While it came as no surprise when President Obama escalated the war in Afghanistan last night, it still, as a friend put it, felt like a punch in the gut. It felt like betrayal. I voted for this President, and to be fair, I still believe he’s the best we could have gotten in there at this point in American history.
Why do Democrats still feel they have to compete with Republicans on being macho, on how many we can kill to show we’re tough, whether it’s war or the death penalty?
The people of Afghanistan have endured violence for decades. They’ve been confronted with occupation — by the Soviet Union, and then by foreign al Qaeda fighters who used Afghan land for their own purposes. So tonight, I want the Afghan people to understand — America seeks an end to this era of war and suffering.
So why are we sending more troops? Of course, theoretically, we’re sending more troops so we can get out of there. Where have we heard all this before?
Ahh, yes. Vietnam. I’m old enough to remember a great deal of it, although I was a kid at the time. I have many veteran friends who unfortunately were old enough to have been sent over and fought in it.
Bill Moyers ran this episode a couple weeks ago, detailing through audio tapes how then President Johnson took my friends and other young men and women into the quagmire that was Vietnam. What’s amazing, or maybe not, is that nobody seemed to think it was a good idea, or even winable – neither the President nor his advisors.
Why did Johnson get us into it?
LYNDON B. JOHNSON: Well, I opposed it in ’54. But we’re there now, and there’s only one of three things you can do. One is run and let the dominoes start falling over. And God Almighty, what they said about us leaving China would just be warming up, compared to what they’d say now. I see Nixon is raising hell about it today. Goldwater too. You can run or you can fight, as we are doing. Or you can sit down and agree to neutralize all of it.
So he gets the country deeper and deeper into the quicksand, even though he really on some level knows better.
LYNDON B. JOHNSON: It’s damned easy to get in a war but it’s gonna be awfully hard to ever extricate yourself if you get in.
But you can’t appear to be weak!
LYNDON B. JOHNSON: But they say that, well a fellow like A.W. Moursund said to me last night, -damn, there’s not anything that’ll destroy you as quick as pulling out, pulling up stakes and running, that America wants by God, prestige and power. And they don’t want-I said, yeah, but I don’t want to-I don’t want to kill these folks. He said, I don’t give a damn. He said, I didn’t want to kill ’em in Korea, but said, if you don’t stand up for America, there’s nothing that a fellow in Johnson City-or Georgia or any other place-they’ll forgive you for everything except being weak.
RICHARD RUSSELL: Well there’s a lot in that. There’s a whole lot in that.
LYNDON B. JOHNSON: Goldwater and all of ’em raising hell about go on, let’s hot pursuit. Let’s go in and bomb them […]
RICHARD RUSSELL: It’d take a half million men. They’d be bogged down in there for ten years. And oh hell no.
Then the Gulf of Tonkin and an incident which later turns out to be overblown. . .
LYNDON B. JOHNSON: My fellow Americans–
BILL MOYERS: He announces that U.S. fighter jets, for the first time, have attacked naval and oil facilities in North Vietnam.
LYNDON B. JOHNSON: Our response for the present will be limited and fitting. We Americans know, although others appear to forget, the risk of spreading conflict. We still seek no wider war.
Sound familiar? President Obama as well seeks no wider war. . .
Like President Obama, President Johnson worries about the young men (and now women, but we had women in the war as combat nurses even then):
LYNDON B. JOHNSON: I do not find it easy to send the flower of our youth, our finest young men, into battle. I have spoken to you today of the divisions and the forces and the battalions and the units. But I know them all, every one. I have seen them in thousand streets, of a hundred towns, in every state in this union – working and laughing and building, and filled with hope and life. I think that I know, too, how their mothers weep and how their families sorrow. This is the most agonizing and the most painful duty of your President.
This is no Vietnam, according to President Obama, or is it?
BILL MOYERS: Now in a different world, at a different time, and with a different president, we face the prospect of enlarging a different war. But once again we’re fighting in remote provinces against an enemy who can bleed us slowly and wait us out, because he will still be there when we are gone.
Once again, we are caught between warring factions in a country where other foreign powers fail before us. Once again, every setback brings a call for more troops, although no one can say how long they will be there or what it means to win. Once again, the government we are trying to help is hopelessly corrupt and incompetent.
And once again, a President pushing for critical change at home is being pressured to stop dithering, be tough, show he’s got the guts, by sending young people seven thousand miles from home to fight and die, while their own country is coming apart.
And once again, the loudest case for enlarging the war is being made by those who will not have to fight it, who will be safely in their beds while the war grinds on. And once again, a small circle of advisers debates the course of action, but one man will make the decision.
We will never know what would have happened if Lyndon Johnson had said no to more war. We know what happened because he said yes.
And now, a week and a half later, President Obama is saying yes to a wider war in Afghanistan. Of course, like Vietnam, it isn’t supposed to get wider. . .
So, is there a way to stop this now, or must we repeat history (ours and the Soviet Union’s – Afghanistan was their Vietnam)?
Watch the video and see what the Afghan people and some of our veterans think about escalating the war in Afghanistan.
Tell Congress to say no to the war in Afghanistan!