WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush’s words on Iraq sounded familiar: “We’ll succeed unless we quit.” It’s where he said them that might give pause: in the capital of Vietnam, a country the U.S. did quit – and which now is being hailed as an economic marvel.

Bush was asked by reporters in Hanoi on Friday what lessons Vietnam might have for the present war in Iraq. And his response was the same essential line he’s used many times at home.

But it came in a jarring juxtaposition. While arguing anew against leaving Iraq before the job is done, Bush extended olive branches to Vietnam’s communist leaders, as did other Asian and Pacific heads of state here for a summit to discuss trade and security.

“Vietnam is an exciting place. It’s a place with an enormous future,” Bush said. He said he wanted to focus on the future, not the past.

His visit came just over a week after midterm elections robbed Bush’s Republican Party of control of both the House and the Senate. He has acknowledged that opposition to the Iraq war was a major factor in the GOP defeat.

Still, while arguing for remaining firm in Iraq, Bush suggested time has healed many of the wounds opened by the Vietnam conflict.

“History has a long march to it,” he said after a lunch with Australian Prime Minister John Howard. “Societies change and relationships can constantly be altered to the good.” He urged similar patience on Iraq.

His remarks didn’t sit well with Democrats who will control Congress in January.

“America has been patient. Our troops have been heroic,” said incoming assistant Senate Democratic leader Dick Durbin of Illinois. “I think we ought to show a little impatience when it comes to the Iraqis and their unwillingness to respond to the need to change.”

The Iraq conflict, which has gone on for three years and eight months, will mark a new milestone in length next weekend when it will surpass U.S. involvement in World War II.

The war in Vietnam, which lasted more than eight years, remains the nation’s longest war.

“Ironically, we went into Vietnam to fight one war, the Cold War, and found ourselves in the middle of a struggle over nationalism,” said P.J. Crowley, a military and national security aide in the Clinton administration. “And we’re seeing the same thing in Iraq.”

“We may have well thought we were going into Iraq as part of the war on terror, but now we find ourselves in the middle of a civil war,” Crowley said.

Bush joined the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam era and avoided the military draft. He served only in the United States.

Asked about his personal reflections on being in Hanoi and talking cooperation with a former enemy of the United States, Bush said, “It shows how hopeful the world can be and how people can reconcile and move beyond past difficulties for the common good.”

In recent years, Vietnam has seen its economy soar as its communist leaders have allowed free-market forces to prevail. Its economy has averaged 7.5 percent growth over the past decade, one of fastest rates anywhere in the world.

Besides hosting this year’s meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which brought Bush and 20 other world leaders to Hanoi, Vietnam recently won membership in the Geneva-based World Trade Organization, giving it increased access to foreign markets.

Bush has asked Congress to pass legislation normalizing U.S. trade with Vietnam. The House fell short of the needed votes earlier this week. But Bush told Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, “I believe it’s going to happen.”

Anthony Cordesman, a military strategist for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said any suggestion that conditions in Iraq might improve with a U.S. withdrawal – as they eventually did in Vietnam – is “a dangerous parallel.”

“Remember, Vietnam got much worse for quite a while before it got better,” after Americans left for good in 1975, Cordesman said.

“I think the critical issue in both cases is not whether we should have stayed, but whether we had a clear strategic vision of why we were there,” Cordesman said. “What we should learn from Vietnam is not to stay the course, but that if we do not have the right plans, the right resources, the right capabilities and the right goals, we’re going to be defeated.”

Bush was the fourth U.S. president to visit Vietnam. President Clinton visited six years ago. Presidents Johnson and Nixon made wartime visits to rally troops.


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