Posts Tagged ‘Lyndon Johnson’

Fear of showing weakness is itself a weakness

October 17, 2014


Why is President Obama arming proxy armies in Syria to fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) and the Assad government, despite warnings from his advisers that such policies have not worked in the past?

I think he is following in the footsteps of American presidents for the past 50 years, who have waged war and sponsored covert operations not to protect the American people and not in all cases to further the interests of U.S.-based corporations, but to avoid the appearance of seeming week.

Take the Vietnam Conflict.  Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson are now known to have had misgivings about military intervention in Vietnam.  What they feared was the effect on American prestige of suffering a defeat, and the effect on their own popularity of having “lost” a country to Communism.

When Richard M. Nixon was became President in 1969, he inherited the Vietnam War, he was not responsible for the hopeless situation, yet he kept on fighting nevertheless.  What was wanted, according to Henry Kissinger, was to save the USA and the Nixon administration from humiliation by having a “decent interval” between the withdrawal of the last American troops and the triumph of the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese.

Our country would have been better off if Presidents Kennedy and Johnson had never committed the United States to defending South Vietnam, or if President Nixon had wound up the war quickly.  Our nation would not have been so divided, our military would not have been demoralized and our leaders would not have been preoccupied for the next 40 years with wiping out the humiliation of that defeat.

Or take the 35-year cold war waged by the United States against Iran.  I see no inherent conflict of interest between the governments of Iran and the United States.  In fact, Iran and the USA share common enemies in Al Qaeda and its successor, the Islamic State (ISIS).  But for the United States to reconcile with Iran would seem weak, after the humiliation suffered by the taking of U.S. embassy personnel as hostages by Iranian radicals in 1979.  It is that, more than any public interest or business interest, that prevents the United States from seeking peace with Iran.


How can anti-LBJ protesters be for Obama?

October 29, 2012

Back in the 1960s, I was, to my shame, a supporter of U.S. intervention in Vietnam.  I saw U.S. intervention as an unfortunate but necessary move in the global duel between the United States and the Soviet Union.  I continued to defend U.S. policy right up until the time President Lyndon Johnson was defeated in the New Hampshire presidential primary, and announced that he would not run for re-election.  I saw that U.S. policy was unsustainable, although I continued for many years to think of the Vietnam intervention as no more than a bad mistake.

I don’t regret being anti-Communist.  I still am.  The Soviet Union really was an evil empire.  Soviet Communism was an anti-human, totalitarian ideology.  Where I went wrong was in thinking that opposition to Communism outweighed all other considerations, both practical and moral.

I respect the New Left protesters of the time.  They had better moral priorities than I did.  Lyndon Johnson was the greatest civil rights President of the 20th century, and the only President since Franklin Roosevelt who seriously attempted to help poor people in the United States.  But people such as Martin Luther King Jr. this was outweighed by the death and suffering caused by the quagmire war in Vietnam.

I am taken aback when I meet former New Leftists who say they support President Obama for re-election—Obama, who has done virtually nothing for civil rights, virtually nothing for poor people and taken the abuses of power of the imperial Presidency to lengths that even Richard Nixon, let alone Lyndon Johnson, never dreamed of.

They accept endless war, a Wall Street oligarchy and the destruction of civil liberties as facts whose reality it is necessary to accept, but argue that within this framework, Obama is better than Romney or any of the other Republicans—more willing to extend unemployment compensation benefits, for example, or to appoint judges who favor abortion rights.  This is a moral arithmetic that I don’t understand.

New links: LBJ, Higgs boson, philosophy, etc.

July 14, 2012

If you like my web log, I think you’ll like the articles and blogs in my links menu.  Here are the latest additions to this menu.


Lyndon Johnson and the passage of powerRobert Caro’s biography of Robert Moses and his on-going multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson are the best books I’ve read about power political power operates in the United States.  The link is to an excellent review and summary in the London Review of Books of Caro’s fourth and latest Lyndon Johnson volume.  Hat tip to Jack Clontz.

The Higgs boson made simpleReading this article on MSNBC’s Cosmic Log and the accompanying links helped me understand why confirmation of the existence of the Higgs boson was an important discovery.  Hat tip to John Lenz.

Article of lasting interest

Bertrand Russell: The Value of Philosophy.   Although Bertrand Russell was hostile to organized religion, the study of philosophy was, for him, a kind of spiritual practice.  The value of philosophy was not in offering specific answers to questions, but in focusing the mind away from personal desires, frustrations and resentments and toward the cosmic scheme of things.

John Scalzi: Straight White Male—the Lowest Default Setting There IsSF writer John Scalzi gave a good explanation why we straight white males should keep in mind how much better off we are than gays, people of color and women, without confusing the issue by dragging in “white privilege” or “white guilt.”  Hat tip to Making Light.


GlaxoSmithKline fraud case: Does crime pay?  This is an informative broadcast by Al Jazzera’s Inside Story Americas about a $3 billion fine imposed on the big British drug corporation GlaxoSmithKline for marketing dangerous drugs and suppressing information about their risks.

The Other America and our America

May 19, 2010

When Michael Harrington wrote The Other America, the classic 1962 book about poverty in the United States, he defined the problem as the inability of certain groups – inner-city black people, migrant farm workers, Appalachian mountaineers, elderly people on fixed incomes and so on – to share in the expanding prosperity of the nation as a whole.

His book inspired Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs, which sought to bring members of poor and disadvantaged groups into the mainstream of the U.S. economy.  Those goals have been the goals of most self-identified liberals ever since.

Whatever good this approach may have done, it has reached a dead end.  It was workable only in a growing economy where a new benefit for one group did not leave anyone else worse off.  We do not have such an economy.  The vast majority of Americans, not just those in pockets of poverty, are affected by the decline of American manufacturing industry, the erosion of good jobs, the stagnation of wages and the growing debt burden


“Make me do it”

March 23, 2010

When you think of Presidents we consider great progressive reformers, they were all being pressured by grass-roots movements to do better than they were.

President Abraham Lincoln was constantly attacked by abolitionists for making compromises on slavery in the interests of preserving the Union.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt was the most pro-labor union President in American history, but leaders of the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) did not cease to organize strikes just because they were politically embarrassing to FDR.  President Lyndon Johnson did more for civil rights of African-Americans than any other President except Lincoln and perhaps Grant, but that didn’t stop the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. from speaking out against the Vietnam War.

There are stories, possibly true and possibly not, of President Roosevelt or President John F. Kennedy meeting with progressive reformers, hearing them out, and then saying, “I agree with you.  Now go out and make me do it.”

I keep changing my mind about President Barack Obama.  Sometimes I think he is the kind of nice guy who doesn’t win ball games.  Sometimes I think he is a witting or unwitting tool of the business and political establishment. Sometimes I think he is doing the best that is humanly possible to bring about positive change within a dysfunctional system.

But even in the best case, progressive reformers do neither themselves nor President Obama any favors by sitting back and trusting him to do things. Even if in his heart he wants to do the right thing, he needs pressure from the grass roots to make him do it.

Privatizing the military

March 5, 2010

Another bit of change we’re not going to see in the Obama administration is the Pentagon’s contracts with the former Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root, despite massive charges of waste, fraud and abuse. One is a class action lawsuit by sick veterans who say KBR was responsible for untreated drinking water and toxic smoke from polluted burn pits, as well as at least one soldier who was electrocuted in a shoddy base shower built by KBR contractors; KBR denies these allegations.

KBR’s connections with government go way back.  The founders of one of the parent companies, the brothers George R. Brown and Herman Brown and their brother-in-law Daniel Root, were the political sponsors of Lyndon Johnson.  Brown & Root was in financial trouble because it undertook to build a dam on land that it turned out the government did not own and which the Bureau of Reclamation has no authorization to approve.  The company financed Lyndon Johnson’s 1938 campaign for Congress so that he could get the law changed, which he did.  Brown & Root continued to sponsor Johnson, and he continued to use his influence to get them contracts and protect them from government investigations.

Halliburton Energy Services absorbed Brown & Root in 1962.  Richard Cheney served as CEO of Halliburton with zero apparent qualifications in between being Secretary of Defense and Vice President. Several years ago Halliburton spun off KBR as an independent company.

But KBR has gone beyond needing political influence for its no-bid contracts.  They say they are the only company with the capability to do the work that they do, and they have worked themselves into a position where this is true.   There are more employees of private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, of which KBR is by far the largest, than there are U.S. uniformed military, and the Department of Defense does not have the manpower to replace them. Because of the position KBR has carved out over the years, there is no alternate bidder waiting in the wings.

We as a nation made a decision a long time ago that we would have a professional army rather than a citizen army.  I have great respect for the career military; it is they who by and large have fought and brought to light the abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.  But the size of a professional military is limited by the number of volunteers who can be recruited.  Our government’s military ambitions – maintaining a worldwide network of bases, pacifying Iraq and Afghanistan – exceed those limits.  So we have to depend on private contractors who are not subject to military discipline and who are motivated by profit as much as patriotism.  This will not change until we reduce the scope of those ambitions.