Declaring that “this war is lost,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is convinced that the jihadists will defeat the United States in Iraq. He suggests that President Bush is turning into Lyndon Baines Johnson — a man who for 40 years has been the symbol of a failed American wartime presidency. Mr. Reid said he warned Mr. Bush last week that Iraq will be his legacy — as Vietnam was for Mr. Johnson.
When it comes to the Iraq war, Mr. Reid sounds a great deal like he aspires to play the modern-day role of Sen. J. William Fulbright, who used his position as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee starting in the late 1960s to discredit LBJ’s Vietnam policy. Mr. Fulbright genuinely believed that the United States could not win on the battlefield in Vietnam, just as Mr. Reid believes that the war in Iraq is unwinnable.
Both Harry Reid and J. William Fulbright graduated from the George Washington School of Law — Mr. Fulbright in 1934, Mr. Reid in 1964. As with Mr. Fulbright on Vietnam, Mr. Reid initially supported the war in Iraq, only to reverse himself. By likening Mr. Bush to LBJ, Mr. Reid appears to have decided to personalize his feud with the president. In Mr. Fulbright’s case, by early 1966 his opposition to the war had touched a nerve with LBJ, and the animosity between the two men became intensely personal. Mr. Fulbright wanted to send a secret emissary to persuade North Vietnamese Communist strongman Ho Chi Minh that we wanted compromise, hoping that that would get us to the negotiating table and out of Vietnam. LBJ made it clear that he regarded such thinking as delusional.
Unable to persuade LBJ to see things his way, Mr. Fulbright held public hearings in the Foreign Relations Committee attacking Johnson administration policies. His main argument seemed to be that fighting Communism was in itself a sign of American “arrogance.” In April 1966, he delivered a series of lectures on “The Arrogance of Power,” warning America against seeing its strength as a sign that the United States had a special responsibility in the world. “Power confuses itself with virtue and also tends to take itself for omnipotence,” he wrote. Today, Mr. Reid is if anything more strident and personal in attacking Mr. Bush. Since February, he has said of the president that “his escalation” in Iraq “endangers our troops and hurts our national security”; that going to war in Iraq is “the worst foreign policy mistake in the history of our country”; and that Mr. Bush’s concern about war-funding bills passed which include dates for the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces is just a Republican scheme “to create a false crisis” here at home.
Why don’t the Democrats admit who they are and embrace the Fulbright national-security legacy? (It should be noted that Fulbright was a political mentor of Bill Clinton). One reason was that Mr. Fulbright was a segregationist who saw the inevitability of American failure partly in racial terms, saying he didn’t believe that “white men of Western stock can ever build a decent order in South Vietnam. We just don’t belong there.” Mr. Fulbright’s political career ended ingloriously in 1974, when he was defeated by Gov. Dale Bumpers by more than 30 points in the Democratic primary in a bid for a 6th term.
The following year, after Mr. Fulbright’s political allies in Congress cut off U.S. support for South Vietnam, the government there collapsed. What followed in South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos was catastrophic. Hundreds of thousands in South Vietnam were murdered or imprisoned in slave-labor camps, and the Khmer Rouge killed nearly 1.7 million people in Cambodia in one of the worst examples of genocide in modern times. The only thing standing between Iraq and a similar disaster today are the 150,000 U.S. troops and their coalition allies. If Mr. Reid and his allies are successful in prematurely aborting the mission in Iraq, no one should be surprised if the resulting bloodbath is much worse than what took place three decades ago in Indochina.