Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Bill Moyers leaving

I've heard that Bill Moyers is leaving PBS after his show ends in April. It'll be the end of an era when he retires. If only there were more people to carry on for him when he goes. We get so much crap infotainment and faux controversy lately that it's depressing. Just this weekend I stumbled across an episode of Moyers's show where he drew a parallel between Obama's decision making process on Afghanistan with the similar process by Johnson about the Vietnam war. Moyers introduced historical audio clips of LBJ on the phone with various Congressmen and advisers over several months.

Some said he should get out of Vietnam because the South Vietnamese government was so unstable and corrupt; also, it would be easy getting into a war, but probably impossible to get out. So LBJ tried to stall several times and keep the US involvement limited, even hoping that the South Vietnamese government would ask them to leave, so they could have a face-saving out. Johnson had inherited this complicated mess from Kennedy, and he did not wish to seem like the US was running scared from spreading Communism (or the threat that the Chinese would get involved). At the same time, there was the impending 1964 election to think of, and Republicans like Barry Goldwater were criticizing him for not openly admitting that there was a war going on, and they wanted LBJ to not seem so wishy-washy about it.

LBJ tread the line carefully, trying to put an optimistic face on how badly the war was going in Vietnam, and he was reluctant to commit American soldiers to fight in a ground war. There was even talk of trying to get a volunteer army rather than a draft army. Eventually of course he got the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution from Congress, authorizing him to use military force. Military advisers kept insisting that he add more troops to "defend what we got", even if they could not guarantee overall victory. LBJ clearly agonized over the decision, yet we know that he eventually gave in and escalated the war.

Moyers quite insightfully pointed out that Obama too is dealing with a corrupt government abroad and with warmongers at home. He's also inherited the wars from the last administration, and Republicans have accused him of "dithering" on whether to commit more troops. The parallels are chilling, and I'm glad that Moyers pointed out how history is repeating itself, and that Obama has the right to use caution and take his time, because the consequences are so great. You wouldn't get this kind of thoughtful analysis, supported with evidence, on any other news show today.

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