Monday, July 6, 2009

A liberal semi-defense of Vietnam

Doug over at Balloon Juice makes the inevitable comparison between McNamara and Rumsfeld. I recommend reading some of the comments at the site. And I decided to weigh in.

I've always been annoyed by the Iraq=Vietnam trope that lefties have used to view the Iraq War through, because I feel that the comparison between Vietnam and Iraq is too kind to Iraq. I think both were wrong, stupid, pointless wars, but Vietnam was different in numerous ways, not the least of which were that (1) Vietnam was launched under the banner of communist containment, a long-lived and durable policy consensus that had been fully articulated and fleshed out, and (2) Johnson feared political damage if he "lost" Vietnam in the same way that Truman "lost" China, a development which, along with firing MacArthur, ended any plans of a third Truman term. The Democrats paid dearly for the China debacle and LBJ wanted no part of it. Now, let's face it, these are poor arguments for entering a war, but they are arguments. Johnson could have done a whole lot better, but at least one can find some logic deep down in history's innards. Not enough to explain the essential insanity completely, but something.

Iraq looks much worse by comparison. There was no political need for Bush to take us into Iraq--after 9/11 and Afghanistan, Bush was a national hero and the notion that Democrats would have attacked him for not liberating Iraq--hell, the notion that Democrats back then would have criticized him on any foreign policy decision--is ridiculous. Additionally, Iraq wasn't part of any grand theory of foreign relations that Bush offered. Admittedly, there was that Clinton-era congressional resolution that set the policy of the United States as favoring regime change in Iraq, but it was largely symbolic. In fact, Bush had little in the way of foreign policy ideas going into office, aside from running a "humbler" foreign policy. Both Bush and Johnson allowed themselves to be manipulated, to some extent, by wily operators in their administration, but Vietnam ate away at both Johnson and McNamara, to the extent that they both left their jobs early and felt the weight of it for the rest of their lives. Johnson would be dead within four years of leaving office. Meanwhile, there are few stories about Bush agonizing or second-guessing his decisions, let alone making them right, as Johnson tried to do by convening peace talks in October 1968 (which were stymied by Republican Presidential candidate Richard Nixon, of course).

Once again, I tend to think that both wars were bad wars. But one can at least see the reasons why Johnson made his decision, and while there was lots of arrogance and ignorance and willful delusion in both cases I still think that the comparison between the two goes little further than that, and also that they were both unnecessary.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.