By Stephen C. Rose
Oddly, no one has thought to compare the situations of Barack Obama and LBJ, but there are similarities. And, happily, redemptive differences.
If Barack succeeds, as I believe he will, it will be because he was NOT a replica of LBJ.
Simply stated, Barack will have the same capacity as Lyndon Johnson to achieve a major domestic legislative agenda. But my profound hope is that he will eschew the hubristic and unnecessary need to prove himself on an impossible battlefield. That would be Afghanistan. It must not become our new Vietnam.
During the LBJ era, I ranked Johnson very low, despite his legislative achievements. Time has chastened me. The voting and civil rights acts were monumental.
But LBJ was destroyed due to a nefarious LIE to the American people -- his "no wider war" lie. I voted for him in 1964. He almost immediately exploded the war. And as RFK understood, Vietnam became an albatross, threatening real domestic progress.
Johnson did not need to turn Vietnam into an earthly hell. He wrongly believed he needed a Vietnam escalation to beat Goldwater. So with consummate hypocrisy he played the peacemaker while turbo-charging the actual war. To the loss of 50,000 military and uncounted civilians and opposition soldiers.
His Gulf of Tonkin lies were a terrible betrayal..
Why then might I wish to name him next to Barack?
Because the wild card in Barack's deck is the T card. The terrorism card. Which translates into the Afghanistan card. Which translates into the Great Game card. Which is eerily like the Vietnam Card LBJ played so unnecessarily and fatefully.
Reading about the Great Game, the 19th century effort to dominate the space between Russia and India, is highly entertaining. If you have a taste for the denouement of colonial ambitions. If you like to see serial repetition of humiliations similar to the defeat Lytton Strachey deliciously described in his essay on the besting of General Gordon by the Mahdi in Khartoum.
Despite the passage of years, the conditions that made Afghanistan impossible to dominate in the 19th century have not changed. One reason Switzerland is neutral is because fighting a real war there is fatuous. It's the geography, stupid.
In Afghanistan, there is also the resilience of a proud people who have no desire to be ruled by armies bearing British, Russian, US or NATO insignias.
Afghanistan and the war on terror is the albatross that threatens to stoop the Obama shoulders and create a wedge between him and his pacific constituency.
The retort to this line of thinking is that Obama is smart, too smart to be hoodwinked, to coin a phrase.
Ah, but the machinery of temptation and doom is in place. That apple on that tree of knowledge of good and evil is temptingly placed.
We are stumbling toward a continuation of the Great Game. The rag tag, ambient operations that we have mounted so far are about to be replaced by a more concerted effort, undertaken by a government -- that would be us -- that has none of the prosperity of the 1960s, that is in fact reeling from the weight of debt that could very well push us off the list of reliable borrowers.
But Barack could escape the fate of LBJ.
We the people could save him. Check the polls. Check the election just completed.
Many of us know that Afghanistan is a sinkhole in terms of any military commitment. We will not hold a saving caution against Obama.
Many wish the war on terror to be translated from a military trap into a POLICE ACTION, something sane observers believe it should have been from the very start.
In the spirit of Ronald Reagan, many can say say, Mr. Obama, don't climb that wall. Don't get on the idiot testosterone track that brought LBJ down.
Mr Obama, your achilles heel has names like Taliban, Bin Laden and Afghanistan. Give these a wider berth than you have done to date. Practice the same patience that has served the enemy so well. See if they do not die on the vine.
Or even fade in the light of a new and more humane international rhetoric that could, in an apposite phrase, change the world.
Military NO Police YES.
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