We cannot have both guns and butter. We cannot maintain two hostile occupations in faraway Islamic lands, pretending to be nation-building, and rebuild our own depleted national economic and financial infrastructure at the same time.
I don't know what we can learn from history.
In his election campaign of 1964, Lyndon Johnson said we should not get bogged down in a ground war in Asia. Then in the next year LBJ proceeded to bog us down in such a war saying that we could have both guns and butter.
We are a country which was built by pioneers who had a rifle in one hand and an ax in the other. We can do both. And as long as I am president we will do both.That was LBJ's hubris.
However, history proves that hubris, alone, is unsustainable. Lyndon Johnson, once thought of as a slam-dunk candidate for reelection in 1968, decided in March of that year not to run. Despite having huge Democratic majorities in Congress which helped the president push through the Great Society legislation, he was done. LBJ's War on Poverty foundered on the rocks of his war in Vietnam. As Irving Bernstein writes in his probing study of the era, Guns or Butter: The Presidency of Lyndon Johnson,
One may speculate over what might have been if the country had remained at peace. Economic policy was working superbly in 1965 and it is likely that prosperity would have continued into 1968. In Chicago the Democrats would have renominated the Johnson-Humphrey ticket and it would have won easily. This might have launched a long period of Democratic control of the White House and the Congress. The Great Society would have survived and might have been expanded.Flashing forward to the 21st Century, ex-presidential candidate McCain offers little wisdom from America's 20th century quagmire. His advice to President Obama is,
The base of his party, the left base of his party, is opposed. The American people are weary of this conflict. I do have sympathy for the president making this decision. It's the toughest decision the president has to make, to send people into harm's way. But I remind you that throughout [U.S.] history, whether it be Harry Truman or Franklin Delano Roosevelt or Abraham Lincoln, leaders have had to make tough choices, and history has judged them very kindly.Senator McCain has forgotten the words he wrote in his forward to David Halberstam’s book, “The Best and the Brightest:
War is far too horrible a thing to drag out unnecessarily, It was a shameful thing to ask men to suffer and die, to persevere through god-awful afflictions and heartache, to endure the dehumanizing experiences that are unavoidable in combat, for a cause that the country wouldn’t support over time and that our leaders so wrongly believed could be achieved at a smaller cost than our enemy was prepared to make us pay.When our current president first declared Afghanistan to be a 'good war', as compared to Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq which was a 'stupid' and 'unnecessary' war, it was during Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. That was before our economic collapse. Given that we are now still teetering between recession and depression in our homeland, it is time we reassess whether we can afford George Bush's foreign legions.
No other national endeavor requires as much unshakable resolve as war. If the nation and the government lack that resolve, it is criminal to expect men in the field to carry it alone.
Recently, when asked if he risked the fate of Lyndon Johnson whose presidency was consumed by a war started by his predecessors, but which he chose to reinforce, Obama replied:
You have to learn lessons from history. On the other hand, each historical moment is different. You never step into the same river twice. And so Afghanistan is not Vietnam.Maybe not. But the rivers we are talking about in Afghanistan have never been mastered by Western powers. The English have tried twice and the Russians once. It's a river Americans don't have to cross. It's the river that will lead us to where empires have died.
Are the people who want Obama to fail on his domestic economic recovery programs the same people who want him to cross the river of doom and double down in Afghanistan? Do you think? What do they promise for us in Afghanistan? Victory? Avoidance of defeat? Promises? Hopes? Persistence? Honor?
I say hope is not a strategy and continuation is not a policy. Better a planned exit strategy now than a scrambled hasty retreat later.
Support our troops. Bring them home.