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Posts Tagged ‘Lyndon Johnson’

E.J. Dionne | Truthdig | Oct 4, 2009

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At a White House dinner with a group of historians at the beginning of the summer, Robert Dallek, a shrewd student of both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, offered a chilling comment to President Barack Obama.

“In my judgment,” he recalls saying, “war kills off great reform movements.”

The American record is pretty clear: World War I brought the Progressive Era to a close. When Franklin D. Roosevelt was waging World War II, he was candid in saying that “Dr. New Deal” had given way to “Dr. Win the War.” Korea ended Harry Truman’s Fair Deal, and Vietnam brought Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society to an abrupt halt.

Dallek is not a pacifist and he does not pretend that his observation settles the question against war in every case. Of the four he mentioned, I think the Second World War and Korea were certainly necessary fights.

But Dallek’s point helps explain why Obama is right to have grave qualms about an extended commitment of many more American troops to Afghanistan. Obama was elected not to escalate a war but to end one. The change and hope he promised did not involve a vast new campaign to transform Afghanistan.

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Robert Scheer, SF Gate, September 3, 2009

True, he doesn’t seem a bit like Lyndon Johnson, but the way he’s headed on Afghanistan, Barack Obama is threatened with a quagmire that could bog down his presidency. LBJ also had a progressive agenda in mind, beginning with his war on poverty, but it was soon overwhelmed by the cost and divisiveness engendered by a meaningless, and seemingly endless, war in Vietnam.

Meaningless is the right term for the Afghanistan war, too, because our bloody attempt to conquer this foreign land has nothing to do with its stated purpose of enhancing our national security. Just as the government of Vietnam was never a puppet of communist China or the Soviet Union, the Taliban is not a surrogate for al Qaeda. Involved in both instances was an American intrusion into a civil war whose passions and parameters we never fully have grasped and will always fail to control militarily.

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TIM WEINER | NYT | July 7, 2009

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Robert S. McNamara, the forceful and cerebral defense secretary who helped lead the nation into the maelstrom of Vietnam and spent the rest of his life wrestling with the war’s moral consequences, died Monday at his home in Washington. He was 93.

His wife, Diana, said Mr. McNamara died in his sleep at 5:30 a.m., adding that he had been in failing health for some time.

Mr. McNamara was the most influential defense secretary of the 20th century. Serving Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson from 1961 to 1968, he oversaw hundreds of military missions, thousands of nuclear weapons and billions of dollars in military spending and foreign arms sales. He also enlarged the defense secretary’s role, handling foreign diplomacy and the dispatch of troops to enforce civil rights in the South.

“He’s like a jackhammer,” Johnson said. “No human being can take what he takes. He drives too hard. He is too perfect.”

As early as April 1964, Senator Wayne Morse, Democrat of Oregon, called Vietnam “McNamara’s War.” Mr. McNamara did not object. “I am pleased to be identified with it,” he said, “and do whatever I can to win it.”

Half a million American soldiers went to war on his watch. More than 16,000 died; 42,000 more would fall in the seven years to come.

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Anthony: President John F. Kennedy is often accused of starting the Vietnam War. This is untrue. What Kennedy did was to increase the number of American non-combatant military personnel in Vietnam. Hostilities began after President Johnson claimed that two American destroyers were attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin, by which he gained Congress’s approval for military action. He omitted to mention that the destroyers in question had been spying on North Vietnam and giving information on the positions of military targets to the South Vietnamese. Johnson later said that the blips which the US ships got on their radar and interpreted as enemy boats could have been whales or flying fish. McNamara, in the TV documentary, Fog of War, later admitted, concerning the alleged attack, “It didn’t happen.”

Readers may be interested to read this article, Exit Strategy, by James K. Galbraith, based on White House recordings, in which he shows that in the fall of 1963, on McNamara’s own recommendation, Kennedy did indeed decide to end American involvement in Vietnam. Tragically, Kennedy was assassinated shortly after, and his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, on the advice of the Wise Men, decided to escalate the war.

What baffles me is that it was on McNamara’s own advice that Kennedy made this decision, but that McNamara nevertheless went along with Johnson’s very different, and disastrous, Vietnam strategy.

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