Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

February 27, 2009


Roger Morris, NY Times - For all the obvious differences in men and moment, how Richard Nixon dealt with Vietnam leaves haunting questions for the Obama administration as the new president is set to announce his own exit from Iraq and a policy review in Afghanistan. Are the policy makers of 2009 in the Middle East and South Asia free of the cultural-historical ignorance that haunted their forerunners in Southeast Asia? Is the new presidency free of the old Washington demons at last - the mistaking of national interest, habits of overreaction, the illusions of omnipotence, the cognitive dissonance at evidence of failure or futility, the military's preference for the military solution, the absence of reflective thought, the failure to reach out beyond the supposed experts of bureaucracy or establishment for another sensibility and perspective?

Exorcised or not, ghosts of Vietnam hover over the Obama foreign policy, not least in key officials like former National Security Adviser James L. Jones Jr. and the special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke - men whose formative career experiences were in Vietnam, and who have not yet told us what they think of the chilling relevance of that history to what they now face.

One parallel is plain as early as the first hundred days. As with Richard Nixon and Vietnam, Barack Obama's political fate will be inextricably tied to the wars he inherits.


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