Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Long Arc

This recent Charlie Rose interview with Jeffrey Goldberg is well worth watching.  Goldberg was there to discuss the substance in his recent piece, The Obama Doctrine.

I found this especially interesting because for the last week or two I've been wondering how America's history would have been different if we never got entangled in Vietnam.  It is my view of things, that people of my political ilk should go back to that as first cause, rather than treating the Reagan Presidency that way, as is now common in such discussions.  That war created so many reactions not immediately attributable to it.  Here are just a few:

  • Younger Liberal Americans, came to distrust government. They preceded Republicans on that score.  Even if they still voted for the party of FDR, they didn't have the same faith in government that their parents had.  Indeed, my generation was much more cynical than the generations that preceded it.  Those earlier generations were far more trusting.
  • Nixon became President in 1968.  Absent Vietnam, LBJ would have been a popular President.  There were other issues to be sure, Civil Rights would have been even more prominent and there were certainly tensions there, but we would have handled that much better than we did.  Nixon likely would still have been a candidate, but he would have failed.  Either LBJ would have run for reelection and won or Humphrey, absent the legacy of Vietnam, wouldn't have faced the challenges from Bobby Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy.  So Humphrey would have been President.  If Nixon had pursued the "Southern Strategy" and lost with it, that puppy would have been put to bed.  
  • The inflation of the early 1970s, before OPEC hit us with the first oil price shock, would not have manifest because there wouldn't have been these huge deficits in the Federal budget at a time when the economy was already at full employment.  So the economy would have been more robust when OPEC started to play its game.

I will stop there, but it is pretty easy to make a case that the Liberal agenda was irreparably harmed by the Vietnam War.  And we're still suffering the consequences from that.

Getting back to Obama, Roger Cohen has been pretty hard on him for his low key approach to Syria, though this recent column echoes the themes in the Goldberg piece.  It is the refugee crisis and the ultimate fate of these displaced people which will ultimately determine whether the policy was a shrewd judgement about the lesser of evils or if it was an abdication of responsibility.   In any event, that these sorts of decisions have very long term consequences is something that should enter our discourse.  It means we need to stop shooting from the hip when talking about foreign policy and get much more sophisticated in considering the implications of what we do. 

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