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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Obama's Vietnam Syndrome"?

Simple question. If George Bush was president instead of Barack Obama, would the discussion and criticism of the war in Afghanistan be different? Why has there been so little attention to this issue? This has been bugging me for quite awhile, people are dying everyday - many of them are innocent bystanders - yet we don't seem to be willing to bring this discussion out into the open and talk about whether this is the correct policy to pursue. Is it because Obama and most of the left is "thoroughly frightened by America’s right wing"? (This is supposed to be an economics blog, so I tossed in a graph):
Obama's Vietnam syndrome, by Jonathan Schell, Commentary, Project Syndicate: There can be no military resolution to the war in Afghanistan, only a political one. Writing that sentence almost makes me faint with boredom..., who wants to repeat a point that’s been made thousands of times? Is there anyone on earth who does not know that a guerrilla war cannot be won without winning the “hearts and minds” of the people? ...
Americans are accustomed to thinking that their country’s bitter experience in Vietnam taught certain lessons that became cautionary principles. But historical documents recently made available reveal... those lessons were in fact known -- though not publicly admitted -- before the U.S. escalated the war in Vietnam. That difference is important. If the Vietnam disaster was launched in full awareness of the “lessons,” why should those lessons be any more effective this time? ...

Why did President Lyndon Johnson’s administration steer the U.S. into a war that looked like a lost cause even to its own officials? One possible explanation is that Johnson was thoroughly frightened by America’s right wing. ... His national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy, fueled Johnson’s fears. In a 1964 memo, he wrote that “the political damage to Truman and Acheson from the fall of China arose because most Americans came to believe that we could and should have done more than we did to prevent it. This is exactly what would happen now if we should be seen to be the first to quit in Saigon.”...

Did Johnson’s advisers push the country into a disastrous war in order to win an election -- or, to be more exact, to avoid losing one? ...


What is uncanny about the current debate about Afghanistan is the degree to which it displays continuity with the Vietnam debates, and the Obama administration knows it. To most Americans, Vietnam taught one big lesson: “Don’t do it again!” But, to the U.S. military, Vietnam taught a host of little lessons, adding up to “Do it better!”
Indeed, the military has in effect militarized the arguments of the peace movement of the 1960s. If hearts and minds are the key, be nice to local people. If civilian casualties are a problem, cut them to a minimum. If corruption is losing the client government support, “pressure” it to be honest, as Obama did in recent comments following President Hamid Karzai’s fraud-ridden re-election.
The domestic political lessons of Vietnam have also been transmitted down to the present. George McGovern, the Democratic presidential candidate in 1972, proposed to end the war, which by then was unpopular, yet lost the election in a landslide. That electoral loss seemed to confirm Johnson’s earlier fears: Those who pull out of wars lose elections. That lesson instilled in the Democratic Party a bone-deep fear of “McGovernism” that continues to this day.
There is unmistakable continuity between Joseph McCarthy’s attacks on President Harry Truman’s administration for “losing” China, and for supposed “appeasement” and even “treason” and Dick Cheney’s and Karl Rove’s refrains assailing Obama for opposing the Iraq war... It is no secret that Obama’s support for the war in Afghanistan, which he has called “necessary for the defense of our people,” served as protection against charges of weakness over his policy of withdrawing from Iraq. So the politics of the Vietnam dilemma has been handed down to Obama virtually intact. Now as then, the issue is whether the U.S. is able to fail in a war without becoming unhinged.
Does the American body politic have a reverse gear? Does it know how to cut losses? Is it capable of learning from experience? Or must it plunge over every cliff that it approaches?
At the heart of these questions is another: Must liberals and moderates always bow down before the crazy right over national security? What is the source of this right-wing veto over presidents, congressmen and public opinion? Whoever can answer these questions will have discovered one of the keys to a half-century of American history -- and the forces that, even now, bear down on Obama over Afghanistan. ...

    Posted by on Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at 10:17 AM in Economics, Terrorism | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (76)


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