Bill Moyers wonders, as we all do, if Obama’s escalation of the Afghanistan War is a repetition of LBJ’s escalation of the Vietnam War in 1964.
Our country wonders this weekend what is on President Obama’s mind. He is apparently, about to bring months of deliberation to a close and answer General Stanley McChrystal’s request for more troops in Afghanistan. When he finally announces how many, why, and at what cost, he will most likely have defined his presidency, for the consequences will be far-reaching and unpredictable. As I read and listen and wait with all of you for answers, I have been thinking about the mind of another president, Lyndon B. Johnson.
I was 30 years old, a White House Assistant, working on politics and domestic policy. I watched and listened as LBJ made his fateful decisions about Vietnam. He had been thrust into office by the murder of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963– 46 years ago this weekend. And within hours of taking the oath of office was told that the situation in South Vietnam was far worse than he knew.
Less than four weeks before Kennedy’s death, the South Vietnamese president had himself been assassinated in a coup by his generals, a coup the Kennedy Administration had encouraged.
South Vietnam was in chaos, and even as President Johnson tried to calm our own grieving country, in those first weeks in office, he received one briefing after another about the deteriorating situation in Southeast Asia.
Lyndon Johnson secretly recorded many of the phone calls and conversations he had in the White House. In this broadcast, you’re going to hear excerpts that reveal how he wrestled over what to do in Vietnam. There are hours of tapes and the audio quality is not the best, but I’ve chosen a few to give you an insight into the mind of one president facing the choice of whether or not to send more and more American soldiers to fight in a far-away and strange place.
Granted, Barack Obama is not Lyndon Johnson, Afghanistan is not Vietnam and this is now, not then. But listen and you will hear echoes and refrains that resonate today.
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The exact circumstances are different, but what the fuck is Obama doing? What’s the end game of escalation of the war? Will the Taliban ever throw their hands up and walk away? No, they will not, and even if they do, there is a thousand other offshoots of fundamentalists willing to step into the breach and fight The Great Satan. Are we as a country committed to staying permanently in Afghanistan? In Iraq? In Pakistan? At what cost? Can we afford to piss away trillions of dollars of our national budget protecting the interests of a few? What benefit to our nation does continuing the Afghanistan conflict actually accomplish?
As LBJ repeatedly says, sometimes you have to let the dominoes fall.