A 1974 headline - "THE WATERGATE CRISIS, AN OPPORTUNITY FOR CHANGE..."
"The Watergate crisis represents a conflict in the American establishment brought on by the Indochina War, giving the peace movement its best chance yet to finally end U.S. involvement..."
So concluded "A Strategy To End the War", a working paper of the Indochina Peace Campaign, in 1974. The IPC was a network in key states which carried out public education and pressured Congress from the grass roots to sign a "peace pledge" to end direct US military involvement, cut off police aid, and support a political settlement.
The "Watergate opportunity" arose from the Republican Administration subverting the democratic process by breaking laws in pursuit of an unachievable victory in Indochina. Watergate revealed to centrist opinion at the highest levels that Nixon's Vietnam policies were not worth the price in domestic abuse of power.
The war ended in early 1975 when the Congress terminated military aid, ten years after the authorized the US invasion after the fabricated Gulf of Tonkin "incident."
Is history repeating itself today? The scandal rocking the Bush Administration is about "how the [White House] manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to bolster its case for the war in Iraq and to discredit anyone who dared to challenge the president", in the apt words of Sen. Harry Reid.
Nixon aides went after Pentagon and RAND analyst Daniel Ellsberg, stealing documents from his therapist's office in search of damaging personal information. In the current scandal, the "Ellsberg" character is former Ambassador Joseph Wilson and his agent/wife Valerie Plame. Both Ellsberg and Wilson had to be destroyed because they were revealing the fabrications underlying the rationale for war, the Pentagon Papers and the forged Niger documents.
In both cases, the Administrations committed political hubris, going beyond the legally-permissible simply because they were able to. I always have believed that politicians, Republicans in particular, will defeat themselves by going too far once they monopolize power. Some never learn. Among the repeat offenders from the Nixon years are Rumsfeld, Cheney and Buchanan. Among those with personal memory on the Democratic side are John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton - we can hope they return to their Vietnam/Watergate roots. John Conyers alone has stayed the course.
The question remains: will this scandal so weaken the Bush Administration and embolden its critics that the Iraq War will be forced to an end? We shall see.
There are significant differences between the two wars. Watergate peaked a decade in which death and destruction was far higher than the present levels of war casualties and domestic discontent. Democratic elected officials were far more progressive than the present cohort, reflecting the public opinion of the times.
Yet there is reason for hope. According to Gallup, anti-war opinion has grown more rapidly against the present war than during Vietnam. The US armed forces have been over-extended more rapidly as well. Torture and abuse scandals, from tiger cages to Abu Ghraib , have taken their toll. The cost of war in both cases undermined other budget priorities and threatened economic stability. Once again, the US is isolated internationally.
The need for an equivalent of the Indochina Peace Campaign remains. The peace movement tends to act like a protesting outside minority , when in fact a majority of Americans [as well as British and Iraqi opinion] already support withdrawal. The peace movement's organizational machinery is suited to twice-yearly mass demonstrations, but not to targeting vulnerable Congress members at their district level.
The Indochina Peace Campaign evolved from civil disobedience to local coalitions pressuring Congress, all the while honoring the disobient.
Will history repeat organizationally? Will the movement evolve a political arm, and succeed in wrenching power from the wounded executive branch?