Postcard from Da Nang, on the eve of an inauguration
My wife and I are “celebrating” the inauguration of the most powerful man on earth from a hotel in Vietnam.
We’re just twenty miles from Da Nang – a city that once had the busiest airport in the world. Busy not because of tourists like me coming and going between Hanoi, Saigon and the country’s beautiful hinterland. Busy because four and a half decades ago, Da Nang was the hub of America’s war machine. Transport aircraft re-supplying the materiel required to keep half a million troops fit and fighting. Bombers heading for Hanoi, Cambodia, Hue and a hundred other targets. Fighters on missions to strafe villages suspected of being Viet Cong hotbeds. Helicopters ferrying troops back and forth from the combat zones.
Vietnam is for many of Donald Trump’s compatriots the symbol of America’s overreach. It was a war that America, with its vast deployment of resources, couldn’t lose, but did. I wonder how President Trump would have handled such a war. Would he have stayed out, and let the domino fall? Or would he have let the military do what it had to – just as Lyndon Johnson did – to deliver the expected victory. After all, this is a man who told one of our failed politicians the other day:
You know, we’re gonna have a great military, we’re gonna have a much greater military because we’re gonna have – you know right now it’s very depleted, we’re gonna have great military, but we haven’t let our military win.
Lyndon Johnson let the military win, or tried to, by giving his generals more or less what they asked for in terms of men, materiel and moral support. They failed.
Or would Trump have pulled back from escalation, recognising an imminent mistake? Just as he condemned George W Bush’s expedition in Iraq, saying:
It was one of the worst decisions, possible the worst decision ever made in the history of our country. We’ve unleashed – it’s like throwing rocks in a beehive. It’s one of the great messes of all time.
We will never know, but if his priority is to crush ISIS, would he have taken the same view of the Viet Cong, who in 1964 were an insurgent group threatening the status quo in South Vietnam?
One thing’s for sure. If Trump had to make the decision to throw everything against the Viet Cong today, the protests, the personal vilification and the political pressure that led to Johnson standing down in 1969 would be amplified many times on the social media. There would be so much abuse thrown at him that he would take years to fire his customary retaliatory tweets at all the critics who would take aim at him.
Johnson, himself thin-skinned, endured the opprobrium for four years before he threw in the towel. Would Trump, who is a more fragile individual than LBJ ever was, last that long? I doubt it. It would probably be a matter of how long before he tried to do something irrational and catastrophically stupid, at which point one would hope that more grounded people around him would either thwart him or declare him no longer competent to continue in office.
How long? My guess is a year, maybe two.
Should the new president get sucked into a quagmire of his own making, let’s hope that the men in white coats don’t wait until 2.5 million people, including 58,000 Americans, lie dead. Or worse, until a catastrophe a hundred times greater is about to come to pass when he reaches for the red button.
Good luck America, and good luck to the rest of us.
This post is dedicated to Steve Smith, a friend and former colleague who served his country in Da Nang, and sadly is no longer with us.