Friday, August 19, 2005

Iraq/Vietnam, Vietnam/Iraq

Is Iraq becoming the next Vietnam? Has it already? Making the comparison has become a bit of a cliche, but sadly, as the war goes on, the parallel becomes more and more apt. Newsweek columnist Howard Fineman, speaking on The Don Imus Show of a conversation he had with Jack Valenti who was a special assistant to President Lyndon Johnson, draws the comparisons:

Jack told me yesterday, 'You know I smell Vietnam all over again. It's happening at a faster time table. Vietnam went over a decade. This is happening two, two and a half years.' He said 'Here are the similarities, we don't always know who the enemy is. We don't know where they are all the time. We don't know who we're shooting at half the time. We don't know what the battlefield is. We don't have many allies. We don't really have an exit strategy. And public opinion is crumbling under our feet, or in this case the President's feet. And that's just like what happened to Lyndon Johnson.' Lyndon Johnson used to yell and scream about the intrusion of television, how television has changed the ability to fight a war. Well that was 40 years ago. Now every morning, everyday, all day, even though this is much more heavily censored than Vietnam was, you know, the American people are seeing that Iraq is a complete mess and there seems to be more terrorists than were there when Saddam was in charge and that is why Bush's poll numbers for handling the war and overall job approval are as low as Johnson's were in the 60's."
What were those poll numbers? The New York Times's Frank Rich gives us a history lesson:

A president can't stay the course when his own citizens (let alone his own allies) won't stay with him. The approval rate for Mr. Bush's handling of Iraq plunged to 34 percent in last weekend's Newsweek poll - a match for the 32 percent that approved L.B.J.'s handling of Vietnam in early March 1968. (The two presidents' overall approval ratings have also converged: 41 percent for Johnson then, 42 percent for Bush now.) On March 31, 1968, as L.B.J.'s ratings plummeted further, he announced he wouldn't seek re-election, commencing our long extrication from that quagmire.
So what lessons can be learned from the forty-year old wound that just won't heal? Paul Begala had a brilliant post on the subject in the Talking Points Memo Cafe yesterday:

[O]ne important lesson of Vietnam is, the first casualty of an unwise and unjust war are the American troops called on to fight it. Their service should be honored.

Second, what we political consultants call the "optics" matter. The popular memory of the anti-war movement calls to mind (even for those of us too young to clearly recall it) the indelible image of young Americans burning the American flag. Cops were called "pigs." Cherished American icons were trashed.

It seems to me the new anti-war movement has learned these lessons well. And it is the pro-war right that is repeating the mistakes of the past.

For me, one of the most incendiary moments of the entire Bush war in Iraq occurred when a right-wing thug ran his pickup truck over hundreds of crosses bearing the names of heroic Americans killed in Iraq. He also took out scores of American flags in the process...

Such is the hatred of the far right at the dawn of the 21st Century. And my how the optical worm has turned. Today it is the left invoking faith, flag and family, while the right destroys crosses. Today it is the left that honors the war dead, raises up a Gold Star Mother and publicly prays for our troops, while the right viciously attacks a woman who gave her country everything. Today it is the left that patiently and peacefully respects the Office of the Presidency, while the right diminishes the office by claiming it's more important for the President to go bike-riding with a sports hero than comfort the mother of a war hero.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, Todd, even a cursory reading of the political history of the Vietnam War will tell you that this analysis is incomplete and wrong.

Vietnam did not cost LBJ the Presidency. It cost him the Democratic nomination for 1968. Had the Democrats renominated LBJ (at the time he withdrew from consideration it was obvious that he was about to lose to RFK) he would have won the general election that fall.

Instead, the country was presented with the Liberal dove Hubert Humprey vs the hawkish Richard Nixon. The hawkish Republican won (not sure if you know/remember enough history to realize this).

Further, only four short years later, Nixon won in one of the US's greatest landslides over anti-war Liberal George McGovern.

And, ultimately, Nixon was brought down not by Vietnam ... but by his own failings, paranoia and the events surrounding a Washington landmark called The Watergate.

Now personally, if you want to urge your party to continue down it's current path and try to turn this into another Vietnam ... go right ahead. I'm sure that whomever the GOP selects in 2008 would just LOVE to go up against a George McGovern clone in a repeat of 1972.

OTOH, it might be a good idea to read this article for a perspective somewhat more reasoned than the former screaming head of CrossFire.

3:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The War in Iraq is closer to the War in Korea. Korea was an unstable area that has had US troops there for years. The middle east is an unstable area that will have US troops there for years.

11:38 PM  

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