Some of you may already have seen Bill Moyers PBS show this week; an apropos study of the dilemma facing LBJ in the Spring and early summer of 1964 in relation to Vietnam – to deploy more “young men”, to withdraw or to somehow seek a middle ground.
I thought it interesting not merely for the obvious parallels but for the process of decision-making itself. It’s also revealing on the Bay of Tonkin incident.
It reminded me that, after all the politicking, such affairs as between peoples boil down quite simply; it is always about the indigenous peoples. If they do not better relate and want what it is you are offering them than they can relate and want the ‘other side’, you cannot win becasue people will not be imposed upon.
The peoples of Afghanistan do not want rule from Kabul, nor this thing the foreign invaders call democracy. They have always lived, as far as their oral history takes them, in the context of family, village elders, tribal leaders and maybe district councils. That is their world it is also the world of the Afghani Taliban. They’re not even looking at the trinkets the west is trying to tempt them with.
I noted that, at a point soon after the period shown in Bill Moyers show, the South Vietnamese had 10 governments in 20 months – coincidentally, this week the British Foreign Secretary said, if NATO were to leave Karzai, would fall in between 5 minutes and a week of that leaving: This after 6 years.
Also, that the south Vietnamese lost more troops to desertion after basic training than they could recruit – we’re not getting any data on that (or on the police in Afghanistan), though we may recall what happened in Iraq before the militias were bought off.
LYNDON B. JOHNSON: I want to take one minute here to read you what I think is the best summary of it we have […] We can withdraw from South Vietnam. Without our support […] Vietnam will collapse and the ripple effect will be felt throughout Southeast Asia, endangering independent governments from Thailand, Malaysia and extending as far as India on the west, Indonesia on the south and the Philippines on the east […] Number two, we can seek a formula that will neutralize South Vietnam […] but any such formula will only lead in the end to the same results of withdrawing support […] Three, we can send the Marines, a la Goldwater […] but if we do our men may well be bogged down in a long war against numerically superior North Vietnamese and Chi Com forces 10,000 miles from home. Four, we continue our present policy of providing training and logistical support for the South Vietnam forces. This policy has not failed. We propose to continue it. Secretary McNamara’s trip to South Vietnam will provide us with an opportunity to again appraise the future prospects of this policy, and the further alternatives that may be available to us […]
LYNDON B. JOHNSON: What do you think about this Vietnam thing? What, what, I’d like to hear you talk a little bit. **
RICHARD RUSSELL:** It’s a, it’s a, it’s the damn worst mess I ever saw, and I don’t like to brag. I never have been right many times in my life. But I knew we were going to get into this sort of mess when we went in there. And I don’t see how we’re going ever to get out without fighting a major war with the Chinese and all of them down there in those rice paddies and jungles […] I just don’t know what to do.
LYNDON B. JOHNSON: Well, that’s the way that I’ve been feeling for six months. **
RICHARD RUSSELL:** It appears our position is deteriorating. And it looks like the more we try to do for them, the less that they’re willing to do for themselves […] It’s a hell, a hell of a situation. It’s a mess. And it’s going to get worse. And I don’t know what to do.