U.S. soldier at a checkpoint in Baghdad (epa)

“Today the names and places have changed but the fundamental character of the struggle has not changed," he said. "Like our enemies in the past, the terrorists who wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places seek to spread a political vision of their own. A harsh plan for life that crushes freedom, tolerance, and dissent.”

Warnings Of Another Vietnam

Bush said the United States has a “moral duty” to stand in the terrorists' way and that he was confident of victory.

“Today the violent Islamic extremists who fight us in Iraq are as certain of their cause as the Nazis, or the Imperial Japanese, or the Soviet communists were of theirs," he said. "They are destined for the same fate.”

By invoking the failed legacy of the Vietnam War -- which cost the United States more than $200 billion, killed 57,000 U.S. soldiers, and caused the deaths of an estimated 1 million civilians -- Bush sought to send a warning that an early withdrawal from Iraq would result in the same kind of regional upheaval, civilian slaughter, and national disgrace.

He said no one had predicted the cost of defeat and withdrawal back then, implying that advocates for an Iraq pullout are making the same mistake.

"One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens, whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like 'boat people,' 'reeducation camps,' and 'killing fields,'" Bush said.

U.S. Deaths Pass 3,700

As he has before, Bush raised the prospect of an early withdrawal leading to violence on U.S. soil by Al-Qaeda and other terrorists.

Chaplain Ron Nordan (left) shakes hands with Jim Walsh at the funeral of his son, Marine Corps Sergeant Justin Walsh, at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia (file photo)

He also praised U.S. troops for what he called their “magnificent work” and said more than 10,000 members of Al-Qaeda and other extremists have been killed or captured since January. After touting that progress, he said Congress must give the troops and military commanders everything they need to continue the fight.

"Despite the mistakes that have been made, despite the problems we have encountered, seeing the Iraqis through as they build their democracy is critical to keeping the American people safe from the terrorists who want to attack us," Bush said.

Since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, 3,700 U.S. troops have been killed and more than 27,000 have been wounded. Earlier today, 14 soldiers were killed in northern Iraq when their Blackhawk helicopter crashed in the second-deadliest such accident in the war.

Also today, Pentagon officials acknowledged it will fall far short of sending to Iraq 3,500 promised super-armored vehicles that protect soldiers against roadside bombs

Only 1,500 of the vehicles, known as MRAPs -- which have a 100 percent effectiveness rating against improvised explosive devices -- will be sent, officials said, citing delays in the delivery process.

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