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The ones standing in back of Obama at his March 27, 2009, announcement have smarts enough to have said, NO; IT'S A BAD IDEA, Mr. President. That should not be too much to expect. Gallons of blood are likely to be poured unnecessarily in the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan -- probably over the next decade or longer. But not their blood.
Sound Military Advice
General officers seldom rise to the occasion. Exceptions are so few that they immediately spring to mind: French war hero Gen. Philippe LeClerc, for example, was sent to Indochina right after World War II with orders to report back on how many troops it would take to recapture Indochina. His report: "It would require 500,000 men; and even with 500,000 France could not win."
Equally relevant to Obama's fateful decision, Gen. Douglas MacArthur told another young President in April 1961: "Anyone wanting to commit American ground forces to the mainland of Asia should have his head examined."
When JFK's top military advisers, critical of the President's reluctance to go against that advice, virtually called him a traitor -- for pursuing a negotiated solution to the fighting in Laos, for example -- Kennedy would tell them to convince Gen. MacArthur first, and then come back to him. (Alas, there seems to be no comparable Gen. MacArthur today.)
Kennedy recognized Vietnam as a potential quagmire, and was determined not to get sucked in -- despite the misguided, ideologically-salted advice given him by Ivy League patricians like McGeorge Bundy. Kennedy's military adviser, Gen. Maxwell Taylor, said later that MacArthur's statement made a "hell of an impression on the President."
MacArthur made another comment about the situation that President Kennedy had inherited in Indochina. This one struck the young President so much that he dictated it into a memorandum of conversation: Kennedy quoted MacArthur as saying to him, "The chickens are coming home to roost from the Eisenhower years, and you live in the chicken coop."
Well, the chickens are coming home to roost after eight years of Cheney and Bush, but there is no sign that President Obama is listening to anyone capable of fresh thinking on Afghanistan. Obama has apparently decided to stay in the chicken coop. And that can be called, well, chicken.
Can't say I actually KNEW Jack Kennedy, but it was he who got so many of us down here to Washington to explore what we might do for our country. Kennedy resisted the kind of pressures to which President Obama has now succumbed. (There are even some, like Jim Douglass in his book JFK and the Unspeakable, who conclude that this is what got President Kennedy killed.)
Mr. Obama, you need to find some advisers who are not still wet behind the ears and who are not brown noses -- preferably some who have lived Vietnam and Iraq and have an established record of responsible, fact-based analysis. You would also do well to read Douglass' book, and to page through the "Pentagon Papers," instead of trying to emulate the Lincoln portrayed in Team of Rivals.
I, too, am a big fan of Doris Kearns Goodwin, but Daniel Ellsberg is an author far more relevant and nourishing for this point in time. Read his Secrets, and recognize the signs of the times. There is still time to put the brakes on this disastrous policy. One key lesson of Vietnam is that an army trained and supplied by foreign occupiers can almost always be readily outmatched and out-waited in a guerrilla war, no matter how many billions of dollars are pumped in.
Professor Martin van Creveld of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the only non-American military historian on the U.S. Army's list of required reading for officers, has accused former President George W. Bush of "launching the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9 BC sent his legions into Germany and lost them."
Please do not feel you have to compete with your predecessor for such laurels.
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