Joined: Sat May 29, 2004 11:46 pm
|Robert Brigham: Different war, same mistakes
Bush's claim sounds eerily familiar to statements during the Johnson years
14 January 2007
President Bush is going to have a hard time selling his troop "surge" plan to the American public and Congress because so many in the United States hear Baghdad but see Saigon. The President's insistence that adding 20,000 more US combat troops to the roughly 130,000 Americans already there will stem the tide of insurgent advances and strengthen the Iraqi government sounds eerily similiar to White House statements made during the Johnson years. Then, Lyndon Johnson and his military commander, General William Westmoreland, argued that there was light at the end of the tunnel in Vietnam, that the will of the enemy was weakening, and with a few more thousand troops the job would be finished.
Johnson got his troop requests early on, nearly doubling the number of US combat forces in Vietnam in 1965 alone. But the surge in troops failed to produce the desired results. With each US escalation came an increase in the number of Communist troops in South Vietnam and an increase in the violence.
Unsure of what to do, Johnson and Westmoreland simply added more troops and bombs to the mix and increased their optimistic predictions about the war's end. The president never endorsed a ceiling on troop levels or announced a phased US withdrawal. Instead, he significantly expanded the list of bombing targets and increased the number of US combat troops to over 500,000 by the time he left office in January 1969. That was the high-water mark for US military personnel in Vietnam.
Johnson's policy of more of the same sparked a heated and often acrimonious debate in Washington. Congressional critics attacked the president and his national security team for failing to see the complexities that naturally emerge in a protracted war. They argued that the United States had no political corollary to its overwhelming military superiority and that the Saigon government had done little to provide for its own security. With a cost of 4,000 American casualties and nearly $2bn per month, Congress wanted more answers and better results. In the absence of any evidence of success, Congress pressured Johnson and then Richard Nixon to end the war in Vietnam through a phased US troop withdrawal and negotiations.
No wonder, then, that several members of the new Democratic Congress have gone on record opposing President Bush's troop surge plan. They reject the illusory nature of the wishful thinking that seems to afflict the Bush White House and often compare it to the Johnson years. Senator Ted Kennedy, sponsor of a resolution that would make it impossible for President Bush to increase the number of troops in Iraq, last week called Iraq "George Bush's Vietnam". Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, is expected to introduce a non-binding resolution against the troop surge, following his claim that "Twenty thousand American soldiers are too few to end this civil war in Iraq and too many American lives to risk on top of those we've already lost".
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