Obama and “Vietnam”? WTF?
October 7, 2014
Here is a link that purports to equate Obama’s situation with that of LBJ’s situation in Vietnam. Whatever one might say about Obama’s situation regarding ISIS and Syria, the description of Johnson’s situation leaves a lot, to put it mildly, to be desired. Why? Because the description implies or, rather, asserts that Johnson was pulled into escalating the war in Vietnam and this despite his apparent reservations against doing to.
The only problem with this description is that it fails to entertain the possibility – which to me is much more than a possibility – that Johnson escalated the war in Vietnam knowingly and willingly. He was not dragged into a quagmire in Vietnam for the simple reason that Johnson’s way of doing politics led him to escalate that war just as surely as his way of being romantic led him to woo and wed Lady Bird. That is, he knew no other way of being political in the world.
What does this mean? It means that Johnson saw what he took to be an “existential threat” to the United States in what he and almost everyone else called “international Communism.” He could not see beyond this “reality” and so, of course, he imposed it on Vietnam and its civil war. The authors of this essay say that Johnson was “trapped” by his rhetoric, when in fact his rhetoric was merely a reflection of his warped view of what he and almost everyone else called “Communism.”
The authors also assert “War has a forward motion of its own.” Well, no it doesn’t. What moved Johnson was not “war,” but a political ideology that led him to see an “existential threat” where none existed, as we know so well now in 2014. Whatever Communism was, it was not “the wave of the future,” and it did not require that we “bear any burden” to “defeat” it. It would collapse of its own weight and, as a result, our Nikes and other apparel are being made in Vietnam!
We are so use to seeing our politicians not as ideologues that this argument will strike most as inane. But that was what Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and all our presidents have been, ideologues. The current president is no different in this regard no matter how often it is said that he is merely a “pragmatist” or a “balancer.” If we wish to avoid “another Vietnam” – which is also a construction that rests on the same ideology that “trapped” Johnson, et. al. – we need to rethink how we think about, talk about, and do politics. Only by realizing that Vietnam was unique and that the situation in the Middle East today is unique, and that neither constituted an existential threat – or perhaps not even a significant threat to the U.S. – will we be able to stop making war endlessly.