Robert Dallek tells Obama "war kills off great reform movements"





At a White House dinner with a group of historians at the beginning of the summer, Robert Dallek, a shrewd student of both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, offered a chilling comment to President Obama.

"In my judgment," he recalls saying, "war kills off great reform movements." The American record is pretty clear: World War I brought the Progressive Era to a close. When Franklin D. Roosevelt was waging World War II, he was candid in saying that "Dr. New Deal" had given way to "Dr. Win the War." Korea ended Harry Truman's Fair Deal, and Vietnam brought Lyndon Johnson's Great Society to an abrupt halt.

Dallek is not a pacifist, and he does not pretend that his observation settles the question against war in every case. Of the four he mentioned, I think World War II and Korea were certainly necessary fights.

But Dallek's point helps explain why Obama is right to have grave qualms about an extended commitment of many more American troops to Afghanistan. Obama was elected not to escalate a war but to end one. The change and hope he promised did not involve a vast new campaign to transform Afghanistan.

It's easy to get enraged over the mess in Afghanistan and with the voices insisting that Obama has no choice but to remedy it by going big and going long.

Too many of those who say that Obama is obligated to step up the pace in Afghanistan spent the Bush presidency neglecting that war because their main interest was in waging a new one in Iraq. ..


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