Rep. Sam Johnson Learns to Love Foreign Quagmires

John Podhoretz points us to a stirring speech by Rep. Sam Johnson, the former Vietnam War POW and Texas Republican who closed out the debate over the troop surge resolution.

I wholeheartedly support withholding funds... Although it is a drastic step and ties the President's hands, I do not feel like we have any other choice. The President has tied our hands, gone against the wishes of the American people, and this is the last best way I know how to show my respect for our American servicemen and women. They are helpless, following orders.
...
Thirty years ago when I was sent to Vietnam in a similar situation, Vietnam started out as a peace type mission, no defined goal, no exit strategy, no idea whose side we were on, and a created incident to gain support of the Congress. A peacekeeping mission? Come on. Does this not sound just like a carbon copy? I think it is.

D'oh! That's not Johnson's speech on Iraq - that's his speech from 1995 and the debate over sending troops to Bosnia, dug up by the verbose liberal blogger Digby. Johnson's Iraq speech is up at his website, and it reveals that, yes, the party made a good choice putting him up as their spokesman against the surge resolution. He can wave the bloody shirt to cry havoc and to beat a retreat. He's grizzled, battle-hardened, emanating experience. He's like a Jack Murtha who can finish sentences.

Obviously, war hawks will say Iraq is totally different than the Balkans; Bosnia posed no strategic threat to the U.S. (like Iraq before we invaded) and we faced no danger of blowback if we lost and pulled out (like Iraq after we invaded). All true. Also, while the likely ascension of Hillary Clinton to the presidency brings with it much horror and bloodshed, these octannual changes in the ruling family - Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton - will make the foreign policy flip-flops of our Congressfolk much, much funnier.

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  • ||

    Speaking of which, do we still have troops in the Balkans? If so, why aren't they being defunded as well?

  • ||

    The effect that leaving would have on our national security, in the case of the Balkans War and Iraq, is open for debate.

    However, the bit about Da Troops in unspinnable - it's either a betrayal and a threat to their well-being to cut off funding to force them brought home, or it isn't. There's just no way to finesse that flip flop.

  • ||

    RC,

    "Yes," and "Because their mission hasn't collapsed into bloody failure."

  • mw||

    Speaking of hypocritical postions on the war:

    SenatorKay Hutchison (R-TX) from a January '07 CNN interview: "The worst thing we can do as a Congress is to undercut the president internationally. Passing a resolution that is not binding - the president is the commander in chief - I think sends exactly the wrong message."

    In the above quote Senator Hutchison is, of course, referencing Republican President Bush. In December of 1995, she apparently felt differently about undercutting Democratic President Clinton internationally. This is the non-binding resolution she sponsored on the floor of the Senate (full text):

    SENATE CONCURRENT RESOLUTION 35--RELATIVE TO BOSNIA
    (Senate - December 13, 1995) [Page: S18565]

    Mrs. HUTCHISON (for herself, Mr. Inhofe, Mr. Craig, Mr. Nickles, Mr. Kyl, Mr. Lott, Mr. Bennett, Mr. Brown, Mr. Burns, Mr. Campbell, Mr. Coats, Mr. D'Amato, Mr. Domenici, Mr. Faircloth, Mr. Frist, Mr. Grams, Mr. Hatch, Mr. Helms, Mr. Kempthorne, Mr. Murkowski, Mr. Pressler, Mr. Santorum, Mr. Shelby, Mr. Simpson, Mr. Smith, Mr. Stevens, Mr. Thomas, Mr. Thompson, and Mr. Thurmond) submitted the following concurrent resolution; which was considered and not agreed to:

    S. Con. Res. 35
    Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring),

    SECTION 1. EXPRESSING OPPOSITION TO THE DEPLOYMENT DECISION.
    The Congress opposes President Clinton's decision to deploy United States military ground forces into the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina to implement the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina and its associated annexes.

    SEC. 2 EXPRESSING SUPPORT FOR UNITED STATES MILITARY PERSONNEL WHO ARE DEPLOYED.
    The Congress strongly supports the United States military personnel who may be ordered by the President to implement the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina and its associated annexes.

    SEC. 3. TRANSMITTAL OF RESOLUTION.
    The Secretary of the Senate shall transmit a copy of this concurrent resolution to the President.



    Video of Hagel calling her on it from the Senate floor here.

  • Bhh||

    You've got to give it to Clinton, when he got us involved in overseas misadventures in 4th world crapholes with no connection to our national interest, they were in-and-out winnable quickies like Haiti and Bosnia and that asperin factory. Maybe Hillary will stick to that stuff? If so, look out Granada. We're gonna need a no-strings attached rebound invasion after we get out of Iraq.

  • ||

    Or, at a minimum, Clinton's long-term efforts were in places like Kosovo and Bosnia, where our troops would be in and among a sufficiently friendly populace to avoid having to fend off ongoing insurgencies.

  • ||

    It's only a quagmire if you're sinking.

  • ||

    One would think that an issue as important as war would cause the distinction between Democrat and Republican to disappear, wouldn't one?

    This one wouldn't, because I am a peaceful anarchist, thank you.

  • ||

    To their credit, both National Review and the Weekly Standard endorsed Clinton's efforts against the Serbs at the time.

    So, points for non-partisan consistency there.

  • ||

    Or, at a minimum, Clinton's long-term efforts were in places like Kosovo and Bosnia, where our troops would be in and among a sufficiently friendly populace to avoid having to fend off ongoing insurgencies.

    I wonder if a big part of the reason we didn't have to fend off any insurgencies in Kosovo and Bosnia is that we didn't show up until after most of the ethnic cleansing had occurred.

    If we had gone in early enough to prevent most of the atrocities, would it have turned into more of a quagmire since there still would have been something to fight over, and someone still around willing to fight?

  • digamma||

    To their credit, both National Review and the Weekly Standard endorsed Clinton's efforts against the Serbs at the time.

    So, points for non-partisan consistency there.


    They were wrong then and they're wrong now.

  • Gull||

    If you check the dates, you will learn that Congressman Johnson's call for non-funding occurred BEFORE troops were deployed.

  • ||

    "I wonder if a big part of the reason we didn't have to fend off any insurgencies in Kosovo and Bosnia is that we didn't show up until after most of the ethnic cleansing had occurred."

    That is not even remotely the case in Kosovo. And the Bosnians are still occupying quite a bit of ground the Serbs tried to cleanse them from.

  • Grotius||

    One of the worst things about this war will be its very long tail.

    David Weigel,

    "Blowback" (in intelligence circles at least) refers to the unexpected results of covert operations.

  • ||

    I think one HUGE DIFFERENCE is that prior to our War in Iraq, going in was debated and Congress ultimately voted giving Bush congressional authority to invade. This was NOT done in Bosnia.

    Apples and oranges

  • ||

    So, if Iraq is a quagmire because we still have to have troops there four years later, why aren't Bosnia and Kosovo quagmires because we still have to have troops there eight years later?

  • ||

    Is that a serious question?

  • Some James||

    I have these suspicions that it has something to do with the infinity-x or so hostile death rate that our troops are experiencing in Iraq...

  • Dog Bites Man||

    I guess the headline could have been, "After Data Mining, Inconsistencies of 16-year Politician Found."

  • Stu||

    Is that a serious question?

    No. Now, stupid, on the other hand...

  • ||

    Perfectly serious question. I'm trying to figure out what counts as a quagmire.

    Apparently, the length of time that US troops are required to be present is not a factor.

    I'm thinking maybe joe is onto something - a quagmire is any deployment where our troops will be in regular contact with the enemy because we have neglected to embed our troops in a friendly population.

    This is a little confusing to me, because I thought the purpose of an army was to engage enemy forces and shield civilian populations from said enemy forces, not avoid engagement by keeping a buffer of (temporarily) sympathetic civilians in place.

    In all seriousness, though, the joe definition is half right - I would define a quagmire as any deployment where our troops are in regular contact with an enemy under rules of engagement that prevent our troops from closing with and destroying said enemy.

  • jb||

    I'd take RC Dean's point further--since our troops are not being shot at in Bosnia/Kosovo, what are we doing there?

    American troops should be shooting at people who are shooting at them, guarding key overseas installatios, or home in the USA, with very few exceptions. Why is Bosnia/Kosovo one of those exceptions?

  • ||

    RC Dean:

    "I would define a quagmire as any deployment where our troops are in regular contact with an enemy under rules of engagement that prevent our troops from closing with and destroying said enemy."

    Does Korea qualify?

    Arcane definitions aside, IMHO, my government cannot in any coherent way explain to me why our continued presence in Iraq is in America's strategic interest. Therefore, Rep. Johnson (the first one) is precisely correct.

  • ||

    Arcane definitions aside, IMHO, my government cannot in any coherent way explain to me why our continued presence in Iraq is in America's strategic interest. Therefore, Rep. Johnson (the first one) is precisely correct.

    Yes, but they can't really explain why U.S. troops should be in Bosnia, either. I mean, you can make an arguement that the U.S. had a "moral obligation" to interven, but I don't think Slobidan Milosivich was ever more a threat to the U.S. than was Saddam.

  • ||

    Trying to define quagmire doesn't help me much but Dean's definition stinks.

    We are currently piling up insurgent bodies at a good pace and have been since the war began. The exchange ratio is not the problem, it's the lack of a "defeat mechanism." We have no idea what will make the enemy quit.

    Whining about the ROE is a lot of crap, especially in a situation where "spraying and praying" causes a lot more trouble than it's worth. It's the kind of crap that sociopaths like Bill Gertz bitch about - if we were only more (much, much more) indiscriminate in our killing we'd win. And don't get me started on the subject of dropping 500 pound bombs on houses in populated areas to get one or two snipers. Stupidest (most counter-productive) tactic ever.

    And, no, Korea doesn't even come close to a quagmire but it's a good example for another reason. We piled up plenty of CHICOMs and they still forced to a staus quo ante peace.

  • ||

    RC:

    Speaking of which, do we still have troops in the Balkans? If so, why aren't they being defunded as well?

    Yeah, they should be. They're certainly not necessary to protect our liberty and security.

  • ||

    Ok, so while it looks like we all might not agree on the de-funding of the "surge" (and man I wish Congress actually grows some balls and does just that), but we can all definitely agree on de-funding the troop placement in Bosnia?

    I guess I'd settle for Bosnia, although I also want our troops out of the 180+ other countries in which they are stationed.

  • ||

    BTW, I see that Ron Paul had something to say on this matter:

    Those on the right should recall that the traditional conservative position of non-intervention was their position for most of the 20th Century-and they benefited politically from the wars carelessly entered into by the political left. Seven years ago the Right benefited politically by condemning the illegal intervention in Kosovo and Somalia. At the time conservatives were outraged over the failed policy of nation building.

    It's important to recall that the left, in 2003, offered little opposition to the pre-emptive war in Iraq, and many are now not willing to stop it by de-funding it or work to prevent an attack on Iran.

    The catch-all phrase, "War on Terrorism", in all honesty, has no more meaning than if one wants to wage a war against criminal gangsterism. It's deliberately vague and non definable to justify and permit perpetual war anywhere, and under any circumstances. Don't forget: the Iraqis and Saddam Hussein had absolutely nothing to do with any terrorist attack against us including that on 9/11.

  • ||

    I guess I'd settle for Bosnia, although I also want our troops out of the 180+ other countries in which they are stationed.

    No shit. Don't we have something like 1100 overseas bases? I'm not part of the anti-Iraq-war crowd (although, I always thought it was a crapshoot; never thought it would be a cakewalk like some neo-con-freaks), but I'm getting pretty sick of this world and its constant bitching about the US. If we are going to pull out of Iraq before the job is done, why stop there? Bring ALL the troops home, from everywhere. We should use our gigantic navy to protect our shipping and let the chips fall where they may. And if any nation gets in over their head and they call for Papa, fuck 'em. I don't want one more dollar going for the defense of anywhere but the US. The Left would have us believe that world peace would break out if we disengaged militarily from the world. Let's see if they're right. (Yeah fucking right!) It would make for some pretty good global drama watching China, Russia, France, etc. try to fill the vacuum we'd leave. Let someone else take the blame for all the world's problems.

    (I would love to see us eliminate all defense treaties. It would be cool if the prez made statements like, "We wouldn't even intervene if China invaded Canada. Hell, if WWIII broke out today, we'd just sit back and make nice with the victors, whoever they are. Who cares if Saudi Arabia falls to the Shia; they still have to sell their oil to somebody." Seeing nations all around the world scramble to find a new protector would be excellent fun!)

  • ||

    Hmm. Yeah, that could get interesting. Let the French go back to fucking things up, they're really good at it too.

    We may have screwed the pooch in Vietnam, but it was the French who created the conditions that made a communist Vietnam possible, long before the US ever went over there.

    You know TRB, I like your idea a lot.

    Too bad it'll never happen. How could we possibly abandon the S Koreans, Taiwan, and Japan? Not to mention dozens of greater and lesser evils.

  • ||

    Rep. Johnson's speech talks about how Congress's decision to cut funding to South Vietnam betrayed U.S. troops. However hadn't the U.S. military almost entirely left Vietnam by then, with only a few Special Forces left?

    This is off topic, but here's part of Bush's President Day speech:

    "And as we work to advance the cause of freedom around the world, we remember that the father of our country believed that the freedoms we secured in our revolution were not meant for Americans alone."

    So American democracy is a "revolutionary" ideology that needs to be spread around the world, even (as Iraq shows) at the point of a gun if necessary? That's an ...interesting... interpretation of George Washington's views.

  • ||

    Too bad it'll never happen. How could we possibly abandon the S Koreans, Taiwan, and Japan? Not to mention dozens of greater and lesser evils.

    I agree it'll never happen, but abandoning South Korea and Japan? They are more than rich enough to defend themselves. Taiwan is a different issue; the threat from China is real. It's not as if we'd get into a full-scale war with China if they invaded, though.

    I'm just sick of the world's bitching. Let them protect themselves, with their own damn money!

  • ||

    "If you check the dates, you will learn that Congressman Johnson's call for non-funding occurred BEFORE troops were deployed."

    I am assuming that your use of capitals to highlight the word "before" means that you ascribe some importance to this detail. Could you describe why it matters? I'm assuming you have at least some type of theory.

  • ||

    Definition of "Quagmire": Any engagement of which I don't approve.

  • ||

    "I'm just sick of the world's bitching. Let them protect themselves, with their own damn money!"

    But will they protect our corporations if we let them police themselves with no US input?

  • ||

    "Yes, but they can't really explain why U.S. troops should be in Bosnia, either."

    The US is in Bosnia because the Europeans were a bunch of pussy appeasers quivering in their armchairs and hoping desperately that the ugliness would just end on it own. These are our allies in NATO, you know the same ones who refuse their NATO commitment in Afghanistan. Appeasement is not a solution.

    Did you see the 60 minutes segment about Kurdish Iraq? The US is revered in the north of Iraq. When asked by the interviewer about the US "invasion" of Iraq in 2003, the Kurdish leader corrected the interviewer and called it the US "liberation" of Iraq.

  • ||

    "these octannual changes in the ruling family - Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton"

    What makes it more frightening is that by 2012 or 2016 it could be Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton-Bush. (Jeb has ruled out 2008 but not a future presidential run...)

  • ||

    But will they protect our corporations if we let them police themselves with no US input?

    I don't really give a crap. I, for one, despise the idea of privatizing the profits while socializing the risks (costs). This libertarian distrusts all concentrations of power, whether public or private (corporations).

  • lunchstealer||

    Actually, it was after Johnson came to my workplace for a town hall, and spent half his time bashing the H1B visa that I first voted straight-ticket libertarian.

    Ours is a telecom company which is completely dependent on the H1B to remain competitive and fill out our workforce. Shut off the H1B, and we'd have to start outsourcing to India just to get enough workers. Not sure that's the outcome that Slammin' Sam really wants.

  • ||

    The Real Bill:

    I tend to think that there is one source of power that libertarians celebrate: the certainty of a bargained for exchange (i.e., a contract).

  • ||

    Maybe so, Lamar. I like contracts, but they, too, are not without their problems. Contracts are just a formal way of making sure that someone keeps their word. Unfortunately, most contracts are so full of legalese, that a person can really screw themselves when signing one. One of my favorite lines from a contract that I signed to do a particular project for a publisher (coming just after a list of the work I was agreeing to do): "...such other materials and services as Publisher may reasonably request." You gotta love that weasel word "reasonably". I signed the contract without reading it closely. Luckily for me, they didn't ask for much extra. I'll never sign a contract like that again, though; it's just asking for trouble.

  • ||

    You got a point, there. Contracts can act to solidify a relationship beneficial to one party, i.e., adhesion contracts etc.

  • ||

    "So, if Iraq is a quagmire because we still have to have troops there four years later, why aren't Bosnia and Kosovo quagmires because we still have to have troops there eight years later?"

    It's only a quagmire if you're sinking. The military situation in the Balkans is secured, and the political situation is improving.

  • ||

    "I would define a quagmire as any deployment where our troops are in regular contact with an enemy under rules of engagement that prevent our troops from closing with and destroying said enemy."

    If you take away the silly fantasy that the "rules of engagement" are the only thing that prevents wars like the Iraq War or Vietnam from being stunning successes, then you're just about there.

  • ||

    Chris,

    "Definition of "Quagmire": Any engagement of which I don't approve." Nope. World War I, Grenada, our numerous interventions in Latin America - not a quagmire in sight.

    The Real Bill,

    "are more than rich enough to defend themselves." They are more than rich enough to go toe to toe with the countries that threaten them. They are not, however, rich and powerful enough to make starting a war unthinkable for those threatening countries. It's better to keep the peace.

  • ||

    joe,

    You can't be serious. Japan is not rich enough?

  • ||

    BTW, I think Japan should be the next nuclear power. If Pakistan can have nukes, the Japanese should have nukes. It would scare the crap out of China; although, that could be good or bad.

  • ||

    It wasn't that long ago when Bush43 himself was compaigning against nation building. Then he undertook the Mother of All Nation Buildings.

    And yes, if Clinton had invaded Iraq, most Dems would be for it, and most Republicans against. It's really a small number of people on either side with any conviction - the rest are just goose stepping with the party.

  • ||

    TRB,

    Japan is not powerful enough, nor is likely to be for many, many years, to achieve the level of military supremacy vs. China and/or North Korea necessary to deter them the way our military can.

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