Obama using LBJ playbook to expand U.S. entanglement in Afghani-nam
Here’s an interesting question for history buffs:
What American president ordered the escalation of American military commitment to an unpopular conflict on the other side of the globe, sending members of his own party into a self-loathing, but ultimately obedient, tizzy?
No, don’t guess quite yet.
Which president scolded the government of the other country for its corruption while not merely overlooking, but tolerating and even rewarding, remarkable levels of corruption in his own inner circle?
Think you know the answer?
This president was a well-known senator before ascending to the Oval Office and sought to govern on the notion that American wealth ought to be better spread around.
OK, here are your choices.
A: Lyndon Baines Johnson.
B: Barack Obama.
Now think for a moment. We’ll wait.
Tick, tick, tick, tock ....
Actually, it’s a trick question.
The answer is C, both of the above.
Johnson, of course, famously embarked on a course of escalation in Vietnam shortly after he assumed office in the wake of the Kennedy assassination.
Not even a year into his presidency, Obama has ordered an additional 30,000 troops to, well, let’s just call it Afghani-nam.
Johnson called on the nation to join the war against communism “with strength and determination.”
Obama said American security was “at stake” in Afghani-nam.
Johnson famously micromanaged the war until the war got even and macromanaged him out of office. He decided not to run for re-election in 1968 in large part because of public opposition to the war.
Obama, missing the entire lesson of Vietnam, started with a micromanaged deadline and ignored the request of his generals for 40,000 troops and low-balled it to 30,000.
Not unlike the government of Vietnam, the Afghani-nam government is awash in corruption.
Like the Johnson administration before it with Vietnam, the Obama administration wants to impose the kind of ideological purity on Afghani-nam that it never would impose on itself.
Government officials on the take in Afghani-nam are a horror, according to Obama.
On the other hand, the Obama administration sees no need for prospective Cabinet members to pay taxes. The president even put a tax cheat, Timothy Geithner, as the head of the Treasury Department .
The Johnson administration was a serial phone-tapper and delighted in listening to the private conversations of, among others, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The Obama administration is picking up where the Johnson administration left off with its Great Society ambitions.
Johnson, in large part, saw his hopes for a domestic utopia frustrated by John F. Kennedy’s war and Obama already is blaming his predecessor for all the ills that have befallen his still-young administration.
To be sure, there are differences, and some frightening similarities, between Vietnam and Afghani-nam.
One is in Southeast Asia, the other lies near the Middle East. North Vietnam waged a guerilla war using the Viet Cong. The Taliban is waging a guerilla war now, in territory best described as inhospitable to outsiders.
North Vietnam was a client state whose war effort was bankrolled by China and the USSR.
The Taliban gets support from a more shadowy network linked to radical Islam, which has used Afghani-nam for training of terrorists. That’s one of the reasons the United States went there in the first place.
It’s not enunciated as the Domino Theory anymore, largely because, as we have seen, state borders are no barrier to the advancement of radical Islamic ideology. Like Johnson, Obama claims to believe that the kind of radicalism that thrives on executions, institutional misogyny and terror constitutes a threat, even when centered on the other side of the Earth.
Just how seriously that belief can be taken remains to be seen.
If Obama uses the Johnson playbook, as he has so far, get used to Afghani-nam.