Did Bush Take a Page From This President?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Did Bush Take a Page From This President?

The Bush administration's repeated, staged efforts to rally support for the Iraq war are pretty pathetic. But they are hardly without precedent.

I recently finished a biography of Senator J. William Fulbright, who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during the 1960's. Randall Bennett Woods writes that in early 1966, Sen. Fulbright wanted to hold hearings to call Johnson administration officials to task for how the White House was conducting the war in Vietnam.

President Lyndon Johnson would have not of it. According to Woods:
... on the night of February 3, without telling any of his aides, Johnson decided to hold an impromptu summit meeting with South Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Cao Ky in Honolulu. The meeting would take place during Fulbright's [hearings].

The Honolulu conference was, to use McGeorge Bundy's description, "a big farrago, meant to take the spotlight off Fulbright's hearings." ... Johnson ordered the American Embassy in Saigon to roust Ky out of bed on Thursday night, [Feb. 3], and have him invite Johnson to a summit meeting to be held on Saturday and Sunday.

... The meeting opened with neither adequate preparation nor even a precise agenda. Johnson used the occasion to give a pep talk and to exhort the American and Vietnamese military to renew their efforts. [Johnson] wanted "coonskins on the wall," he told them.

When Ky finished his speech, an optimistic set piece that promised not only victory but a new era of political stability. Johnson leaned over and whispered to him, "Boy, you talk just like an American." Small wonder: Ky's speech had been prepared by the American Embassy .... [Johnson] warned America that the war effort was being hampered by "special pleaders who counsel retreat in Vietnam."

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