Washington's failure to face these unpleasant realities opens the door to strange and dangerous fantasies, like Mr. Bush's surreal take on the Vietnam war.
The real lesson of Vietnam for Iraq is clear enough. America lost that war because a succession of changes in South Vietnamese leadership, many of them inspired by Washington, never produced an effective government in Saigon. None of those changes, beginning with the American-sponsored coup that led to the murder of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963, changed the underlying reality of a South Vietnamese government and army that never won the loyalty and support of large sections of the Vietnamese population.
The short-term sequels of American withdrawal from Indochina were brutal, as the immediate sequels of America's withdrawal from Iraq will surely be. But the American people rightly concluded that with no way to win a military victory, there could be no justification for allowing thousands more United States troops to die in Vietnam. Those deaths would not have changed the sequels to the war, just as more American deaths will not change the sequel to the war in Iraq. Once the war in Southeast Asia was over, America's domestic divisions healed, its battered armed forces were rebuilt and the nation was much better positioned to deal with the relentless challenges of global leadership.
If Mr. Bush, whose decision to inject Vietnam into the debate over Iraq was bizarre, took the time to study the real lessons of Vietnam, he would not be so eager to lead America still deeper into the 21st century quagmire he has created in Iraq. Following his path will not rectify the mistakes of Vietnam, it will simply repeat them.
It'll be different this time - there are no mistakes, or admissions of them anyway, in Bush's reality-free zone. Many people are still to die for his ego.