As Obama Decides on
Posted By William Pfaff On November 24, 2009
The pressure that has been on Barack Obama with respect to reinforcement of the war in Afghanistan resembles that placed on John F. Kennedy to send American combat troops to Vietnam during the 18 months before his assassination.
Kennedy made an early decision that displeased most of his own staff as well as much of the
He counted on the fact that one of the most effective ways to take a decision is to postpone it until it no longer is relevant. This is what Barack Obama has been able to do until now, while the evolution of political events in
Next Tuesday, when the president speaks to the country, one will learn his response to the demand for dramatic escalation that has been issued by Gens. David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal, the Pentagon adviser David Kilcullen, and certain rejuvenated neoconservatives and others from the last administration determined to pursue the "long war" for what they see as permanent American global politico-military domination.
There is a lesson in the past. Before leaving office, President Dwight Eisenhower warned John F. Kennedy of the pitfalls before him in the entire area of
He also said that he had been elected in 1952 to end one war in Asia, in
The new President Kennedy sought the advice of another eminent American soldier. He invited Douglas MacArthur to
According to Robert Kennedy’s account, MacArthur said that it would "be foolish to fight on the Asiatic continent," and that "the future … should be determined at the diplomatic table." JFK’s aide Kenneth O’Donnell has added that MacArthur said to Kennedy that "there was no end to
Gen. Maxwell Taylor, Kennedy’s military adviser, said that MacArthur "made a hell of an impression on the president," adding that when presented with further proposals from the Pentagon for military intervention, Kennedy would say, "Well, now, you gentlemen, you go back and convince Gen. MacArthur, then I’ll be convinced."
President Kennedy remained adamant. He was determined not to send American combat troops to
McGeorge Bundy noted in 1961 that President Kennedy asked another question that remains pertinent concerning
The conclusion of Gordon M. Goldstein’s recent book (Lessons in Disaster), which makes use of McGeorge Bundy’s contemporary papers and his drafts for the collaborative memoir he and Goldstein had begun before Bundy’s death in 1996, is that Kennedy’s determination at the time of his assassination was to withdraw American advisers from Vietnam.
Bundy had favored intervention. He was one of the winners of the argument – or so it seemed – when he was one of those most influential in convincing the new President Lyndon Johnson to go to war in 1964, a war that would continue for another nine years.
Among the papers from that period that Gordon Goldstein has used in his book is a memo from Bundy to Lyndon Johnson on May 4, 1967. This said to the president, "The fact that
Looking back at the memo, nearly 30 years after he had written it in triumph, he noted on it, for Goldstein to read and quote, "McGB all wrong."
What was not wrong was that the decision Bundy had urged Johnson to take was indeed a decision of massive importance, as will be the decision Barack Obama announces next week.
(c) 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.