The Vietnam War was a long one, so those devoted to finding exact historical parallels can usually find something to fit into their proof that the nomination of Ned Lamont is a disaster for Democrats.
Jacob Weisberg mines 1972, as usual: "In 1972, the Democrats repudiated their flawed Cold Warriors and chose as their standard-bearer a naive and honorable anti-war idealist...In a similar way, the 2006 Connecticut primary points to the growing influence within the party of leftists unmoved by the fight against global jihad."
(Earlier in the piece, Weisberg makes clear that the Cold Warrior "repudiated" in 1972 was Senator Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson. I’m going to make it my special mission to knock this one down as often as I have to: Scoop Jackson wasn’t "repudiated" or robbed of something legitimately his. He just, like dozens of Senatorial would-be-presidents before and since simply Didn’t Get Any Votes. He’s not a martyr, just a guy who No One Voted For. A lot like Joe Lieberman in fact, although Saint Scoop’s performance in 1972 fell short even of Joe’s famous "three-way tie for third place." -- more conventionally known as "fifth place.")
Like McGovern’s naively isolationist supporters, who didn’t appreciate the actual Communist threat, Weisberg says that Lamont supporters and other anti-war Dems "see Iraq purely as a symptom of a cynical and politicized right-wing response to Sept. 11, as opposed to a tragic misstep in a bigger conflict."
I think it’s fair to call Vietnam a "tragic misstep" within a larger Cold War conflict, and probably fair to say that some McGovernites let the tragedy of Vietnam blind them to the obligations of American strength in the postwar conflict.
But is Iraq really a "tragic misstep in a bigger conflict"? As opposed to "a cynical and politicized right-wing response to Sept. 11"? Read the history of Vietnam, and it’s hard not to be somewhat sympathetic -- within the limits of what men like McNamara knew and assumed, you can see how each little step made sense to them at the moment, and before you know it, you’ve got 50,000 dead and no way out. But Iraq is not a "misstep" in the same way, or series of missteps. It was a very considered, aggressively sold choice to pursue a war that had little to with "the fight against global jihad," for reasons that we may never fully understand. It is a perfectly reasonable position to support ending the U.S. involvement in Iraq as quickly as possible, while strongly advocating the sort of engagement in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere that would be part of "the fight against global jihad," if you want to put it that way. As Kevin Drum pointed outthe other day, General Clark’s proposal on this from a couple years ago was good, so are any number of others, including Peter Beinart’s. Yes, we should make full use of American power -- economic, cultural, military, and the power of example.
The Wall Street Journal, on the other hand, did a wonderful thing this morning: They realized that the history of Dems and Vietnam is not reducible to 1972. The Lamont victory is not the McGovern nomination, but "arguably the most important victory for the American left since the Watergate rout of 1974." YES! That’s the metaphor we’re looking for: 75 new Democrats elected to the House, many of them from Republican districts which they held for many years, a group of serious, hard-working non-extremists like John Murtha, George Miller, and Chris Dodd.
Ah but that’s where all the trouble began: "If Democrats retake Congress, we will be back where we were in Vietnam circa 1975. Early that year the Congressional left blocked funds for our allies in the government of South Vietnam...within weeks... the last American helicopters were leaving Saigon [and] the Soviet Union was clearly emboldened to assert itself via proxies from Afghanistan to Central America."
The stab-in-the-back theory! Ah, if only we had just stuck it out for a few more years in Vietnam.
But I think the Journal is right. This is more like 1974 than 1972. And 2008 will be even more so. In 1974/75, everyone understood that U.S. involvement in Vietnam, a decade after Tonkin, had to end. That’s where we are with Iraq, and the only people who don’t seem ready to be part of figuring out how to end it are George Bush, Joe Lieberman and the Wall Street Journal editorial page. But folks like Weisberg, who see everything as 1972 all over again, aren’t making it any easier to get to that point.