I like Scott’s comment from yesterday, that maybe the Iraq war will do to the current Establishment what Vietnam did to the last one, break it down. Certainly this disastrous war goes way beyond George Bush and even Dick Cheney. Large phalanxes of the leadership signed off on it, from The New Yorker magazine to Hillary Clinton. Our Establishment deserves the same scrutiny that the Vietnam-era Establishment got. I like to think that the 70s are upon us again…
The classic 1972 post-mortem of Vietnam is David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest. I’m rereading it because of Halberstam’s death, and because I want to see today’s policymakers anatomized as they were by Halberstam. Halberstam notes that a mediocrity, Dean Rusk, became Kennedy’s Secretary of State in part because Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright, a smart cookie, was disqualified by "the left" on two grounds. One, his racism; Fulbright was a longtime segregationist. And two, his criticisms of Israel. Says Halberstam:
He had made speeches which the Jews, well organized, vocal, influential, regarded as suspiciously pro-Arab. In fact, when Harris Wofford, who was a liaison man with liberal groups during the talent-search period, heard that it might be Fulbright, he got on the phone and called Negro and Jewish groups imploring them to send telegrams criticizing Fulbright. Their wires made a profound impression on Robert Kennedy….
Of course, Fulbright became a big opponent of the Vietnam misadventure. So it would have been a good thing if he had become Sec’y of State!
Coulda woulda shoulda. What’s my takeaway here? Fulbright was hurt by the nascent Israel lobby, and he hit back; he once referred to Congress as "Israel-occupied territory." Yes: inflammatory. But sometimes political language has to be sharp to make a difference. Back then, Halberstam could write about "organized… influential" Jews, when describing American politics. At that time, the lobby was operating on "the left," out of fear that a politician was "suspiciously pro-Arab." Now it’s on the right. Still worried that anyone might be "suspiciously pro-Arab." Even as we’ve suspiciously wrecked an Arab society. Isn’t it time to have an open conversation?