It's early in 1965, and President Lyndon B. Johnson faces a critical
decision. Should he escalate in Vietnam? Should he say "yes" to the request from
U.S. commanders for more troops? Or should he change strategy, downsize the
American commitment, even withdraw completely, a decision that would help him
focus on his top domestic priority, "The Great Society" he hopes to build?
We all know what happened. LBJ listened to the generals and foreign
policy experts and escalated, with tragic consequences for the United States and
calamitous results for the Vietnamese people on the receiving end of American
firepower. Drawn deeper and deeper into Vietnam, LBJ would soon lose his way and
eventually his will, refusing to run for reelection in 1968.
President Obama now stands at the edge of a similar precipice. Should he
acquiesce to General Stanley A. McChrystal's call for 40,000 to
60,000 or more U.S. troops for Afghanistan? Or should he pursue a new
strategy, downsizing our commitment, even withdrawing completely, a decision
that would help him focus on national health care, among his other top domestic
The die, I fear, is cast. In his "war of
necessity," Obama has evidently already ruled out even considering a "reduction"
option, no less a withdrawal one, and will likely settle on an "escalate
lite" program involving more troops (though not as many as McChrystal has
urged), more American trainers for the Afghan army, and even a further
escalation of the drone war over the Pakistani borderlands and new special
By failing his first big test as commander-in-chief this way, Obama will
likely ensure himself a one-term presidency, and someday be seen as a man like
LBJ whose biggest dreams broke upon the shoals of an unwinnable war.
I'm for pulling out, but I also agree that, given the political situation in the U.S., that is unlikely. So we'll just stay and spend our treasury and shed our blood (and theirs) and spin our wheels and neglect others much larger issues facing us.
That is what you call a lose-lose situation.