Quagmires: Bush's Iraq v. Kennedy's Vietnam
Barack H. Obama is being promoted as another John F. Kennedy. Given his likely nomination and presidency, this is a good time to compare real Kennedy to the Democrat Party propaganda image of him. As a standard of comparison I'll use the current President, George W. Bush, because his record is still relatively fresh in people's minds. We'll start with the foreign wars of these two Presidents; other parallels will have to wait for later essays.
The Iraq War has been called a quagmire, as was the Vietnam War. The image of armies wading into swamps and disappearing in the mud was nearly literal in the Vietnam War. Iraq is a desert country; dying of thirst in the desert, or sinking into the sands, would be a more appropriate metaphor.
John Kennedy was the son of a billionaire; his political ambitions were backed by a lot of money. He received an undergraduate degree from Harvard. His thesis was published as Why England Slept and made him famous at an early age. He asserted that World War II was caused by England's appeasement of Adolph Hitler. After World War II Kennedy was vehemently anti-communist and was a strong supporter of Joe McCarthy's red-baiting. He had won a seat in the House of Representatives in the 1946 elections and voted against many of the New Deal programs of Harry Truman. In 1952 he was elected to the US Senate, then re-elected in 1958. In 1960 he beat Vice-President Richard Nixon to become President of the United States largely because Nixon's record on civil rights alienated voters in the southern states who had been willing to vote for Dwight Eisenhower. Kennedy had a poor civil rights voting record and was supported by segregationists (racists) in the Democratic Party.
JFK had become involved in Vietnam long before his presidency [See Stanley Karnow's Vietnam, A History] as a supporter of Catholic anti-communists. Dwight Eisenhower had "lost" North Vietnam, but actually that had been a pretty good deal because the Vietminh would have easily won nationwide elections. When Kennedy took office the U.S. had less than 500 military personnel in Vietnam, and they really were advisors. That was not anti-communist enough for John, who gradually increased American involvement in the civil war there. His "advisors" in Vietnam numbered 16,000, flew South Vietnamese army troops into battle, bombed and strafed "the enemy," and were seen by U.S. journalists engaging in combat. The South Vietnamese army was not half as interested in fighting communism as John Kennedy was, and kept trying to negotiate deals for a "neutral" government including the Vietcong, but Kennedy (and then Johnson) threatened to cut off all U.S. aid if a peace deal was made. Not happy with Ngo Dinh Diem's prosecution of the war, Kennedy gave the nod to a coup. Which was followed by a series of coups as corrupt Vietnamese military leaders fought each other for power.
In summary: Kennedy took the U.S. deeper into a quagmire. In retrospect it is easy to see that the Vietminh, while communist, where not just following orders from Moscow or Peking. They would eventually form an independent communist regime that has never been a threat to U.S. security.
George W. Bush was way different from John. F. Kennedy. He went to Yale instead of Harvard. His family was rich, but no where near as rich as the Kennedy family, but his grandfather Prescott Bush had been a Senator and his father George H. W. Bush served as President from 1989 until 1993. George followed a slightly different path, publishing no best-sellers, not seeing combat during his military service, but graduating from Harvard Business School and setting up a business in the oil industry. He became governor of Texas in 1995 and was elected President of the United States in 2000.
President Bush inherited the Iraq War from the Clinton administration, which in turn inherited it from the original George Bush (W.'s father). During the Clinton administration it was a low-level war mainly consisting of an economic embargo, "no-fly zones," and the occasional bombing run.
After the September 11, 2001 attack by Al-Qaeda on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the American public was looking for vengeance. Al Qaeda was then based in Afghanistan, so the U.S. attacked that nation when its government refused to cooperate. By then it was long standing U.S. policy to want to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
In contrast to John Kennedy, who snuck U.S. troops into Vietnam, tried to hide the reality that they were engaged in combat, and tried to deny that he had anything to do with the coup against Diem, George W. Bush was open about his intention to have a full-scale war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq. However, Bush also lied. He falsely claimed that Iraq was developing atomic and chemical weapons. His problem was there was no real just cause for war. Iraq had never attacked the United States.
Like Kennedy in Vietnam, Bush misunderstood the situation in Iraq. He thought the Iraqi people would welcome a U.S. victory, then quickly set up a stabile democratic regime that would be able to develop the country along Western lines. Bush appears to not have contemplated a prolonged U.S. mission in Iraq. But as with the anti-communist politicians and sects of South Vietnam, the anti-Saddam politicians and sects of Iraq have been more interested in their internal rivalries than in following the U.S.'s desires.
So the Iraq quagmire will be handed over to whoever wins the U.S. presidential elections of 2008. If history is any guide, things will only get worse. Lyndon Johnson ran in 1964 as a Democrat considerably to the left of Kennedy who would keep us out of war in Vietnam, but he sank us way deeper into the quagmire. Richard Nixon ran as a moderate Republican in 1968 saying he had a plan to get us out of Vietnam right away, but the North Vietnamese did not cooperate, so the war just kept getting bigger until Nixon finally withdrew all American troops in 1973.
The Democratic Party gained control of the House and Senate in the 2006 elections largely because the American public wanted to see U.S. troops withdrawn from Iraq. Two years later it is the Democratic Party's quagmire. Neither Senator Clinton nor Senator Obama had the will or leadership skills to end the occupation despite being prominent leaders of a party that controls Congress. Clearly Senator McCain intends to continue the war if elected.
While fine points can be argued, George W. Bush and John F. Kennedy were products of the same mind set and conducted themselves in practically identical manners. To change U.S. foreign policy, the people of the United States themselves must change their mind set and then have the courage to elect new politicians who will govern effectively. We need to take a broom and clean away all the old Democratic Party and Republican Party politicians.
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