Lyndon Johnson, Vietnam and Iraq
April 15, 2007
by William P. Meyers

Two nights ago I watched Path to War, a 2002 HBO movie about Lyndon Johnson (Michael Gambon), Robert McNamara (Alec Baldwin), Clark Clifford (Donald Sutherland) and the escalation of the Vietnam War. The way the U.S. military is mired in Iraq, it is good to compare and contrast Iraq to Vietnam and Lyndon Johnson to George W. Bush.

However, I found some of the motivations written into the movie about LBJ (Lyndon Baines Johnson) hard to believe. I do believe that Johnson was the President who finally broke ranks with the racist establishment of the Democratic Party and got a serious voting rights bill passed, which led to the decline of racism and segregation. He deserves a lot of credit for that.

I also find it very believable that Johnson felt that if he "lost Vietnam to the Communists" he would be attacked from the right by the very ambitious Bobby Kennedy. In the end, after the nation turned against the war and Eugene McCarthy broke the ice in the 1968 New Hampshire primary, Bobby Kennedy came out as a peace candidate, attacking Johnson from the left. Johnson inherited the Vietnam situation from JFK (John Fitgerald Kennedy) who inherited it from Dwight David Eisenhower who inherited it from the French.

But it was Johnson who use the Gulf of Tonkin incident (in which, at worst, the North Vietnamese fired 2 torpedos to warn off American war ships from their coast; there is quite a bit of evidence that incident never took place) to get permission to invade Vietnam. Maybe he got bad advice from the Pentagon and in particular Robert McNamara, but I think Path to War is wrong in portraying Johnson as a man of peace duped by McNamara. All the evidence points to Lyndon Johnson as a chest-thumping patriot of the George W. Bush type whose only regret was that the U.S. could not win the war. The money that could have been used to build up the U.S. was wasted in Vietnam; he did not regret that enough to set the Vietnamese free. That task was left to Richard Nixon.

George W. Bush, like Lyndon Johnson, is from the state of Texas. The state switched from predominantly Democratic Party in Johnson's days to predominantly Republican by the time Bush was elected governer, but by no means was that a transition from liberal to conservative. Texas Democrats were notoriously conservative back when blacks were excluded from the party. The main difference between Presidents Bush and Johnson is where their core competencies lie. Johnson was the master political insider, but not his best appealing to the American people. Bush has been the servant, rather than the master, of the Republican insiders. His talent (until lately) was pursuading the American voter to vote for policies determined by those insiders.

The U.S. was not able to win a military victory in Vietnam because the Vietnamese people had North Vietnam as a base area and because the best people in South Vietnam were for independence. People who wanted justice and democracy had been forced to embrace communism because the U.S. and France backed, with arms, unjust men who were against democracy.

I think Iraq is a more complex situation, but the same two variables rule the game. The natives have the support of Iran, which is a formidable country. Attacking Iran would be even more foolish than attacking Iraq. No Iraqi, whether Kurd, Shia, or Sunni, who is an Iraqi patriot wants a U.S. puppet government backed by U.S. troops. I'm not saying that there are not some good Iraqi patriots in the current Iraq government. They are demanding that the U.S. leave.

What would happen if the national liberation groups just stopped fighting the U.S., said "okay, we'll participate in elections," now you U.S. troops go home? I guarantee the U.S. troops would stay. People in the U.S. would forget about Iraq if U.S. troops were not dying. The Administration, whether Republican or Democrat, would prefer to keep troops there. There is too much oil in the region to risk withdrawal.

I know that, you should know that, and certainly Iraqi patriots know that. It is the sad calculus of the politics of greed: whatever the cost to themselves, patriotic Iraqis have to keep killing U.S. soldiers until there are no soldiers left to kill. Otherwise they will become a nation of slaves.

Throughout the Islamic world people who want freedom and justice have been embracing radical Islamic cults. Neither secular socialism nor pro-U.S. governments have been able to deliver what people want. It is sad there is not a strong third force in the world able to offer the alternative of justice without religious nonsense.

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