The disaster playing out between Georgia and the McCain campaign appears to be a sad echo of the last time a Republican presidential campaign manipulated American foreign policy to win an election. Randy Scheuneman is no Dragon Lady.

Forty years ago, Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign sabotaged peace talks in Vietnam, afraid that peace would help the Democrats:

In 1968, Clark Clifford was secretary of defense and Richard Holbrooke was a member of the American negotiating team at the Vietnam peace talks in Paris.

From his seat in the Pentagon, Clifford had been able to read the intelligence transcripts that picked up and recorded what he terms a “secret personal channel” between President Thieu in Saigon and the Nixon campaign.

The chief interlocutor at the American end was John Mitchell, then Nixon’s campaign manager and subsequently attorney general (and subsequently Prisoner Number 24171-157 in the Maxwell Air Force Base prison camp). He was actively assisted by Madame Anna Chennault, known to all as the “Dragon Lady.”A fierce veteran of the Taiwan lobby, and all-purpose right-wing intriguer, she was a social and political force in the Washington of her day and would rate her own biography.

Clifford describes a private meeting at which he, President Johnson, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and National Security Adviser Walt Rostow were present. Hawkish to a man, they kept Vice President Humphrey out of the loop. But, hawkish as they were, they were appalled at the evidence of Nixon’s treachery.

And what was the content of this secret, back-channel conversation?

Here is the secret in plain words. In the fall of 1968, Richard Nixon and some of his emissaries and underlings set out to sabotage the Paris peace negotiations on Vietnam. The means they chose were simple: they privately assured the South Vietnamese military rulers that an incoming Republican regime would offer them a better deal than would a Democratic one. In this way, they undercut both the talks themselves and the electoral strategy of Vice President Hubert Humphrey. The tactic “worked,” in that the South Vietnamese junta withdrew from the talks on the eve of the election, thereby destroying the peace initiative on which the Democrats had based their campaign.

These were the words of Christopher Hitches, written before the man decided to cast his lot with anyone willing to lob hot death in the general direction of Islamic extremists, whom he’d come to loathe while working in Beirut years before.

It’s the kind of investigative work Christopher Hitchens doesn’t do anymore, presumably because — he can’t. Today, he’s limited to milling neocon shit into the Queen’s shinola, using vowels so British that even the Brits have discarded them, translating Freeper snark into high-sounding propaganda, for the admittedly reasonable rate of just seven hundred and fifty milliliters a day.

So, just in case you have a problem with my source, Hitchens himself points out that this isn’t new information. Polite Washtington society just doesn’t like to talk about how thousands of Americans* died just so Tricky Dick could be president:

With slight differences of emphasis, the larger pieces of this story appear in Haldeman’s work as cited and in Clifford’s memoir. They are also partially rehearsed in President Johnson’s autobiography, The Vantage Point, and in a long reflection on Indochina by William Bundy (one of the architects of the war) entitled rather tritely The Tangled Web. Senior members of the press corps, among them Jules Witcover in his history of 1968, Seymour Hersh in his study of Kissinger, and Walter Isaacson, editor of Time magazine, in his admiring but critical biography, have produced almost congruent accounts of the same abysmal episode.

In fact, it seems likely that the whole affair was brought to that foreigner’s attention by the publication the previous year of the Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon, by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan. The meat of the book’s claims about 1968 appeared in a Vanity Fair article that same August, as well as in this Guardian article shortly thereafter, which explains why the LBJ administration didn’t go public with the information:

Johnson offered Humphrey the chance to go public about Nixon, but Humphrey was afraid that the charges would be seen as election dirty tricks. Once Nixon had won, Johnson again contemplated revealing what he knew, but decided the national interest precluded it.

This isn’t just another examples of Democrats playing the nice guys who finish last, this is nice guys finishing last while people die screaming in Indochina. The next time you feel like mourning for Humphrey ….

The difference this time, of course, is that no Americans were harmed during this wagging of the dog. Vanishingly few Americans would care how many Abkhaz have to die so that McCain can be president, if only because John McCain isn’t going to be president.

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Six years ago, Dick Cheney said we should expect the War on Terror to last our lifetimes, effectively replacing Dick Cheney’s previous cash cow, the Cold War. Another state of war to serve as an excuse for domestic tyranny, another excuse to launder tax dollars through America’s sacred socialism into weapons that may or may not work in a war that may not be fought. Another excuse to destroy the America you thought you knew, under the pretext of saving it.

That didn’t work out very well, did it? Back to the drawing board.

Randy Scheuneman was paid $200,000 or more to connect a hot-tempered foreign nationalist with a bitter old Cold Warrior. The problem with McCain’s attempt to gin up a new new new Cold War is that what has happened in Georgia represents the failure of American power, not a challenge to it. It’s already over, unless you want World War XLVI or whatever number the neocons are puffing at us from on top of their mushroom. When the Russians moved into Georgia, it was merely a manifestation of American impotence that had been earned over a process of years, spending our forces with nothing to show for it, preferring embezzlement over investment in our military, which is disposable to the Republicans anyway because it’s full of people who work for a living.

Conscripts would have been treated better, but the margin sucks.

McCain’s rhetoric, directed like a not-entirely-coherent beam of bluster and mostly aimed at an American audience, only serves to highlight Bush’s utter meaninglessness by throwing our lack of action into sharper relief against pointless words. Bush can’t even get a hospital ship to the Georgian coast, let alone a show of force.

The real treason here is that Bush and McCain know they’re playing into the Russians’ hands and they don’t care. The Russians have their fingers in any number of regional and ethnic troubles and can inflame them at any time. That’s their leverage. To take that away from them would require the thoroughly unglamorous work of settling this tribal squabble and that border dispute, as Obama reminded everyone in Berlin, until the china has been cleared and the bull is standing amid empty shelves.

Don’t take my word for it, take this guy’s:

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK:

the United States has to take the lead in trying to, with NATO, force the resolution of these lingering territorial disputes. The Russians have kept these territorial disputes open. It’s their secret doorway back into these countries. They’ve got troops in Moldova. They can escalate a crisis in Moldova on the borders between Ukraine and Romania at any time. They’ve got troops and a presence in Kaliningrad between Poland and Lithuania, and they’ve got pressure on the Baltic Republics of Estonia and Latvia. They can turn up the heat at any time on these countries. They’ve got the ability through the crisis in Nagorno Karabakh to put pressure on Azerbaijan and of course they can put a lot of pressure on other countries in the ‘Stans.

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Ranting against the Russians isn’t just missing the point, it’s helping the Russians.

None of this can be proved with certainty and at any rate Cokie isn’t likely to be interested, so it’s academic. Once I put my tinfoil hat back on, therefore, I can’t help wondering if this laughable gunslinging act by McCain is just a feeble attempt to make him appear vigorous, they kind of staging which worked so well for Boris Yeltsin …

… right before he died.

* 21,115 Americans, to be exact, i.e., the number of US KIA’s in Vietnam between 1969 and the time Nixon accepted the same deal in 1972 that his campaign had sabotaged in 1968.

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