Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Iraq and Vietnam: Geometry of Getting Out

The debate about Iraq has turned toward the precedent of Vietnam and Nixon’s five-year delay in ending that unpopular war.

On Talk Left, the estimable Big Tent Democrat cites Nixon in 1968 as an “apt comparison” for a new President of his party in ’08: “After all, who wants to run for reelection having ‘lost Iraq?’ Of course they are ridiculous to fear being labelled as having lost Iraq, but fear it they will. They all fear what the Beltway Gasbags will say.”

No one could agree more about the pernicious influence of Beltway Gasbags but, as a tear-gassed Democratic Convention veteran of the ’68 debate over ending the war, I must add a cautionary footnote.

Chance can be just as important as calculation in politics, and there is no question that Vietnam would have ended in early 1969 if Robert Kennedy hadn’t been killed a year earlier. Nixon’s election hinged on that national misfortune.

As an anti-war delegate that summer, I witnessed a chaotic convention where Eugene McCarthy had become irrelevant and Hubert Humphrey who supported the war was nominated by default. If he had lived, Kennedy would surely have been chosen and gone on to defeat Nixon, whose 20-point lead in the polls fell to less than one percent in the balloting even against Humphrey.

Whatever the self-interest of the next President dictates, the tide of feeling against this war will force him or her to end it sooner rather than later.

1 comment:

iacpiacp said...

Yes, the war probably would have ended in 1969 had Robert Kennedy survived. With him, some 30,000 Americans would have lived. When Nixon was elected touting a "secret plan" to end the war in Vietnam, the American count stood at 29,000 killed. We all know how many names are on that granite wall now. All in the name of "peace with honor."

How many more Americans will die in Iraq in the interest of "staying the course" or avoiding a "surrender date?"