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11/19/12

Obama's Afghanistan decision evokes LBJ's order on Vietnam buildup | National Politics and Election

Obama'sAfghanistandecisionevokesLBJ'sorderonVietnam buildup
ByMICHAELA.LINDENBERGER/TheDallasMorning Newsmlindenberger@dallasnews.com
Published:06December200903:08AM

HoveringintheshadowsofPresidentBarackObama'sdecisionlastweektorampupthenation'swareffortinAfghanistan,evenashepromisestobringittoa swiftconclusion,areghostsofanotherdecision,made44yearsagobyaTexanintheWhiteHouse. In1965,LyndonB.Johnsontookownershipofawarhe,likeObama,hadinherited.Gen.WilliamWestmorelandwantedmoretroopsinVietnam,andaftera protracteddebatewithintheWhiteHouse,Johnsonsentthem. Overthenextthreeyears,hewouldsendhundredsofthousandsmoreandlaunchacarpetbombingcampaignagainstNorthVietnam.Johnson'spresidencyand manyargue,JohnsonhimselfweredestroyedlongbeforeAmericacouldfinally,10yearslater,quitVietnam. Obama'sdecisiontosend30,000moreU.S.troopstoAfghanistanhasreawakenedthosememoriesofVietnam'searlydays,andbroughtunsettlingcomparisons fromanarrayofhistorianswhohavespenttheircareersstudyingJohnson. "IraqandAfghanistanstandintheshadowofVietnam,"saidhistorianRobertDallek,aJohnsonbiographer."Itbecomesinescapablethatpeoplearegoingtohave doubtsandquestionsaboutthewisdomoftryingtocontrolsodistantandforeignaplace." Manyofthosedoubts,historiansnowknow,weresharedbyJohnsonhimself,asrevealedbyWhiteHousetapesoftelephonerecordingsreleasedtohistorians overtheyears.ListeningtothemagainthisweekchilledsomeofthemenwhoknowbestwhatthatdecisioncostJohnson. "Itwaseerie,"saidhistorianHarryMiddleton,aformerJohnsonWhiteHouseaidewholedthepresidentiallibrarythatbearsJohnson'snameinAustinfor30 years."Asthesediscussionsaretakingplacethisweek,wecanhearechoesofconversationsfromourpast....Iamquitefearfulaboutit,asIdohavethe feelingthatwell,we'vebeendownthispathbefore." That'saviewsharedbyformerSen.GeorgeMcGovern,whosestandagainsttheVietnamWarhelpedhimcapturethe1972Democraticnominationforpresident, onlytolosebadlytoPresidentRichardNixon. "IthinkthisisadreadfulmistakeonPresident'sObama'spart,"McGovernsaid."Itmakesmesad.Iamforhim.Iworkedforhim,andIstillthinkheisabrilliant man.ButitlookstomelikeVietnamalloveragain." Campaignissue Johnsonhadcampaignedin1964onapremisethatVietnamwasnotanAmericanwar,andrandecidedlytotheleftofhawkishBarryGoldwater.Butimmediately uponwinninghisfirstfullterm,pressuremountedtousetheU.S.militarymoreaggressivelytosupportthestrugglingSouthVietnamesegovernment. Byearly1965,Westmorelandhadrequestedmoretroops.InsidetheWhiteHouse,Johnsonsoughtopinionsfromkeyofficialsandconfidantesalike.Mostwerein favorofsendingthetroops,butsomewarneditwasafatefulmistake,Middletonsaid. "1965,whenhedecidedtohonorGen.Westmoreland'srequestforamassiveinfusionoftroopsandtoreallychangethemissionofthosetroopsfromanadvisory roletocombat,heheldanumberofmeetingsintheweeksleadinguptothatdecision,andsolicitedanumberofpointsofview....ClarkGifford,aclosefriendof thepresident,said,'Wesendin100,000troops,they'llmatchuswithahundredthousandoftheirown.Iseenothingbutcatastropheforourcountry.'" Johnsonwasawarefromthebeginninghowruinousthedecisioncouldbeforhispresidency,historianssaidlastweek. "Johnsondidnotmakethisdecisioncasuallyorwithkindofaflickofhiswrist.Heunderstoodthatputtingin100,000troopsinJulyof1965andthentocontinue toescalatein'66,'67,thatthesewerebig,importantanddecisivedecisionsofhisadministrationandforthecountry,"saidDallek,authorofHailtotheChief:The MakingandUnmakingofAmericanPresidents. Still,theargumentsagainstsendingtroopsweredrownedoutbytheprevailingColdWarerafearoftheglobalspreadofcommunism. "Intheend,whatwasfarmorepersuasive...camefrom[SecretaryofState]DeanRusk,"Middletonsaid."Rusksaidifwedidn'tgoandwelostthewar,thenthat wastantamounttoWorldWarIII.Thatwastremendouslypersuasivetoeveryonethere." Ruskrecalledthoseearlydebatesina1969oralhistorynowstoredattheLBJLibrary. "NotonlywouldSoutheastAsiabeoverrun,butthefidelityoftheUnitedStatesunderitssecuritytreatiesallovertheworldwouldbebroughtintoquestion.InAsia wehavetreatieswithKorea,Japan,theRepublicofChina,thePhilippines,Thailand,Australia,NewZealand,"hesaid."Ifthosewhowouldbecomeourenemies madethejudgmentthatourparticipationinthosetreatieswasmerelyabluff,thenthosetreatieswouldhavenodeterrenteffect."

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11/19/12

Obama's Afghanistan decision evokes LBJ's order on Vietnam buildup | National Politics and Election
McGovernsaidherememberedthosedebates,too,fromhisperchasafreshmansenatorwhohadopposedtheVietnaminvolvementasearlyas1963. "Thatdominotheorywasapowerfulfactor,"hesaid."Ithasakindofsweetlogictoit.Youlookatacatastropheinthemaking,buttheysaytherewillbeaneven biggercatastrophe.Ifwedon'tstopthemthere,thenwe'regoingtohavetofighttheminTaiwan,thePhilippines,Hawaii,orNewYorkorDallas,Texas." Parallelsnow TheargumentsputJohnsoninacorner,andhefearedbeingseenasapresidentwholostawar,historianssaid. "I'lltellyou,themorethatIstayedawakelastnightthinkingofthisthing,themoreIthinkofit,Idon'tknowitlooksliketomewe'regettingintoanotherKorea," Johnsonsaidin1964duringataperecordedconversationwithnationalsecurityadviserMcGeorgeBundy."Itjustworriesthehelloutofme.Idon'tseewhatwe caneverhopetogetoutofit,oncewe'recommitted." McGovern,whocampaignedhardforJohnson,saidhehadexpectedJohnsontopullbackaftergainingthepresidencyinhisownrightin1964. "IhadthoughtPresidentJohnsonwouldprobablystandfirmuntilaftertheelection,andthenbeingashrewdpoliticianwhichhewasandahighlyintelligentman, hewouldfigureouthowtogetusoutofthesituation....ButIhadsomecompassionforhim,asIwassurehewentthroughagony." ObamawenttogreatlengthslastweektocasthisdecisiontosendmoretroopstoAfghanistaninanentirelydifferentlightthanJohnson'sdecisionin1965. AfghanistanisnotVietnam,ObamasaidinhisaddresstotheU.S.MilitaryAcademyatWestPoint. Republicansgenerallypraisedthedecision,bothinWashingtonandelsewhere.EvenGov.RickPerry,whowouldnotevenwatchObama'sinaugurationin January,toldsupportersinDallaslastweekthatObamadidtherightthing.Texashaslost48troopsinAfghanistanandnearbytheaters,secondonlyto California. R.NicholasBurns,U.S.ambassadortoNATOandlaterundersecretaryofstateforpoliticalaffairsforPresidentGeorgeW.Bush,saidObama'sdecisionwasthe rightone,andsaidittriggeredsighsofreliefinforeigncapitalsthroughoutAsiaandelsewhere. "Thisisamajormomentinhispresidency.Iimaginethereisalotofpressureonhimbecauseheknowsthesedecisionswritethehistoryofhisfouryearsin office,"Burnssaid."Sincethecloseofthesecondworldwar,thiscountryhasbeentheloneguaranteeofstabilityintheworld....Wecannotshrinkfromour responsibilitiesbecausethereisnoothercountryonaglobalbasisthatcandowhatwedo." Thefearfactor ProfessorGeorgeC.EdwardsofTexasA&MUniversity,founderandformerdirectoroftheCenterforPresidentialStudies,alsosaidObamaisright.Vietnamand Afghanistanaredifferent,hesaid. "IfIwaspresident,Iwouldhavemadeadecisiontokeepupthepressurethere,"hesaid."IthinkthereislesspotentialthattheTalibancanputtogetherastrong enoughforcethatwillcauseustosendenormousnumbersoftroops....Theycan'tengageinmassivewarfare,astheVietnamesewereableto." Still,decisionsaboutwarareoftenmadeoutofakindoffear,Edwardssaid.WorriesaboutthedominoesinVietnam,forinstance,oraboutthepossibilityofa nucleararmedSaddamHusseinbeforetheinvasionofIraq,orworriesaboutterroristsseizingPakistaniweaponsallofthesedoomsdayscenariosweighheavily infavorofapresidentsendingtroopsonamissionliketheoneinAfghanistan. Aspresident,"youarescaredofit,"Edwardssaid."It'sverytoughtoovercomethat....It'saverytoughsituationforpresidents.Allofthesedecisionsaremade underconditionsofgreatuncertainty." Dalleksaystherisksofescalationarealwaysenormousforthecountryandforthepresident. "Historytellsusthattheonlyrealdecisionapresidenthasiswhethertofirethefirstshot,sotospeak.Onceyougetinthere,youhaveourtroopsinthere,andit becomesveryhardtowithdraw.Canyoushutthisdown?Justwalkaway?No.itbecomesanimpossibility.Inasense,Obamaisputtingallhischipsin." BurnssaidhehasfaithinthegeneralsfightingthewarinAfghanistan,andintheircounterinsurgencystrategy.Butifitdoesn'twork,hesaid,theyandObamawill simply"havetofindthecourageandthewisdomtodevelopanewstrategythatdoes." McGovernseesinthataneerieechoofthewarheopposedsincehefirstwaselectedsenatorin1962. "We'reheadeddownthesameroad,"hesaid."And[Obama]isnotgoingtogetoutoftherewithonlysending30,000,andwearenotgoingtocomeoutin2011. Twoyearsfromnow,he'sgoingtolookupandsay,'Goshwehavelost5,000troopsoverthere,wecan'tpulloutnow.'It'sanowinproposition.Andin Afghanistan,nobodyhaseverbeenabletoprevailinthatdesertedandmountainouscountry." WHATTHEYSAID AfghanistanandVietnamparallels GeorgeMcGovern,1972Democraticcandidateforpresident,whocampaignedandlostonaplatformagainsttheVietnamWar: "IalwaysachedforJohnsonduringtheVietnamperiod.Ididn'tknowthenasIdonowthathewasactuallyopposedtowar....Hedespisedthatwarrightfromthe beginning....Heknewitwasamessandknewitwasamistake." R.NicholasBurns,HarvardprofessorofdiplomacyandformerU.S.ambassadortoNATOunderGeorgeW.Bush: "Iamacitizenandtaxpayer,too,andIknowwecan'tbeeverywhere.Butwemustbeatthoseplaceswherewethinkwehavevitalnationalinterests.Iactually thinkthisAfghanistanengagementismorecriticalforusthantheIraqwar....Iamnotahistorian,butourinterestsinAfghanistanseemtometobemorevital thanthosewehadinVietnaminthe'60s." HarryMiddleton,formerLBJstafferandfor30yearsthedirectorofhispresidentiallibraryinAustin: "I'veattendedahundreddinnertableconversationswithPresidentJohnsonorifwasn'tthatmanyitseemedlikeitwherehewouldpushbackfromthetable andaskagainandagain,'Whatcouldwehavedonedifferently?'Ithinkhewenttohisgraveknowingfullwellhowextremelycostlyhisdecisionhadbeenforboth

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Obama's Afghanistan decision evokes LBJ's order on Vietnam buildup | National Politics and Election
hispresidencyandforthecountry."

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