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Iraq Ain't Got No Seoul

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The White House's latest spin on the Iraq War involves likening the US role in the conflict to the American military presence in Korea: a roughly 40,000 strong force that, more than 54 years after the end of the Korean War, faces essentially no casualties and is barely noticed by the American public.

Like early efforts to compare the occupation of Iraq to that of Japan and Germany after WWII, the analogy is beguiling but deeply false. The White House is now pivoting toward an "over the horizon" support role -- a concept taken directly from John Murtha's broadside against the conduct of the war in November 2005 -- under the cover of a long-ago war that bears no resemblance to Bush's quagmire.

No one will be fooled into thinking that the monumental challenges and terrifying risks faced daily by American troops in Baghdad and elsewhere will somehow morph into the kind of calm, predictable wary watchman function performed by US troops in South Korea. In describing this, Defense Secretary Robert Gates eschewed the Vietnam analogy, "where we just left lock, stock and barrel," favoring "the idea is more a model of a mutually agreed arrangement whereby we have a long and enduring presence but under the consent of both parties and under certain conditions."

But the biggest problem with Bush's latest analogy is not that its insulting to those at home whose tolerance of the war he is trying to prolong. Iraqi opinion polls show just 1 percent of the population who wants the US to "never leave." A further 2 percent are amenable to a US plan to "stay longer but leave eventually." The remaining 97 either want the US to get out right away (35 percent) or to remain until either security is restored and/or the Iraqi government and security forces are capable of operating independently.

Gates acknowledged in his comments that a key predicate of the South Korean arrangement is that the US's military presence is "mutually agreed." In Iraq, by contrast, some 97 percent of the population would reject a similar plan.

Some 150,000 US troops are right now risking their lives to cultivate the support of a battle-weary and angry Iraqi population against violent insurgents and sectarian warriors. For the administration to float a scheme involving a semi-permanent US presence in Iraq that is rejected by virtually the entire local population can only inflame anti-US sentiments and heighten the risks faced by US troops. All this in service of a political analogy that is defied by the daily headlines of killings, kidnapping, car bombings and mortars.