President Obama,
Consult Your Wisest Advisor

“The generals are asking for another 20, maybe 30,000 troops, and when I saw that request the other day saying what we have (in Afghanistan) is not enough I remembered a dream I had a year or so ago, right before Obama came into office,” journalist and commentator Bill Moyers told Bill Maher on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher August 28.

“I was back in the cabinet room of the (Johnson) White House sitting behind the president, who was talking to his military advisers, and they were spread out around the table. And, this was in the dream, seriously. He asked the military advisers and his national security advisers how many troops should I send: 40,000? And, a voice in the back of the room said, ‘Not enough.’ 80,000? A voice from over there said, ‘Not enough.’ 120,000? A voice from over there said, ‘Not enough.’

“The military and the hawks in the administration will always say ‘not enough,’” explained Moyers, who served in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, including two years as Johnson’s press secretary.

Analysts, generals, and pundits have likened the now eight year U.S. conflagration in Afghanistan to the decade plus U.S. involvement in  Vietnam. Ostensibly to stop the spread of communism in Southeast Asia, President Dwight Eisenhower sent “advisers” into Vietnam in the late 1950’s. President John F. Kennedy twice tripled their numbers in the early 1960’s.  Lyndon Johnson, drawing from a huge pool of young American draftees, turned the advisers into combat troops. U.S. troop strength was a half million at its peak in 1968.  After more than a dozen years, billions of dollars, and the death of more than five million Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians and 60,000 Americans, the U.S. pulled out of the quagmire of its own making in Southeast Asia in 1975.

As a candidate for president, Barack Obama pledged to make Afghanistan, which G.W. Bush attacked in October, 2001 in the aftermath of 9/11, the home front of the so-called war on terrorism. As president, Obama in March approved a 34,000 troop increase, bringing the U.S. troop levels to 68,000 with as many or more contractors and mercenary forces. That troop level is twice the number as when Bush left office.

At West Point December 1, President Obama announced an escalation of combat in the region, nearly doubling the troop (and contractor) levels in Afghanistan and extending the attacks by the CIA, private contractors, and drones in Pakistan. All this to prevent 100 al Qaeda in Afghanistan and 200 in Pakistan from plotting and training for another attack against the U.S. However, eight years later, the U.S. government has yet to provide evidence al Qaeda was responsible for September 11.

Apparently, the Johnson White House was a hotbed of night time dreamers. On March 31, 1968, two months after North Vietnam launched the massive Tet Offensive and faced with a divisive battle for the Democratic nomination, Johnson announced in a televised address to the nation he would not seek reelection.

Johnson’s decision came after a dream, according to historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. In her biography, Lyndon Johnson and The American Dream (Harper and Row, 1976), she described the dream:

“He saw himself swimming in a river. He was swimming from the center toward one shore. He swam and swam, but he never seemed to get any closer. He turned around to swim to the other shore, but again he got nowhere. He was simply going round and round in circles.”

He realized “the impossibility of his situation.”

Goodwin posits this dream, similar to dreams Johnson remembered from his childhood, reflected divergent parental expectations and Johnson’s persistent fear he would become physically paralyzed before the end of his next term, like his grandmother when he was a boy.

Calling her analysis “admittedly psychoanalytic,” Goodwin suggested the river was the Pedernales, near Johnson’s childhood home in Texas.  The river could also be the Mekong, which Pete Seeger immortalized in his song “Waist Deep in The Deep Muddy, inspired by pictures of U.S. troops wading across Vietnam’s major river. The Mekong Delta was the site of deadly battles between the Viet Cong and U.S. troops.

After a months’ long censorship struggle, Seeger performed the song on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour on CBS to more than 7 million viewers.  His appearance was in January 1968, around the time of the January 31 Tet Offensive and shortly before Johnson’s dream.

Perhaps Johnson’s withdrawal from politics could have precipitated an end to the war if he had shared his dream at the time, but Richard Nixon defeated Hubert Humphrey, Johnson’s vice president.  Nixon said he had a secret plan to end the war; instead, Nixon escalated the Vietnam conflagration and expanded the war into Laos and Cambodia.

As these “war” stories show, dreams can help us see clearly,  revealing what is hidden. More than psychological percepts or random firings of the brain, dreams offer messages of guidance, insight, prophecy. A snapshot of a moment, a picture of the big story, a potential prophecy of events to come.

For centuries, dreams have guided nations toward (or away from) their destinies. In the Old Testament, God spoke through dreams with both plain words and symbols.

A famous political prophecy is the dream of the Egyptian Pharaoh (Genesis: 30-46) : “In my dream, I stood upon the banks of a river. There stood seven fat cows. As I looked, lo!, there came from out of the river, seven lean cows, and before my very eyes, they swallowed the seven fat cows, but remained as lean as before. And, then I saw seven empty ears of corn swallow seven full ears of corn, but remain just as thin as ever.”

Joseph, who became Pharaoh’s chief governor, interpreted the dream as seven years of plenty and seven of famine; he proscribed a public policy of storing food during the seven abundant years to prevent starvation during the next seven years of lack. His assessment saved the nation.

In the Bible’s Book of Daniel, a dream in the second year of his reign troubled Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon famous for the magnificent gardens hanging outside his palace. He saw a gigantic statue  “with the head of gold, breast and arms of silver; thighs and belly of brass, and legs of iron. The feet and toes were a mixture of iron and clay. ”

Filled with hubris, Nebuchadnezzar commanded the people to worship a golden idol he commissioned. In a lesson for leaders with designs of empire,  Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom crumbled and the king descended into madness.

Eventually, the King listened to the wisdom of Daniel, his court adviser, and changed his ways.  After seven years, Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity returned and “the honor and glory he once possessed were restored to him.”

Around the age of 40, Muhammad, who would become a prophet and the founder of the Islam religion, was meditating in a cave near Mecca. The angel Gabriel appeared in a dream and said, “O Muhammad, you are the messenger of Allah.” Over 23 years, in dreams and visions, Gabriel revealed the Qu’ran, the book of divine guidance for Muslims, to Muhammad.

Ancient Greek philosopher Plato and Roman philosopher Cicero explored the ideal commonwealth in their writings.  Their treatises sought to instill a desire to lead an upright, law abiding life. Plato’s Myth of Er in his Republic and Cicero’s Dream of Scipio from De re publica are vaunted vehicles.  Departed souls, sometimes in dreams, revealed the essence of statesmen-like virtues.

Dreams have also guided generals and commanders in battle. In 49 B.C., the night before Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River to lead his troops into Rome, he dreamed of sleeping with his mother. Caesar conquered Rome, the mother city. Before his defeat at the battle of Waterloo in June 1815, military and political leader Napoleon Bonaparte dreamed of a black cat. The battle ended Napoleon’s rule as the French emperor and Waterloo became synonymous with career-ending defeat.  Otto von Bismarck, the Prussian statesman and first chancellor of the German empire (1871-1890) was so proud a dream guided him to victory over Austria he described the premonition in detail his book Thoughts and Memories.

Dream allusions are unusual in biographies of powerful contemporary political figures.  It is noteworthy, therefore, that an index entry in Goodwin’s biography of Johnson reads  “dreams and nightmares — during illness, as President, as Vice President, see also analytic insights” and more than a dozen pages explore his dreams.

Daniel explained the power of dreams to King Nebuchadnezzar like this: “Your majesty, … there is a God in heaven who is able to reveal all hidden things, and He has done this for you so that you may know what future events are going to take place during your lifetime and beyond.”

He added: “God has made these events known to you so that you may know in advance His plan that will surely come to pass.”

Whether dreams are heaven sent or a message from self to Self, they give a snapshot of the reality of a situation. Unfortunately, as President Obama considered the mission, strategy and tactics, and troop levels in Afghanistan and Pakistan, he would have done well to consult not only the advisers around the table in his cabinet room, but also historical dreamers, and, most of all, his own inner dream adviser. Let’s hope nightmares wake him up to his and our humanity — soon.

c Joyce Lynn 2009

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