Victory in Vietnam: The Myth That Won’t Die But Can’t Stand Up

post to UNC Press Blog, 6 May 2010

Taking academic history into the public square is always eye opening. A recent round of appearances following the publication of A Vietnam War Reader reminded me of the continuing hold on the public imagination of the myth of victory in the Vietnam War. Triumph was possible, so the argument goes, had only the public kept its resolve and were the military allowed to move decisively. While this myth refuses to die, it also won’t stand up to scrutiny. An expanding body of scholarship, including notably fresh contributions over the last decade, make ever less plausible this “woulda, coulda, shoulda” version of the Vietnam War. [See New views on the the Vietnam War: Suggested readings. (updated 6/6/2011)] Read More »

Obama’s Foreign Policy: Not Change But More of the Same

editorial in Journal of Political Criticism (Seoul), vol. 6 (May 2010)

Barack Obama was elected president on the promise of change. And in domestic policy he may deliver on some of that promise. But on foreign policy the record to date suggests that Obama means more of the same. The legal and other excesses associated with the “global war on terrorism” persist. The nuclear proliferation challenges posed by Iran and North Korean continue to baffle Washington. U.S. policymakers still stand aloof from serious international efforts to protect the environment. Israel remains an obstreperous ally whose lobbying operations all but paralyze U.S. policymakers. Washington is demonstrating a remarkable tendency to keep moving at the same pace and in the same direction regardless of who is in the White House.

Nowhere is this continuity in U.S. policy more evident or more consequential than in regard to Afghanistan and China. While each poses familiar and fundamental challenges to current U.S. policy in a key region, Washington seems to cling to old assumptions and conceptions no matter how questionable.

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Karzai and the Shadow of Diem

post to UNC Press Blog, 6 April 2010

Sometimes history really does repeat itself. Consider this scenario: The U.S. government throws its support behind a leader in an important front in a global conflict. But after eight years of military and economic largesse and diplomatic backing, the Americans begin to complain about the poor return on their investment. Their client has failed to breathe life into his government. Its writ is limited to the major cities. Administration efficiency and military effectiveness are low. Family members and political cronies stand accused of getting in the way. Rising American pressure for reform — applied publicly as well as privately — makes the client testy. He not only balks but also starts openly criticizing the U.S. patron and flirting with U.S. foes.
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