US Leadership: | Charles Duelfer

US Leadership:

Informal conversations with foreign friends and allies usually turn to the question of the coming 2024 election. Our friends and allies have a stake in the direction and constancy of the United States. I deeply value allies and would like to assure them that America will remain a stalwart partner with shared values and interests. However, I also value candor and looking at the prospects for the next election can result in a dubious shrug…at best. But there is one pathway ahead.

I recall a period of turmoil in America when things were also divided…arguably worse than today. In 1968 there were: assassinations (Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy); race riots in cities; college campuses were in turmoil; the violent Chicago Democratic National Convention; 550,000 US troops in Viet Nam, the Tet Offensive, Khe Sanh, My Lai massacre; the Cold War with the Soviet Union was going full blast and nuclear war was not a remote contingency (a B-52 bomber with 4 nuclear weapons crashed in Greenland among other accidents). And it was a presidential election year.

On March 31, after the early primary in New Hampshire, President Lyndon Baines Johnson surprised Americans by announcing at the end of a speech largely about the Viet Nam war that “Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.” (the segment leading up to this line is worth reviewing as it parallels the current social landscape in America…see below.)

It strikes me that President Biden is also a man who could make a similar decision for similar reasons. One complexity would be the selection of successor candidate. Johnson left it to Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon won. Trump is no Nixon. And Harris is no Humphrey. Still, this is a possible scenario that is not fantasy and provides some cause for an outcome that is less disruptive to those who link their fates to America–including its citizens.

Note: From Johnson speech of 31 March 1968

“There is division in the American house now. There is divisiveness among us all tonight. And holding the trust that is mine, as President of all the people, I cannot disregard the peril to the progress of the American people and the hope and the prospect of peace for all peoples.

So, I would ask all Americans, whatever their personal interests or concern, to guard against divisiveness and all its ugly consequences.

Fifty-two months and 10 days ago, in a moment of tragedy and trauma, the duties of this office fell upon me. I asked then for your help and God’s, that we might continue America on its course, binding up our wounds, healing our history, moving forward in new unity, to clear the American agenda and to keep the American commitment for all of our people.

United we have kept that commitment. United we have enlarged that commitment.

Through all time to come, I think America will be a stronger nation, a more just society, and a land of greater opportunity and fulfillment because of what we have all done together in these years of unparalleled achievement.

Our reward will come in the life of freedom, peace, and hope that our children will enjoy through ages ahead.

What we won when all of our people united just must not now be lost in suspicion, distrust, selfishness, and politics among any of our people.

Believing this as I do, I have concluded that I should not permit the Presidency to become involved in the partisan divisions that are developing in this political year.

With America’s sons in the fields far away, with America’s future under challenge right here at home, with our hopes and the world’s hopes for peace in the balance every day, I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office–the Presidency of your country.

Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.”

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