Among the many reasons to dislike Sen. Ted Kennedy, one that would not be on most people’s short list, is that he helped to get us out of Vietnam. Most people think getting out of that quagmire was a good thing. In retrospect, nothing really calamitous seems to have happened as a result, and we saved lives and fortune by finally withdrawing.

Samuel Kraemer (Jan. 31), however, takes Kennedy to task for causing us to pull out because, according to Kraemer, our military “won” that war. To say otherwise, he tells us, “nullifies every veteran’s service and denies them their valor earned.” But that is psycho-logic, not a rational argument.

Did the Confederacy “win” the Civil War? Sometimes it seems like it, but there is evidence to the contrary. Would it nullify the service of Confederate soldiers or deny their valor to say that they did not win? Of course not! Anyone who fights bravely for his/her country is honorable and valiant, but to say that the Confederates won would be delusional. Kraemer notes the ranks of purported Vietnam veterans have swollen beyond credibility — a tribute to admiration for the troops, but not the success of the war.

What exactly did we “win” in Vietnam, our longest war? Are the media deceiving us when they tell us that a Communist flag flies over that country? Or is this a variation of the revisionist thesis that the troops really “won” in the field but were “stabbed in the back” by politicians, reminiscent of a similar belief that was popular among German veterans after World War I. In a sense, that thesis, expounded in Col. Harry Summers’ book, “On Strategy,” is correct: The constraints imposed by presidents Johnson and Nixon in Vietnam, for political reasons, made the war unwinnable, but they also prolonged our extrication from it.

That experience is not irrelevant to our current predicament, where the president plans to put 21,500 more American forces in the middle of a sectarian civil war.

If Kraemer thinks we won in Vietnam, no wonder he also likes Bush’s war in Iraq. Historical revisionism is a common but dangerous phenomenon. George Santayana said “Those who cannot heed the lessons of history are condemned to repeat it.” Backers of the surge need a reality check. We can surge all we want, but it can’t work without more cooperation from the al-Maliki government, which is beholden to an anti-American, pro-Iranian Shiite leader.

We at least need benchmarks and a Plan B as leverage on al-Maliki, which might mean partial re-deployment – not what Kraemer calls “one step below cowardice,” but pursuit of our own strategic interests away from Baghdad, such as helping to secure the borders, while the Shiites and Sunnis slug it out in the capital.

When I said in a previous letter that Kraemer was paddling up the longest river in Africa, I was not talking about the “Lazy River” of his favorite Mills Brothers song. I was referring to Denial.

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