Sunday, November 22, 2009

Through a Glass Darkly

Bill Moyers, a national treasure, does it again by looking back at US policy in the 60's regarding Southeast Asia titled Johnson's Escalation of Vietnam: A Timeline, something eerily akin to what Obama is doing regarding Afghanistan. Read Danny Schecter's perceptive article titled Bill Moyers' Message to Obama: Study History or Repeat its Mistakes to see why,

On his Journal, Moyers went back to the historical record, to selected but revealing tapes of Johnson's own phone calls with his colleagues and appointees-yes he wiretapped himself the way Nixon did years later-and those calls showed how he agonized over whether to escalate the war, a course of action he knew could not succeed. The parallels with the present day, and the upcoming decision by President Obama to escalate the war in Afghanistan are unmistakable and undeniable.

There was the cunning LBJ boiling down the options to getting out or going in deeper, or perhaps "neutralizing" the situation with trainers and economic aid. He, of course opted for the third choice at first-just as Obama has-until it was clear it was not working and we and that our corrupt client state was losing. As his perceived options narrowed, so did his course of action.

As Republicans then demanded "victory," as the military (The Joint Chiefs) clamored for a higher draft and more troops, LBJ began to fear being accused of tucking tail and running, a big no-no in a culture in which Americans see themselves as perpetual winners, the toughest guys on the block. He could not, in his view, be the President who "lost" Vietnam the way his predecessors were accused of losing China-as if those countries were ours to lose!

And so slowly-as we saw, or rather hear, Johnson escalated, stage by stage, often on the basis of false "intelligence" as in the Tonkin Gulf incident that wasn't. Step by step, the third option was abandoned and the military option was embraced. One infusion of troops was followed by another as the war worsened with tens of thousands of US deaths and casualties and millions of Asian victims.

Trapped by his own limited logic, and cautiously pragmatic style. LBJ gave up his principles, compromised on his convictions, and his "Great Society" and Presidency became a disaster. He later quit politics, a broken man.

Will it happen again?

Moyers clear point in the poorly watched PBS Public Affairs Friday Night Ghetto was clear-it is about to happen again.

"We will never know what would have happened if Lyndon Johnson said no," he concluded. "We do know what happened because he said yes."

It was brilliant television, informative journalism of the kind we rarely see, all driven by the words and voice of the man who was once his own "boss." We saw how the logic of escalation supplanted all other logic and, then, logic itself.

The tragedy of 'Nam was not only the needless deaths it caused but also how it crippled the funding of Johnson's Great Society initiative intended to change America for the better by instituting innovative programs to effectively deal with the problems of racism, poverty, education and health care in the same can do attitude as that of FDR during the Great Depression.

Hopefully Obama will read War is a Racket by Smedley Butler before it's too late.

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