"Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."
- --"The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon"
And here I sit so patiently Waiting to find out what price You have to pay to get out of Going through all these things twice
- --"(Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The) Memphis Blues Again"
"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school."
- --"After Life," Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3
LBJ was a tragic figure. Barack Obama is a farcical one--and the joke's on you if you still don't realize that after his second mass escalation of the war in Afghanistan. As Robert Mann makes powerfully clear in his 2000 book, A Grand Delusion: America's Descent Into Vietnam, Johnson had been traumatized by the Democrat's sweeping losses as a result of the Korean War. The Democrats had held the Senate majority since FDR became President in 1932, and looked like they would hold it forever until Truman was caught flat-footed by the outbreak of the Korean War. Johnson did incredible work first winning back the majority, then engineering a massive landslide victory in 1958. He was petrified of the prospect of doing that again, and determined not to let it happen.. It was a deeply flawed decision--a tragic one--but at least LBJ had the excuse that it hadn't been tried before and found wanting.
Barack Obama has no such excuse. But he's not just repeating LBJ's mistake of trying to have guns and butter at the same time. He's repeatedly made clear that the butter has to go, no matter what. The only question is when. Unlike the GOP, when Obama talks about cutting budget deficits, we have every reason to believe that he's dead serious. Both Social Security and Medicare are in serious peril under Obama, no matter what happens in Afghanistan.
Perhaps what's most farcical about Obama is his lecturing the non-kool-aid crowd on mis-reading history:
First, there are those who suggest that Afghanistan is another Vietnam. They argue that it cannot be stabilized, and we are better off cutting our losses and rapidly withdrawing. Yet this argument depends upon a false reading of history. Unlike Vietnam, we are joined by a broad coalition of 43 nations that recognizes the legitimacy of our action. Unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a broad-based popular insurgency. And most importantly, unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan, and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border. To abandon this area now - and to rely only on efforts against al Qaeda from a distance - would significantly hamper our ability to keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and create an unacceptable risk of additional attacks on our homeland and our allies.
(1) It's unclear just what it's supposed to mean that "we are joined by a broad coalition of 43 nations that recognizes the legitimacy of our action," or how that differs from the Vietnam War, which everyone recognized as a Cold War struggle. We certainly began our involvement in Vietnam with the open support of our NATO allies, as well as those in SEATO (the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization), which included Britain and France. But what difference did all that make? What really counted was the support of allied troops, and in Vietnam, the US had far more allied troops committed to fight with us than we do in Afghanistan. The US had military support from a number of allies. Most notably:
A total of 320,000 South Koreans served in Vietnam,. Over 5,000 were killed and 11,000 were wounded. Peak commitment was around 48,000.
Approximately 60,000 Australians served in the Vietnam War, with 521 killed and more than 3,000 wounded. Peak commitment was 7,672 combat troops.
New Zealand contributed 3,890 troops over the course of the war, with 37 dead and 187 wounded. Peak commitment was 552 troops.
The Philippines sent some 10,450 troops - primarily medical and support personnel-but they were still in harm's way.
Thailand sent an unspecified force of Thai Army formations, including the "Queen's Cobra" battalion, into South Vietnam between 1965 and 1971. Many more saw action in Laos. Casualties included 1,351 dead.
In contrast to all the above, Obama is hoping for 10,000 allied troops, at best-a rather iffy proposition. Instead, we're relying on a massive contingent of contractors-mercenaries and paid support personel-which already total over 100,000.
In short, Obama deliberately used a rhetorical formulation that made it seem we had been isolated and alone in fighting the Vietnam War, as opposed to the present situation in Afghanistan. But when it comes to skin in the game, the situation is exactly the opposite.
(2) Obama goes on to say, "Unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a broad-based popular insurgency." Except, of course, that we are facing such an insurgency. (Not wildly popular mind you. But popular enough that they've got a popular base of support. Sort of like the GOP.) And Obama is lying about it, the exact same way that our leaders lied to us about the insurgency in Vietnam, which was repeatedly misrepresented to us as an invasion.
(3) Obama says, "most importantly, unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan, and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border." This, at least is true. Irrelevant, but true. He might as well have said "2+2=4." That would also be irrelevant but true. The majority of the 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia. Is that an argument for invading Saudi Arabia? The plotters had ties to Germany, should we invade there? What about South Florida, where they received flight training? Why are any of these invasion rationales one whit less compelling than Obama's argument for upping the war in Afghanistan?
This short, lame set of supposed differences that purportedly make Afghanistan "different" than Vietnam are an insult to the intelligence of the American people. The similarities between the two are clearly much greater in number, seriousness and historical significance: To start with, both are historically proven futile endeavors. Both are places where long-standing resistance has repeatedly driven out foreign forces, fighting as long as it took, despite disadvantages in numbers and sophistication of arms. Both wars are dominated by asymmetrical fighting, which works to the advantage of the local resistance, and tends to undermine support of the population over time. Both countries are ruled by corrupt regimes that lack legitimacy in the eyes of many, if not most of their people. Both countries are remote from America, requiring a very long supply chain for troops and heavy equipment. Both wars are far less popular than purported principles for which they are being fought-strongly suggesting that the principles are being severely damaged by the wars, rather than being protected, defended and advanced by them. Both wars cost us far more in resources-other than human life-than they cost the others side. Both wars are major distractions from dealing with our own internal problems and challenges. Both wars are counterproductive to the larger struggles of which they are purportedly a part. Both wars show a tremendous lack of common sense on one hand, and global vision on the other.
These are not even supposed to be serious arguments on Obama's part. They are simply pro-forma elements in his speech, which Versailles can treat as if they were serious arguments. Bush/Cheney had WMDs. Obama has a pseudo-intellectual version of same.
The more things change... except they don't.