In 1964, President Johnson said of Vietnam that “I don’t think it’s worth fighting for, and I don’t think that we can get out. It’s just the biggest damn mess I ever saw.” Yet Johnson escalated the conflict and America became bogged down in Southeast Asia for more than a decade. Former Senator George McGovern recently sat down with ANP and said that President Obama runs the risk, like Johnson with his Great Society program, of hobbling his ambitious domestic goals if he continues to send troops into Afghanistan.


Story Transcript

GEORGE MCGOVERN, 1972 DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I have a very deep concern about President Obama putting in another 21,000 troops into Afghanistan, and with the promise of more to come. I think if we continue to send troops in there, it could be the Vietnam of this present administration.

VOICEOVER: In 1972, with images of war exploding on American TV sets, Senator George McGovern rose from obscurity to become the Democratic nominee for president. He recently sat down with ANP and warned President Obama of the legacy of another Democrat who was elected with broad support and had an ambitious set of domestic goals.

MCGOVERN: The Great Society program of Lyndon Johnson was a wonderful program. It created a whole range of positive government initiatives that could have made this a greater country than it is. But he discovered that we just couldn’t afford to wage the Great Society effort here at home and still wage a major war way off there in Southeast Asia. I think it broke his heart that he had to cut back on the Great Society efforts and spend the money out there on a hopeless cause. And I don’t want to see that happen to Barack Obama. After Johnson had sweated and worked and worried and did everything he could in Vietnam to score a decisive victory there, he finally said to his national security adviser McGeorge Bundy, “Mac, it’s easy to get into war; it’s sure as hell hard to get out.” And that’s true. And once you’ve committed American forces, we have a feeling we ought to see it through until everybody’s happy and whatever country we’ve intervened in, that we’ve thoroughly demolished everybody that we opposed to. That’s not feasible. We can’t use young American soldiers running an indefinite, lengthy, two-war operation in the Middle East. That’s got to come to a close.

INTERVIEWER: There’s certainly few others out there would say, well, look at the progress we’ve made in Iraq. Look at—you know, the surge had some success, at least militarily, and there’s girls going to school in Afghanistan, and there’s people who have helped us there. Is it a good idea to leave?

MCGOVERN: There comes a time when our obligation has been met. We’ve given the Iraqis a chance at a democratic government, and they more or less have such a government. But the time has come for them to take over and assume the responsibility for leadership of their country. As for Afghanistan, nobody’s ever been able to pacify those warlords, and I don’t think we can have the funding that we need for national health care, for improved support for education, for a stronger move on environmental problems. I think all of those things will be postponed. I regret very much, as a supporter of the president and as one who admires him, I regret that I think he’s on the wrong course in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

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