Monday, September 12, 2011

The Ghost in the WHITE HOUSE Halls

by contributor Donna Shor

Distinguished journalist and scholar Marvin Kalb and his daughter Deborah, an author in her own right, discussed Haunting Legacy at a recent Women’s National Democratic Club luncheon, the book they wrote in a first time collaboration.

The subtitle, Vietnam and the American Presidency Presidency from Ford to Obama, sums up the extent to which the “lost war” in Vietnam has shadowed presidential military decisions since 1975. The Kalb’s five years of joint research and hundreds of interviews resulted in this brilliantly written narrative.  It illustrates how deeply Vietnam has influenced our leaders and their advisers. “It is in their DNA,” said Kalb.

Marvin and Deborah Kalb
Lyndon Johnson said “I’m not going to be the first American president to lose a war.”  The reluctance of presidents since to put boots-on-the-ground and avoid the mistakes of Vietnam has been clear.

The Kalbs state that this has been a factor even when the US was provoked or saw its long-range interests threatened, citing Ford’s choice not to respond to the attack on the Mayaguez; Reagan’s holding back when 241 Marines were killed in Beirut; Carter when Afghanistan was invaded by the Soviets; the first President Bush during the Gulf War when he did not pursue Saddam Hussein. Later, when one U.S.helicopter was downed in Somalia, Clinton dropped any idea of involvement there. George W. Bush thought he could get in and get out of Iraq quickly, so it would not be “his Vietnam.”

Kalb said that President Obama, always a student of history, had read widely on the Vietnam War, familiarizing himself with that quagmire. Yet, Kalb says he has been told by those close to the president that despite his understanding and though battered by economic problems and his constant concern with our continuing wars, he still questions them on Vietnam, seeking insights.

“Vietnam,” said Kalb, “is in the White House halls.” And just as with the seven presidencies since the Vietnam War, that ghost continues to influence presidential decisions.