On NPR, Bush Vietnam Visit Evokes Talk of 'Weak Christian Aggressors' In Iraq
President Bush traveling to Vietnam was guaranteed to bring out the Iraq-Vietnam comparisons, especially on National Public Radio. On Wednesday's "Morning Edition," co-host Steve Inskeep interviewed liberal author David Halberstam, who reported on Vietnam for the New York Times. Halberstam warned that we needed to withdraw from Iraq because it wasn't worth the death of "some kid in the Ohio National Guard" for an "undoable" goal. Mysteriously, he suggested withdrawal because the Arab media portrayed America as "weak Christian aggressors." He didn't explain how withdrawal would help that image.
Inskeep asked him specifically about how during the Vietnam War, President Johnson sent out Robert McNamara (like Bush dumped Rumsfeld) and appointed new defense secretary Clark Clifford, who turned out to be firmly anti-war:
Inskeep: "Would you remind us, what was the situation in 1967-68 when that other president, Lyndon Johnson, traded secretaries of defense?"
Halberstam: "Well, he was afraid -- Johnson was afraid that McNamara was unraveling under the pressure of being the principal architect of a war that was a failure. That he felt, in his own words, that McNamara had, quote, gone dovish on him. So he fired him, and Clark Clifford was brought in."
Inskeep: "Well, who was that man, Clark Clifford?"
Halberstam: "Clark Clifford was an old-time fixer who had gone back to the Truman years. Johnson thought that he would have conventional thoughts about Vietnam. But Clifford instead, from the very beginning, thought it was a disproportionate investment - didn't work. And where some of the more senior people refused to listen to the word - the reporting coming out of the country - Clifford, from the start, began to ventilate the process and understood that it wasn't working."
Inskeep: "What did he begin to do?"
Halberstam: "He began to try and convince the president that it couldn't be done. He began to try and turn the entire Defense Department to a recognition of the limits of what we were doing, and to convince his colleagues in the other branches of the government that it wasn't doable. And he was pretty lonely in the trenches - Clifford was - for quite a while there."
Inskeep: "What advice would you give Robert Gates based on the experience of Clark Clifford, who had that experience of joining a war in progress and deciding what to do about it?"
Halberstam: "First of all, whatever we do, it's going to be very painful. Staying is going to be painful and it isn't going to work. Pulling back is going to be painful but at least we'll be getting out. That's one thing.
"The second thing is that right now, every night on TV in the Arab world, with Arab spin, in Arab language, there is the taking of the film of what's going on there, and the spin in an anti-American way so that we are profoundly affecting future generations in that area, making them think, A: that we are aggressors, Christian aggressors, and B: that we are weak, Christian - weak and incompetent Christian aggressors.
"It's a twofer, and they're both bad. And the third thing, I would think, is if I had a child -- if we were the parent of that child [?], and knew that the war was considered by the people who were the architects to be undoable, whether we would want to keep going or whether we would want to stop. And that's one of the things we should be thinking about, because it is someone's child. It may not be a child of the upper middle class, it may be some kid in the Ohio National Guard, but we ought to be paying attention. And it doesn't work. And that should be on our mind."
Isn't it fascinating that Halberstam is suggesting that America's foreign policy should be designed with the idea of never offering Arab propagandists a negative image, but he never condemns the Arab propagandist for besmirching our troops or American goals? If Inskeep were doing the interview as an objective journalist instead of serving like a helpful peacenik teacher's assistant, he might ask Halberstam about the flaw in his own spin: If America looks like "weak and incompetent" aggressors, then how does quick withdrawal make us look less weak or incompetent?