The world falls in love with a charismatic young president, his stylish wife, and their charming young children. In the campaign for the presidency he has defeated his opponent in part by charging Republican failure in the war against America’s enemies. In the dawn of his administration this Harvard man musters strategic buttress from intellectuals bunkered in think-tanks and academe, for a decisive escalation by which the foe will be routed. Counter-insurgency will go hand in hand with nation-building. Corruption will be banished and local troops trained to shoulder the burden of the war.
To be sure, there are differences between Jack Kennedy’s America in 1961 and Barack Obama’s in 2009. At the start of the Sixties the U.S. economy in its productive phase hadn’t crested. It was still on the way up to its peak in about 1969. The mantra was “guns and butter.” In 1961 the best and the brightest, defeating Vietnamese guerillas in their Top Secret memos to Kennedy and his commanders, invoked Britain’s defeat of the Communist insurgency in Malaya, courtesy of Frank Kitson’s counter-insurgency tactics and America’s victory over the Huks in the Philippines, with Edward Lansdale claiming the achievement. In 2009, veterans’ hospitals here offer bleak testimony that in Iraq 150,000 US troops, lavishly equipped with advanced weaponry were held down for years in Iraq by the guerillas’ rudimentary roadside explosives.