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babylonsister Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Feb-08-07 07:32 PM
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How Congress Helped End the Vietnam War

How Congress Helped End the Vietnam War
From our upcoming March print issue: Once upon a time, Congress put an end to a bloody debacle. It can do it again.

By Julian E. Zelizer
Web Exclusive: 02.06.07

Since January 10, when President Bush proposed a "troop surge" in Iraq, the administration has responded to legislative critics by stating that Congress cannot handle the responsibility of conducting an effective war. "You can't run a war by committee," Vice President Richard Cheney told FOX News on January 14.

But Democrats are no longer willing to trust presidential decision-making. "You don't like to micromanage the Defense Department," responded Congressman John Murtha, "but we have to, in this case, because they're not paying attention to the public..."

In the debate over whether the legislature can play a constructive role in shaping national security policy, the president's challengers have history on their side. Congress has often played a significant, albeit underappreciated, role in wartime politics.

One of the best examples for current Democratic legislators is that of their Vietnam-era counterparts. Ironically, both the left and the right have criticized the performance of Congress during the war in Vietnam. Liberals accuse the Congress of allowing Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon to push deeper into the jungles of Southeast Asia without opposition. Conservatives place responsibility for "losing" on the Democratic Congress.

The Vietnam-era Congress certainly had many failings. Lawmakers too often deferred to presidential decisions that they knew to be flawed. They hesitated to challenge presidents directly. Democrats and Republicans took action after the fact and agreed to watered-down compromises. Most importantly, Congress never forced an immediate end to the war. To the contrary, in 1964, Congress granted the president broad authority to use force, and in the late 1960s and early 1970s it continued to fund military operations after the war had turned into a quagmire.

But compared to Congress during the presidency of George W. Bush, the Vietnam-era legislature compiled an impressive record in challenging flawed presidential decisions. Between 1964 and 1975, many legislators forced discussion of difficult questions about the mission, publicly challenged the administration's core arguments, and used budgetary mechanisms to create pressure on the Pentagon to bring the war to a halt. A number of liberal Democrats started in the mid-1960s as some of the most vocal critics of escalation in Vietnam; by the early 1970s they were wielding the power of the purse.

Many observers have glorified the role of the media and anti-war protestors in forcing an end to one of America's most disastrous foreign policies. But numerous members of Congress deserve equal respect, and can serve as a model for legislators who are today challenging the president.

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stillcool Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Feb-08-07 08:24 PM
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1. Good how things...
have Not changed...the exception being how very important the outcome of the oil-wars is to 'American Interests'.

-The advice that most troubled Johnson came from the senior southern hawk, Senator Richard Russell of Georgia -- Lyndon Johnson's mentor in the Senate. In some of the most chilling telephone conversations from the Johnson presidential archives, Russell explained to Johnson why this war could not be won and how unimportant the conflict was to the outcome of the Cold War.

On May 27, 1964, President Johnson called Russell to ask him for advice on the "Vietnam thing." Russell called the situation the "damn worse mess I ever saw" and warned it would lead to a difficult war against the North Vietnamese and Chinese in the jungles. Russell said the U.S. position was "deteriorating" and that it looked like "the more we try to do for them , the less they are willing to do for themselves." Russell said Americans were not ready to send troops to do the fighting. If it came to the option of sending Americans or getting out, Russell said, "I'd get out." When Johnson asked him what was at stake, Russell responded that the territory was not important a "damn bit" to the United States. Russell also said he was concerned that McNamara was not as "objective" as he needed to be and that he didn't understand the "history and background" of the Vietnamese
Fred Friendly, who headed CBS News, convinced his superiors to cover some of Fulbright's hearings live and to preempt the normally scheduled shows (such as the popular children's program Captain Kangaroo). In response, the administration scheduled events to distract public attention. The president held a summit with the South Vietnamese leadership in Hawaii the evening before the hearings started.

Nonetheless, the Fulbright hearings provided the nation with the first glimpse of such administration officials as Secretary of State Dean Rusk, George Kennan, and former Ambassador to South Vietnam General Maxwell Taylor confronting difficult challenges about the war. When Rusk told the committee that, if the United States did not stand firm militarily, "then the prospect for peace disappears," Fulbright challenged almost all of his assertions. The senator insisted that there was no need to escalate operations in Vietnam because the conflict did not involve the vital interests of America and could easily be a "trigger for world war." The president personally called Stanton to pressure him to take the highly rated hearings off the air. CBS, also concerned about the financial cost of preempting popular shows, obliged.
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