Those who refuse to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. It’s that simple and that clean. It’s all here in this Bill Moyers review of how Lyndon Johnson destroyed his presidency and himself and ended the lives of tens of thousands of young men by being too afraid of the right-wing barking crowd to step up and do the wise and strong thing, which was to say screw it — there’s no way to win, we can’t even define what a “win” is, South Vietnam is quicksand and we’ll drown in it, and you can’t hope to succeed by propping up a corrupt government.
The Afghanistan situation right now contains many similarities to the one Johnson faced in Vietnam in ’65 or thereabouts. It will almost surely will eat Obama up because he hasn’t the courage to call the underlying rationale — i.e., “if we don’t fight ’em there, they’ll come after us here with another 9/11” — the paranoid imagining that it is and always has been. It’s the 21st Century version of “if we don’t stop the Communists in Vietnam, they’ll soon be arriving on the shores of Santa Monica.” (Which reminds me of a retort to this in Michael Ritchie‘s The Candidate — “We can’t allow the Communists to land in Santa Monica because the parking problem is bad enough as it is.”)