The Ghost of LBJ

by NORMAN SOLOMON

A few days after the inauguration, in a piece celebrating the arrival of the Obama administration, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert wrote that the new president has clearly signaled: “No more crazy wars.”

I wish.

Last week — and 44 years ago — there were many reasons to celebrate the inauguration of a president after the defeat of a right-wing Republican opponent. But in the midst of numerous delightful fragrances in the air, a bad political odor is apt to be almost ineffable.

Right now, on the subject of the Afghan war, what dominates the discourse in Washington is narrowness of political vision — while news outlets are reporting that the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan is expected to “as much as double this year to 60,000 troops.”

It’s heartbreaking now to read the admixture of profound humanity and nascent war madness in the inaugural address of Lyndon Johnson. “In a land of great wealth, families must not live in hopeless poverty,” he proclaimed. “In a land rich in harvest, children just must not go hungry. In a land of healing miracles, neighbors must not suffer and die unattended.” And that wasn’t just rhetoric. LBJ went on to launch Great Society programs with great effects and far greater promise.

But the same inaugural speech foreshadowed the massive slaughtering of people in Vietnam, and the undermining of the United States — with what Martin Luther King Jr. two years later likened to “some demonic destructive suction tube” — bringing home terrible depths of human pain and bitterness. “If American lives must end, and American treasure be spilled, in countries we barely know,” Johnson said at his inauguration, “that is the price that change has demanded of conviction and of our enduring covenant.”

Pundits and congressional leadership nodded sagely as the president cited the threat of communism and proceeded to boost U.S. troop levels in Vietnam. Similar nodding — and nodding off — is now underway as the president cites the threat of terrorism and prepares to boost U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan.

Down the line, some key words from Obama’s inaugural address — telling dubious foreign leaders that “your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy” — will need to face a reflection in the mirror.

Lyndon Johnson’s capacity to deliver on hopes for a Great Society shattered on the jagged steel of a war that, year after year, few pundits were willing to acknowledge was crazy. The war effort in Vietnam was the essence of supposed rationality.

Now, hopes for the Obama administration are vulnerable to destruction from an escalating war. “Afghanistan could quickly come to define the Obama presidency,” the New York Times reported on Sunday.

Many independent journalists and authors, such as Chris Hedges and Sonali Kolhatkar, have written from depths of knowledge about the derangement of the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan. That effort won’t bring “victory,” but it can multiply the suffering endlessly.

Several weeks ago, a Bob Herbert column made a practical moral argument: “Sending thousands of additional men and women (some to die, some to be horribly wounded) on a fool’s errand in the rural, mountainous guerrilla paradise of Afghanistan would be madness.”

Days after the inauguration, the news has included a fresh spate of stories about Afghan civilians killed by U.S. missiles. Hamid Karzai, in effect the president of Kabul, declared that the Pentagon’s frequent killing of civilians in Afghanistan “is strengthening the terrorists.” And so it goes.

Escalation of a crazy war will make it crazier. Pretending otherwise will not make it any less insane — or any less destructive.

And, as we heard in Obama’s inaugural address, “people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.”

NORMAN SOLOMON is the author of Made Love, Got War.

Norman Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, where he coordinates ExposeFacts. Solomon is a co-founder of RootsAction.org, which has encouraged donations to the Sterling Family Fund. Disclosure: After the guilty verdict five months ago, Solomon used his frequent-flyer miles to get plane tickets for Holly and Jeffrey Sterling so they would be able to go home to St. Louis.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington
Geoffrey McDonald
Obama’s Overtime Tweak: What is the Fair Price of a Missed Life?
Brian Cloughley
Hypocrisy, Obama-Style
Robert Fantina
Israeli Missteps Take a Toll
Pete Dolack
Speculators Circling Puerto Rico Latest Mode of Colonialism
Ron Jacobs
Spying on Black Writers: the FB Eye Blues
Paul Buhle
The Leftwing Seventies?
Binoy Kampmark
The TPP Trade Deal: of Sovereignty and Secrecy
David Swanson
Vietnam, Fifty Years After Defeating the US
Robert Hunziker
Human-Made Evolution
Shamus Cooke
Why Obama’s “Safe Zone” in Syria Will Inflame the War Zone
David Rosen
Hillary Clinton: Learn From Your Sisters
Sam Husseini
How #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter Can Devalue Life
Shepherd Bliss
Why I Support Bernie Sanders for President
Louis Proyect
Manufacturing Denial
Howard Lisnoff
The Wrong Argument
Tracey Harris
Living Tiny: a Richer and More Sustainable Future
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
A Day of Tears: Report from the “sHell No!” Action in Portland
Tom Clifford
Guns of August: the Gulf War Revisited
Renee Lovelace
I Dream of Ghana
Colin Todhunter
GMOs: Where Does Science Begin and Lobbying End?
Ben Debney
Modern Newspeak Dictionary, pt. II
Christopher Brauchli
Guns Don’t Kill People, Immigrants Do and Other Congressional Words of Wisdom
S. Mubashir Noor
India’s UNSC Endgame
Ellen Taylor
The Voyage of the Golden Rule
Norman Ball
Ten Questions for Lee Drutman: Author of “The Business of America is Lobbying”
Franklin Lamb
Return to Ma’loula, Syria
Masturah Alatas
Six Critics in Search of an Author
Mark Hand
Cinéma Engagé: Filmmaker Chronicles Texas Fracking Wars
Mary Lou Singleton
Gender, Patriarchy, and All That Jazz
Patrick Hiller
The Icebreaker and #ShellNo: How Activists Determine the Course
Charles Larson
Tango Bends Its Gender: Carolina De Robertis’s “The Gods of Tango”