I’m not sure I go along fully with the premise of David Brooks’ most recent column (“Dogs, Cats and Leadership,” March 11), but I was very impressed by the anecdote with which it began:
When he was in the middle of his Syrian peace deal negotiations, Secretary of State John Kerry would go to President Obama with a request: Could the U.S. quietly send a few cruise missiles to hit Assad regime targets, just to send a message and maybe move the Syrian president toward a deal.
“Kerry’s looking like a chump with the Russians, because he has no leverage,” a senior administration official told Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic.
Obama continually said no, and eventually grew impatient. Goldberg asked Kerry if he thought he has more of a bias toward action than Obama. “I do probably,” Kerry responded. “I’d say that I think we’ve had a very symbiotic, synergistic, whatever you call it, relationship which works very effectively. Because I’ll come in with a bias toward ‘Let’s try to do this, let’s try to do that, let’s get this done.’”…
Wow. I mean, I knew President Obama was the most reluctant to act militarily within his administration — as Brooks notes later, “His senior advisers were shocked when he announced” that he would not back up his “red line” in Syria.
But to be so markedly dovish in comparison to John Kerry, whose personal legend is so wrapped up in his antiwar activism?
That’s fascinating. Particularly when you consider the president’s willingness to use drones far more than his predecessor, and to send the SEALs in to get bin Laden (the riskiest of the options, which included simply bombing the compound).
Perhaps this POTUS is a bit of a cat — the deadliest of pets, yet inscrutable…
There’s a difference between being antiwar (like me) and being anti-Vietnam War like Kerry. For someone who had been on the front line to come back and denounce the war based on what he saw and experienced is not “antiwar”. It’s called having a conscience.
“It’s called having a conscience.” Really? Well, thank you, Doug, for so self-righteously dismissing my father and all the men who served honorably in Vietnam and did NOT come home and dishonor their uniforms by using them as sloppy props for political theater.
Of all the forms of “conventional wisdom” that are anything but wise, the universal condemnation of our involvement in Vietnam is one of the most tiresome.
There was nothing especially wicked or evil about our involvement in Vietnam. It’s laughable (a bitter sort of laughter) that so many people, lacking a sense of history, think that it was.
People accept simplistically that, as Lenny Bruce said, WWII was the “good war,” but in Vietnam we were village-burning barbarian imperialists.
Let me share something with you about the “good war:” It was a war like other wars. A LOT of horrible stuff went down. You know how we all think of Omar Bradley as the “GI general,” the unassuming counterpoint to that martinet Patton? Here’s something I read about Bradley the other night. It was in the context of American troops learning, during the Battle of the Bulge, about SS units deliberately murdering American prisoners and Belgian civilians:
So am I saying Omar Bradley was a monster, or that the Americans were bad guys? Absolutely not. In that fight against totalitarianism, we were unquestionably the good side. That doesn’t mean everything we did was admirable.
But as I said on a previous post, I don’t dismiss people or institutions or countries on the basis of the worst thing they ever did. People are complicated. I look at the totality.
Did bad stuff happen in Vietnam? You betcha. Just like in Belgium. Oh, and you know what we were fighting against in Vietnam? Totalitarianism, just like in Belgium…
And yes, Bryan, I still plan to lend you that book. I’m still plodding my way through it.
It’s a good book. I’m just not a very disciplined reader these days, and have been consuming it in quick bites here and there…
“It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.”
Thank you, Marse Robert.
Vietnam was an imperialist misadventure based on a false premise. Remember the falling dominoes? I call bs on this notion of “fighting totalitarianism”. It was wrong and defending it is a fools errand that only makes future “Vietnams” more likely. That type of thinking MUST be fought whenever it rears its ugly head.
Bud, the actual BS here is the word “imperialist.” Clueless people started saying it in the 60s, and people today have heard it so many times they just accept it, even though it bears no resemblance to the fact.
I can’t remember ever seeing or hearing anything having to do with our involvement in Vietnam that looked like imperialism. Oh, wait — there was that deleted scene from “Apocalypse Now” in which Capt. Willard pauses on his trip up the river to hang with a family of French colonialists. Now THAT smacked of imperialism — but it had practically nothing to do with what we were doing there.
You want imperialism, you’ll have to go back about 70 years, to the Spanish-American War.
Study that and Vietnam, and you should be able to tell the difference.
Vietnam was more typical of our post-WWII pattern — American blood spilled to deliver other peoples from tyranny. Of course, we had an ulterior motive — containing Soviet communism…
I didn’t dismiss anyone’s participation in the Vietnam War. I wasn’t there. All I can go by is the very strong reaction by a number of the men who were there and determined that it was a quagmire of questionable purpose organized by a government that covered up some very disturbing activities.
There is a huge leap to go from “War is Hell (Deal With it!) ” to William Calley or any of the other (many) heinous acts committed during that war. “Bad stuff” that happens to a soldier is tragic. “Bad stuff” performed by a soldier upon innocent people is unacceptable no matter whether it is a good war or Vietnam.
Well, we can certainly agree that “bad stuff” done by a soldier is unacceptable.
And made inevitable when we engage in wars of imperialism. Abu Ghraib is a perfect example.
If you haven’t read Jeffrey Goldberg’s piece, “The Obama Doctrine,” in The Atlantic, which Brooks is piggybacking on, you should. It’s very interesting (and very long) and it directly addresses your point about drones. The short version of the drones issue is that Obama is not at all hesitant to use force against what he considers to be direct threats against US national security, but he is much more reticent to get involved militarily in conflicts that don’t bear as directly on US security. Seriously, though, read Goldberg’s article because I can’t do it justice in this space. It reads like something that you would expect to be published as a retrospective years after Obama’s term ends, not when he’s still in office for another year.
Thanks, Michael, for reminding me that I had meant to link to the piece in The Atlantic.
I have now done so…