Obama as LBJ

by FRANKLIN SPINNEY

With President Obama poised to announce our “new” strategy in Afghanistan next Monday, the courtiers and pundits in Versailles on the Potomac seemed to have reached a consensus that he will opt for an escalation in Afghanistan of 35,000 troops. Such a policy announcement would be presented as a middle ground derived from careful reflection, but in actuality would be based on the fatally flawed recommendations in the report submitted to him last August by General Stanley McChrystal (see my article in CounterPunch, 22 Sept 2009). Mr. Obama has been accused unjustly by former Vice President Cheney as “dithering” over this decision, yet there is no evidence that the centerpiece of the new strategy — namely the rapid doubling in size of the Afghan security forces — has been subjected to any kind of rational critical analysis, despite widespread reports of its corruption, inneffectiveness, and penetration by the Taliban.

Given this huge hole in McChrystal’s logic, it should not be surprising that the Afghan escalation debate degenerated into intellectual chaos over the ensuing three months. The intellectual incoherence even included some amazingly moronic ramblings in the pundocracy about strategy being merely a neo-Hitlerian question of willpower, as I explained in the “The Afghan War Question” on November 12.

In the end, the question of escalation boils down to one man’s decision, which begs the question: What is going on in Mr. Obama’s head?

There have been many comparisons of the Afghan escalation question to its equivalent question in Vietnam 45 years ago, but I think the most ominous similarity lies in the way each escalation debate devolved into intellectual incoherence and confusion, mutating into an exhausted disorder, bordering on a paralysis of the decision maker’s critical faculties, and finally caving in to domestic political pressures. Moreover, at the center of the paralyzing intellectual morass in each case, is a reliance on the same vague assumptions: namely, that we can eventually evolve some kind of undefined exit strategy by converting the corrupt and incompetent indigenous security forces of our client government into effective forces, including the equally vague corollary assumption that these local security forces will eventually be perceived as being legitimate by the people they are currently robbing, raping, murdering, and terrorizing. And so, like the Vietnam escalation debate, the Afghan debate boils down to the same need to buy an undetermined amount of time for these ill-defined developments to take effect in an as yet undefined way. In each case, the mechanism for moving along this unknowable evolutionary pathway will be by propping up the local forces with even larger doses of American military power, hence the need to escalate, if only to fend off one’s domestic political adversaries’ accusations of weakness.

While recent events make it quite clear that this incoherence is now at the center of Obama’s Afghan escalation deliberations, Bill Moyers just produced a stunning TV show that reminds us that it was the same evolution into incoherence that led the president into the cul de sac in 1964 and 1965. He did this by going inside President Lyndon Johnson’s head to examine how LBJ,s agonizing deliberations induced him to escalate in Vietnam, even though LBJ and some of his closest confidants, like Senator Richard Russell of Georgia, admitted to each other that the strategy was not likely to work. But it becomes clear that they were sucked into a cul de sac of acting against their better judgement by a fear that domestic political adversaries, particularly conservative Republican warmongers, like Senator Barry Goldwater, would accuse LBJ of cutting and running. Sound familiar? What makes Moyers’ exposition so elegantly brilliant is that Moyers used the secretly taped conversations of President Johnson’s own private telephone calls to illustrate his descent into intellectual chaos and paralysis.

I urge you to listen to it carefully — maybe twice; it is truly mind boggling in terms of the light it shines onto Mr. Obama’s dilemma.

We may never know what is going on inside Mr. Obama’s head, but the outward manifestations of LBJ’s scary mental evolution are now enveloping Mr. Obama, and they are in plain view for all to see. Let us hope the consensus of pundocracy is wrong and he exhibits the moral courage to take an obviously wiser course than his predecessor, because one lesson is clear: it is wiser and less painful over the long term to lance an infectious boil immediately. Otherwise, Obama can forget about ever being compared to Lincoln and FDR, and it is more likely he will find himself compared to some kind of a Carterized caricature of LBJ.

Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon. He currently lives on a sailboat in the Mediterranean and can be reached at chuck_spinney@mac.com

Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He be reached at chuck_spinney@mac.com

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
George Wuerthner
Myths of the Anthropocene Boosters: Truthout’s Misguided Attack on Wilderness and National Park Ideals
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal