LBJ & Bush

Perfect together!


Published on Thursday, June 30, 2005 by

Waist Deep in the Big Muddy

by Bob Burnett

In the late sixties, Pete Seeger composed an allegorical anti-war anthem, "Waist deep in the Big Muddy," depicting a military exercise where an officer demands that his platoon ford a river and blindly leads them into quicksand. "All we need is a little determination; Men, follow me, I'll lead on." We were -- neck deep in the Big Muddy And the big fool said to push on. (CBS refused to let Seeger perform his song on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, reasoning that the lyrics would be interpreted as critical of the Johnson Administration's policy in the War in Vietnam.)

Rather than formulate a response to President Bush's Tuesday evening (June 28,2005) speech defending his policy in Iraq, the Democrats might consider having Pete Seeger reprise his anthem. Once again Americans find themselves "waist deep in the Big Muddy." The US war in Iraq increasingly mirrors the Vietnam tragedy. George Bush's stubborn advocacy of the occupation is strikingly similar to Lyndon Johnson's obstinate refusal to consider withdrawal.

LBJ justified escalation on the basis of the "domino theory," arguing that if Vietnam fell to the Communists, all of South East Asia would soon be in the hands of godless barbarians. Tuesday night, Bush presented his own domino scenario, contending that if Iraq fell, then other nations of the Middle East would collapse and terrorists would be emboldened to strike the US. "There is only one course of action against them; to defeat them abroad before they attack us at home."

Bush insists that our efforts are on the right track, says he is "pleased with the progress," and promises that if we persevere there will eventually be a stable democracy in Iraq. For the majority of Americans these statements have little credibility - 52 percent now believe the war in Iraq has not contributed to long-term US security. In the Democratic response to the President's weekly radio address, former national security adviser Zbiegniew Brzezinski observed that the war "threatens to become a quagmire," a descriptor increasingly used to describe a situation where the harder the US tries to succeed, the deeper we sink.

From Bush's perspective, "staying the course" in Iraq makes sense. The President has accomplished his agenda by sticking to his guns and bullying dissidents to fall in line. (For example, Bush was in favor of massive tax cuts when few Democrats or Republicans saw this as a high priority issue; he persevered and managed to push his legislation through Congress.) Nonetheless, an objective observer would brand the occupation of Iraq as a failure and, therefore, one might expect George Bush - our first "MBA President" - to, at some point, acknowledge that mistakes have been made and take corrective action. After all, one of the characteristics of successful CEOs is their flexibility, their willingness to look failure in the eye and adapt accordingly.

But Bush was not a successful CEO. Every one of his companies failed; he never learned from these experiences because family friends always bailed him out. Americans should expect no admission of failure from him. Congress and the American people must force the Administration to change our Iraq policy. First, consider the similarities between this war and that in Vietnam. In both cases the invasion was based upon a misconception: in Vietnam, the "domino" theory and in Iraq, the notion that there was a connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Both conflicts escalated based upon a lie: in Vietnam, that our forces had been attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin; in Iraq, that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

There are other similarities, including unexpected casualties and costs, and massive oil reserves. What is strikingly different about the two wars is the threat to homeland security. The US mainland was never threatened by the Vietnamese; no matter how badly that war went, Americans never dreaded that the Viet Cong might explode a dirty bomb in one of our cities. As the Iraq war grinds on, it increases the likelihood of a devastating terrorist attack on the US. A recent congressional study found a heightened risk of assault with WMD's.

Americans have the foreboding that our security is jeopardized by the occupation, a sense not shared by the Bush Administration. Rather than taking the war to the enemy, we are inciting them to attack us. In May, a British think-tank survey found that Bush Iraq policies are promoting the cause of Al Qaeda. House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, recently observed, ""This war in Iraq is a grotesque mistake; it is not making America safer." To force a change in direction, Democrats need to connect the catastrophic Administration ineptitude in Iraq to their failure to provide adequate homeland security.

The case has to be made that with their Iraq policy, George Bush and company are systematically weakening the US, leaving us vulnerable to attack. Only when this connection is convincingly made will the American public demand that our forces move away from the quicksand. We may be waist deep in the Big Muddy, but that doesn't mean that we have to push on.

Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer and activist.

He can be reached at