Sunday, March 29, 2009


In fifty-eight years of following American politics, the saddest episode was watching the undoing of President Johnson as he stumbled into the trap of escalating the utterly senseless and self destructive Vietnam war in the four years following JFK's assassination.

Johnson would have been re-elected in 1968 and left this earth as a giant among Presidential giants had he pulled out of Vietnam rather than escalate our invading army to over half a million soldiers by 1967. His sheparding the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 through Congress were monumental achievements. His campaign to end poverty may have succeeded and would have been the capstone to a unparalleled nine year Presidency, had the billions of dollars of guns and napalm needed to prosecute a futile war not melted all the butter needed to end poverty.

What was truly tragic about LBJ's fall was that he saw it coming but became too paralyzed to stop it. Johnson's not-as-famous-as-Nixon's Oval Office taping system captured him agonizing over the proposed troop escalation, even commenting that the proposed troop buildup was bound to fail but he would plough ahead because he wasn't going to be the first President to quit a war.

Johnson's road to perdition was paved by incremental troop increases that eventually lead to hundreds of thousands of American casualties and millions of Vietnamese casualties. Johnson bowed out of the 1968 re-election and left office in 1969 a sad and broken man.

Now, forty years later President Obama finds himself mired in two futile and self destructive wars, neither of which he started and one of which he publically opposed before its start. His vaunted phase out of the Iraq war may be a sham. Barely 12,000 of 140,000 soldiers there are coming home this year, and any spike in violence or civil unrest will keep the rest there indefinitely. In his first sixty-seven days in office he has twice announced troop increases in Afghanistan, 17,000 a couple of weeks ago and another 4,000 today.

Obama has been rightly lauded for his channeling of Honest Abe and FDR as he seeks solutions to a broken financial system, a broken health care system, a broken educational system, a broken energy system and a broken manufacturing system. He would do well to stop channeling LBJ when it comes to fixing a broken quest for empire in the Middle East.

Also published in Glen Ellyn News, April 15, 2009