Atrios asks whether the GOP nominee, whoever he is, will be against the Iraq War a year from now. Apparently Lawrence O’Donnell thinks this will happen. Atrios disagrees —
I don’t think there’s any way they can climb out of the rhetorical trap they’ve placed them selves in (surrender dates, defeatocrats, have to fight them there, etc…) given that George W. Bush won’t provide them with an opening for that.
O’Donnell’s comparison point was Nixon in 1968, but Nixon didn’t have President Bush sitting in office defending the war until the end, decrying any attempts to begin ending the war. And I don’t think Liebermanish “no one wants to end the war more than I do but we can’t…” crap is going to fly.
I think anything’s possible, including some big change in the entire Middle East/terrorism situation that renders the Iraq War issue moot. Assuming More of the Same over the next year, however, I am inclined to think Atrios is right. I don’t think the base is going to change its mind, so the candidates can’t radically change their current positions and get the nomination.
The political dynamics of 1968 were more complex, I think, than they are now. Remember, the Republican candidate, Nixon, was running against a Democrat’s war. As I remember it, by 1968 liberals generally had more misgivings about Vietnam than conservatives did. One of the reasons Johnson pushed combat troops into Vietnam was to appease the Right, so that they wouldn’t go after him for “losing Vietnam.” But the antiwar protesters hit the Dem convention, not the GOP convention, because it was Lyndon Johnson’s war. And as I’ve said in other posts, Nixon ran on a promise to end the war; in effect, he was the peace candidate.
But get this from Geoffrey Perret’s new book Commander in Chief. Setting the stage, so to speak: In March 1968 Johnson had announced he would not seek the Democratic Party nomination. In June 1968, Robert Kennedy was assassinated while campaigning for the nomination. Perret writes,
With RFKâ€™s death, Johnson began to encourage a â€œDraft LBJâ€ movement.
With his support dropping to 35 percent of registered voters, that effort went nowhere. Even so, Johnson held an iron grip on the convention, which met amid tumultuous scenes in Chicago. There was so much boiling anger among the delegates that if he had appeared at the convention, Johnson might have split the Democratic Party and given the election to Richard Nixon. He stayed away, but nothing important would be decided without his approval.
Humphrey was chosen as the presidential candidate, but Johnson was never going to support him, because Humphrey wanted to run as the candidate who would bring an end to the war. He had long had doubts about the wisdom of fighting a war in Vietnam, and during his first year as Johnsonâ€™s vice president he had opposed escalation. That meant being frozen out from nearly all the important meetings on Vietnam and rarely being asked for his advice. The humiliation of the vice president was an open secret in Washington.
A thoroughly decent and intelligent man, Humphrey had found his limits, and so had Johnson. Humphrey came close to being a living, breathing, and slightly sad example of the stereotypical Farmer-Labor Party liberal from far-off Minnesota: plenty of principle, not enough spine.
Johnson could smell weakness as sharks can smell blood â€” in small traces even over long distances. Having humiliated and bullied Humphrey for more than three years, Johnson was a cobra to a mongoose during Humphreyâ€™s campaign. Every hint of independent thinking on Vietnam brought a threat from above.
It began during the convention, when Johnson warned Humphrey, â€œThe Vietnam plank will be mine â€” not yours.â€ Sure enough, the platform supported LBJâ€™s negotiating position: no end to the fighting and bombing until the North agrees to stop attacking the South.
A month or so after the convention, Johnson heard that Humphrey was working on a speech that would offer to stop the bombing indefinitely if the North promised to reduce â€” not stop, only limit â€” the flow of troops and weapons into South Vietnam. LBJ called Hubert to heel. Give that speech, he told Humphrey, and I will personally see to it that you lose Texas. At other times, he told Humphrey that he would make sure that the Democratic National Committee and the big party donors stopped financing Humphreyâ€™s campaign. A large amount of money that ought to have gone to Humphreyâ€™s campaign was withheld to the end.
With only a week to go, Humphrey finally put some distance between LBJ and himself over Vietnam. Humphreyâ€™s poll numbers rose dramatically. Had he shown a little more independence only a week earlier, he would probably have won the 1968 election. He lost to Richard Nixon by half a million votes out of more than seventy-three million cast.
In that final week of campaigning, Nixon was holding a trump card. Anna Chennault, widow of a famous World War Ii airman, acted as Nixonâ€™s intermediary. She assured [South Vietnamese President] Nguyen Van Thieu that if Nixon was elected president, he would provide the kind of unequivocal support that Humphrey would not. Four days before the election, Johnson was handed conclusive proof that Nixon was sabotaging the Paris talks by encouraging Thieu to spin things out.
This news would have won the election for Humphrey had Johnson stayed within the law, but he hadnâ€™t. The evidence came from illegal wiretaps on the South Vietnamese embassy in Washington. Johnson telephoned Nixon and demanded to know if he was undermining the Paris talks. Of course not, said Nixon. Then he hung up the telephone and laughed. [Geoffrey Perret, Commander in Chief: How Truman, Johnson, and Bush Turned a Presidential Power into a Threat to America’s Future, pp. 284-285]
Thinking about this, it occurs to me that the 2008 GOP nominee might be in a position similar to Hubert Humphrey vis Ã vis Lyndon Johnson. Bush and Rove likely will still be in a position to jerk GOP chains. The nominee may well have to waltz with the Bushies as well as the base. It’s likely he’ll have very little room to maneuver away from the Bush position on Iraq, even if he is personally squeamish about the war.
But if the GOP nominee is Humphrey (roughly speaking; Humphrey was a good guy), does that mean the Dem will be Nixon? In other words, if a Democrat is elected, will he drag his feet as Nixon did to end the war? This is the position taken by Big Tent Democrat at TalkLeft.
I don’t expect whomever is elected President to end the Iraq Debacle for many years after 2008. After all, who wants to run for reelection having “lost Iraq?”
Of course they are ridiculous to fear being labelled as having lost Iraq, but fear it they will. They all fear what the Beltway Gasbags will say.
I’d like to think otherwise, but I’m not going to rule this out. (Clinton? Biden? Who knows what they’ll do.) However, I think it’s highly unlikely that a Dem president would escalate the war as Nixon did early in his first term. We’re going through the escalation phase now; we’re gong to be so over it by 2009. Nor can I imagine any Dem wanting to “stay the course.” I think it’s more likely the next Dem president will withdraw combat troops but leave “consultants” and special ops in place, and we may have to deal with that.
For that matter, it’s not impossible that ground troops will already be on their way out of Iraq before the next administration begins. This is a dynamic situation, and not all of it is under anyone’s control. Many things might happen we cannot anticipate.