David Milne, America's Rasputin: Walt Rostow and the Vietnam War (New York: Hill and Wang, 2008), 336 pp., $26.00.
Andrew Preston, The War Council: McGeorge Bundy, the NSC, and Vietnam (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), 334 pp., $49.95.
THOUGH IT has been over for decades, the Vietnam War continues, more often than not, to loom large in American presidential campaigns. In 1980 Ronald Reagan promised to end the Vietnam syndrome and raised liberal hackles by calling the war a "noble cause." Bill Clinton was pummeled by the conservative press in 1992 for being a draft dodger. Dan Quayle and George W. Bush were fiercely questioned about their war records, or lack of one. John F. Kerry, who actually saw combat and declared that he was "reporting for duty" at the Democratic convention in 2004, was Swift-boated as a traitor. Now, as the 2008 presidential campaign heats up, Vietnam promises to be the subject of contention once more.
President Bush declared before the Veterans of Foreign Wars in August 2007 that defeat in Iraq would amount to a new Vietnam, but the GOP's nomination of Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who endured five years of torture in Hanoi, has substantially raised the stakes. At outlets such as the Weekly Standard and elsewhere, McCain's neoconservative bedfellows are contending that Iraq offers a unique opportunity to redress America's humiliation in Vietnam, when liberal elites allegedly betrayed the troops, just as they are intent on doing today. In this telling, McCain's rise has become synonymous with the rebirth of Iraq itself. In the January 22, 2008, Wall Street Journal, for example, Bret Stephens observed: