Just Above Sunset
August 21, 2005 - Kissinger's Worse-than-Vietnam Analysis

Home | Question Time | Something Is Up | Connecting Dots | Stay Away | Overload | Our Man in Paris | WLJ Weekly | Book Wrangler | Cobras | The Edge of the Pacific | The Surreal Beach | On Location | Botanicals | Quotes

What's up with this?


Kissinger finds parallels to Vietnam in Iraq 

Former diplomat cites 'divisions in the United States'

Monday, August 15, 2005 - Posted: 4:51 a.m. EDT (08:51 GMT)


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An architect of the U.S. war in Vietnam more than 30 years ago said Sunday that he has "a very uneasy feeling" that some of the same factors that damaged support for the conflict there are re-emerging in the 2-year-old war in Iraq.


"For me, the tragedy of Vietnam was the divisions that occurred in the United States that made it, in the end, impossible to achieve an outcome that was compatible with the sacrifices that had been made," former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."


Support for the war has dropped in recent polls, and criticism of President Bush's handling of the conflict has grown. The latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, taken Aug. 5-7, found that 54 percent of those surveyed thought the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a mistake.


Kissinger said the United States faces a battle to halt the spread of radical Islam in Iraq, and it would be "a catastrophe for the whole world" if it fails.


Kissinger, who served as national security adviser and secretary of state in the Nixon and Ford administrations, said the United States should remove any troops that are not necessary to the American goal of stabilizing Iraq -- "But we cannot begin with an exit without having first defined what the objective is." 


Well, he was on "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" because of this:


Lessons for an Exit Strategy

Henry A. Kissinger, The Washington Post, Friday, August 12, 2005; Page A19


There he notes that have been conflicting reports about the timing of American troop withdrawals from Iraq and suggests a review of withdrawal strategy might be a good idea.  For one thing, he suggests we might thinks about how the terms "progress" and "improvement" should be defined.  And his point is that the definition of progress "becomes nearly as much a psychological as a military judgment."


A question he raises?  "… are we in a phase similar to the aftermath of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam in 1968, which at the time was widely perceived as an American setback but is now understood as a major defeat for Hanoi?"  He remembers and says after "the failure of Hanoi's Tet Offensive, the guerrilla threat was substantially eliminated.  Saigon and all other urban centers were far safer than major cities in Iraq are today."  He also says, "When the Vietnamese army, with substantial U.S. air support, broke the back of the North Vietnamese all-out offensive in 1972, Vietnamization could be judged a success."


So we won.  Be everyone just thought we lost – so we lost.


We really won?  Whatever – but he says the outcome in Iraq will have an "even deeper significance" than that in Vietnam.  "If a Taliban-type government or a fundamentalist radical state were to emerge in Baghdad or any part of Iraq, shock waves would ripple through the Islamic world.  Radical forces in Islamic countries or Islamic minorities in non-Islamic states would be emboldened in their attacks on existing governments." 


The big difference – the consequences of this one are worldwide, global - scary.  Vietnam didn't matter, really.   This does.  (Don't tell the 58,000 dead guys on our side back then.)


Here's the deal now.  The enemy has four objectives:


(1) to expel foreigners from Iraq; (2) to penalize Iraqis cooperating with the occupation; (3) to create a chaos out of which a government of their Islamist persuasion will emerge as a model for other Islamic states; and (4) to turn Iraq into a training base for the next round of fighting, probably in moderate Arab states such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.


And if the bad guys are betting that "by exacting a toll among supporters of the government and collaborators with America, they can frighten an increasing number of civilians into, at a minimum, staying on the sidelines, thereby undermining the government and helping the insurgents by default" – then what?


Basic question?


How do we assess the fighting capacity of the insurgents and their strategy?  To what level must attacks on civilians be reduced, and over what period, before a province can be described as pacified?   What is the real combat effectiveness of Iraqi security forces, and against what kind of dangers?  To what extent are the Iraqi forces penetrated by insurgents? … What is the role of infiltration from neighboring countries?  How can it be defeated?


We're that much in the dark?  We can't even define what winning is?


Secondary question?  How do we get all sides to get along?  A constitution where everyone gets a say?  That's not going well.  "Can a genuine nation emerge in Iraq through constitutional means?"


Kissinger suggests we pull in other nations in some major diplomacy as everyone has a stake in this – it's global, right? – but he knows we don't do that any longer.


Oh well.  Henry says we need to define what winning actually is – he remembers Vietnam – and we need to work with other nations.  But we really don't do such things these days, do we?


This has been all over the news of course.  Put in "Kissinger Iraq Vietnam" in the Google News Search Bar even a week later, on Saturday, August 20, and you get fifty-two items.  Do that in Ice Rocket - a blog search thing - and the same day you get 523 items.


On Saturday, August 20, Maureen Dowd comments on the Kissinger item in Hey, What's That Sound? in the New York Times -


The man who won a Nobel Peace Prize for making a botched exit and humiliating defeat look like a brilliant act of diplomacy wrote an op-ed article in The Washington Post drawing the analogy the White House dreads: Iraq as Vietnam, including an unfavorable comparison:


"After the failure of Hanoi's Tet offensive, the guerrilla threat was substantially eliminated. Saigon and all other urban centers were far safer than major cities in Iraq are today."


She's not impressed.  No one wants to do Vietnam again.


Ric Erickson in Paris doesn't, and sends this to our readers:


Henry is at it again.  His glass is always half-full - 'failure of Tet' - do you remember Tet 1968?  The opposition announced in advance that there would be a general offensive for Tet throughout South Vietnam.  The threat was reported by US news media.  The guys running the war scoffed.  To Washington's surprise, the Tet offensive happened at Tet.  Hit-and-run attacks all over the place.  Those peasants in pajamas made the Pentagon brains look stupid.  Of course Henry still says the Tet offensive was a failure.  He has to, to maintain his Nobel.


As Dowd writes - "The man who won a Nobel Peace Prize for making a botched exit and humiliating defeat look like a brilliant act of diplomacy..."


Then, if you clip off Henry's self-serving comments, you get the rest.  He is saying that the US has some very thorny problems in Iraq, with no better answers than for Vietnam.  If fact, he says they are worse.  The US risks 'losing' a lot more than one little impoverished country in Indochina.


How is the US going to make a 'success' of withdrawal from Iraq?


Withdrawing will create a vacuum that the Iraqis cannot do anything about.  Not withdrawing will create what?  When?  How?


If Vietnam was a domino in the game of global strategy, the key is that is was a part of 'global strategy.'  As we know, it wasn't a crucial domino, so it was a mistake and we're supposed to learn from mistakes.  It's why Vietnam keeps getting mentioned.


Does the United States have a global strategy today?  Is the United States operating in its own best interests, of in the interests of global corporations?  Or in no 'best interests' at all?


There was a time in history when the United States could be equated with global corporations - so what was good for General Motors was good for, etc. - but is this the case today?  Are not these global corporations, in their majority, not American?  Are they not offshore, merely raising, buying, selling, money, via Wall Street?  America is getting its jeans made in China.  Who is making what in America?


Kissinger used to be hated because he pretended to be practicing 'realpolitik.'  He got the Nobel for pulling off a 'peace' that the United States could have 'won' on the advice of a 18-year old draft-dodger in 1966.  'Where's Vietnam?  Who cares.'


All the same we used to think that Henry was crafty.  Compared to what the US has now, he looked like a genius.  This then is the nut of the problem - if the US is so short of talent that it will listen to an utter failure like Kissinger, what hope is there?  The United States needs to ask China to sell it a 'global strategy' while they're still friendly.  The United States should do it soon, while its credit is still good.


Are we so short of talent that it will listen to an "utter failure" like Kissinger?  Utter failure?  What about Marlo Thomas that prompted him say, "power is the ultimate aphrodisiac?"


Seriously.  He points out the obvious, and what we won't do.  What's the point in that?


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....