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PARIS, THE NEW NORMAL? — Diana Johnstone files an in-depth report from Paris on the political reaction to the Charlie Hebdo shootings; The Treachery of the Black Political Class: Margaret Kimberley charts the rise and fall of the Congressional Black Caucus; The New Great Game: Pepe Escobar assays the game-changing new alliance between Russia and Turkey; Will the Frackers Go Bust? Joshua Frank reports on how the collapse of global oil prices might spell the end of the fracking frenzy in the Bakken Shale; The Future of the Giraffe: Ecologist Monica Bond reports from Tanzania on the frantic efforts to save one of the world’s most iconic species. Plus: Jeffrey St. Clair on Satire in the Service of Power; Chris Floyd on the Age of Terrorism and Absurdity; Mike Whitney on the Drop Dead Fed; John Wight on the rampant racism of Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper;” John Walsh on Hillary Clinton and Lee Ballinger on the Gift of Anger.
The Haunting of Obama

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.