by Mumia Abu-Jamal
Begun under dubious circumstances, more as a demonstration war to set the stage for the real drama of Iraq, Afghanistan has almost always been more useful as a proxy war fought by others, rather than a direct war fought by Americans.
But 9-11 changed all that, and today, nine years later, Barack Obama is beginning to resemble, more and more, another congressman who became a president: Lyndon B. Johnson.
What makes that resemblance all the more remarkable is Johnson’s inheritance of the Vietnam War, and his decision to escalate it.
We may never know exactly why he felt forced to escalate troops even as he secretly knew it was a lost cause, but comments made to congressional leaders in the bloody aftermath of the 1965 U.S. armed intervention in the Dominican Republic revolt gives us some glimpse into his thinking.
Johnson ordered tens of thousands of U.S. troops onto the island to put down a popular rebellion and install a right wing dictator, Joaquin Belaguer, who ravaged the nation for nearly 30 years. Johnson summoned two Republican lawmakers to the White House, Sen. Everett Dirkson and Rep. Gerald Ford, to crow, “I’ve just taken an action that will prove that Democratic presidents can deal with Communists as strongly as Republicans.”
So Dominicans were saddled with a U.S. puppet dictator for decades, denied the right to choose their own leaders and experienced untold repression so that U.S. presidents could claim strength and political advantage over their adversaries in the other party.
Obama, despite his plea for “new politics,” is faced with an opposition unlike any other president in history.
What would this opposition do if he announced a withdrawal from Afghanistan? The roar and howls of protest would be deafening.
“Weak on Terrorism!” “Betrayer of the Afghan people!” and on and on …
For President Johnson, Vietnam was the quicksand that devoured his presidency, his domestic agenda and from which there was no escape.
For President Obama, facing a nation that had been called “graveyard of empires,” quicksand may prove a step up.
Obama didn’t start the war, but he did inherit it. What he does now, either escalation or withdrawal, may determine whether Afghanistan becomes what it was for the former Soviet Union: another Vietnam.
Source: Chester, Eric Thomas, “Rag-Tags, Scum, Riff-Raff and Commies: The U.S. Intervention in the Dominican Republic: 1965-66” N.Y., Monthly Review Press, 2001, page 90
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