Walter Karp on the Pentagon Papers

What the documents reveal … is that their fixed determination to prepare for war corresponded to no fixed reason for doing so, that the several justifications the war plotters proposed were transparent pretexts which not only changed with changing circumstances, but were also in large measure concocted by the plotters themselves. (Walter Karp, Indispensable Enemies, Saturday Review Press, New York, p.132)

Karp here was writing about the period between March 1964 and February 1965, when the Johnson administration was working to reconcile public opinion to an invasion of South Vietnam. But it eerily describes the antics of the Bush administration in the period between the invasion of Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq. It is already clear that the decision to occupy Iraq was no more a response to the 9/11 attacks than the earlier decision to expand the war in Vietnam was a tragic mistake born of Cold War paranoia. But we still don’t really know what Bush and his senior collaborators were doing. Karp thinks that Johnson deliberately sought war in Asia to frustrate the hopes of domestic reform that both Kennedy and he had encouraged. The liberal dream of a Great Society died in Vietnam, is the received version. In Karp’s view Johnson conspired to have it killed.

If the reform movement of the 1960s explains an otherwise inexplicable war, does it make sense to think in similar terms about the War on Terror? Is the move to a system of increasingly neurotic information control, human rights abuses, and violence after 2001 a response to the reform movement of the 1990s? Was the Clinton system of domestic and global control about to collapse under pressure from the anti-globalization movement? Does this explain why Cheney and Rumsfeld were so keen to install another Bush in the White House?


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