Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday Warbooks: Into the Quagmire, Brian VanDeMark

A review of Into the Quagmire: Lyndon Johnson and the Escalation Of the Vietnam War, by Brian VanDeMark.

This is a detailed history of the decisions Johnson and his advisors made regarding Vietnam from the fall of '64 up to the summer of '65, when LBJ decided to send hundreds of thousands of ground troops there. VanDeMark shows that these decisions were based on two major factors. The first factor was the administration's faulty assumptions about global politics, such as outdated conceptions of monolithic communism and belief in the domino theory; and ignorance of, or deliberate blindess to, the actualities of Moscow-Beijing discord and Vietnam’s indigenous troubles. The second factor was a (justified) fear of conservative backlash if LBJ "lost" Vietnam to communism. This fear caused LBJ to obscure his actions in Vietnam so he could keep public attention focused on his Great Society; in the end, this secrecy cost him his credibility.

It seemed clear to me from VanDeMark's arguments that instead of accepting criticism as a given if he withdrew from Vietnam, thus prolonging a war which his own military admitted was a slim hope, LBJ could have considered that losing the war was a given and thus tried to put a positive spin on pulling out, tackling his critics' objections before they were made. But he wavered to the end, and tried to cover his political ass with a short-term solution to a long-term problem. This all-too-American story has all the elements of Greek tragedy: hubris, good intentions, even a "chorus" of nay-saying Cassandras whom no one attended to. Fascinating stuff.

This book was written in 1995. I leave it to the modern reader to determine how much of this can reasonably be applied as analogy to the current Iraq conflict. One obvious difference in the parallelism is that LBJ hid his war aims because he felt he'd be able to ameliorate the plight of America's poor and disenfranchised; while GWB has never so much as thought the phrase "ameliorate the plight of America's poor and disenfranchised," and wouldn't understand it if he did.

No comments: