From Ernest R. May’s “Lessons of the Past” (1973) to Yuen Foong Khong’s “Analogies at War” (1992) to Jeffrey Record’s “Making War, Thinking History” (2006), historians have argued about the use—and abuse—of historical analogies by decision makers. It is now conventional wisdom that Lyndon Johnson’s advisers were misled into going to war in Vietnam by “the Munich analogy.” Yet liberal historians who agonize other the misuse of Munich are often quite happy critiquing American intervention in Iraq as “another Vietnam.” Conservatives or neo-conservatives in the Dick Cheney mold retort that it is Obama liberals who were misled by their Vietnam obsession to make American defeat in Iraq a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It is now clear from an lengthy, interesting account by Ben Birnbaum and Amir Tibon in the “New Republic” of the Obama-Kerry failed Mideast peace mission how the Vietnam analogy was central at least to Secretary of State Kerry’s belief that Israel, led by Prime Minister Netanyahu, was not doing enough to “empathize” with the Palestinians:
“The prime minister opened the meeting by playing Kerry a video on one of his favorite topics: Palestinian incitement. It showed Palestinian children in Gaza being taught to glorify martyrdom and seek Israel’s destruction. ‘This is the true obstacle to peace’, Netanyahu told Kerry.
“‘It’s a major issue’, Kerry replied. ‘And nothing justifies incitement. I hate it. I’ve read Abbas the riot act about it. You know I have. But it is worthwhile to try to understand what life looks like from the Palestinian point of view.’
“‘This has nothing to do with the occupation and the settlements’, Netanyahu said.
“Kerry pressed on: ‘When I fought in Vietnam, I used to look at the faces of the local population and the looks they gave us. I’ll never forget it. It gave me clarity that we saw the situation in completely different ways.’”Details