The media hoopla surrounding the book has focused mainly on the
administration’s deceptions surrounding the sorry state of affairs in
Iraq and Andrew Card’s attempts, with the apparent blessing of Laura
Bush, to get Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld fired. Neither of
these facts is surprising.
The real surprise in Woodward’s book has received less attention:
The Bush administration’s main advisor during the war has been Henry
Kissinger, according to Woodward’s book, apparently has convinced the
Bush White House that any troop withdrawals from Iraq will start a wave
of public pressure to pull out all U.S. forces from Iraq. He is probably
right in this analysis.
But Kissinger missed the main lesson of Vietnam and is now missing it
in Iraq. As the U.S. generals in Iraq know, killing more Sunni
insurgents and Shi’ite militiamen than the United States loses of its
own troops will not win a war that is fundamentally political.
As Lieutenant General William Odom (Ret.), former Director of the
National Security Agency and opponent of the war, has noted, the Iraq
situation will continue to deteriorate and the United States will
eventually be forced to withdraw from Iraq. So withdrawing sooner,
rather than later, according to Odom, will save U.S. lives and money and
salvage what international prestige the United States has left.
If Nixon and Kissinger had followed similar advice in Vietnam, the
United States, its military, and its international standing would not
have been tarnished by four additional years of war. And even worse than
Vietnam, continued U.S. occupation of Iraq is fueling and worsening the
Islamic terrorist threat to the United States, according to an estimate
from Bush’s own intelligence agencies.
Most amazingly, Woodward’s book indicates that General John Abizaid,
the current chief of the U.S. military command that supervises the Iraq
war, told U.S. Representative John Murtha, a decorated former Marine who
advocates rapid U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, that he was very close to
agreement with the congressman’s position. When the commander in charge
of the Iraq war believes that U.S. forces should be rapidly withdrawn
from that country, that fact should be big news. But sadly it isn’t.
Consulting Kissinger on how to successfully “win” a counterinsurgency
is like getting advice from Mel Gibson on public relations. Richard
Nixon and Henry Kissinger came into office in 1969 vowing to get the
United States out of Vietnam, while achieving “peace with honor.”
Four years and 22,000 American casualties later, Nixon and
Kissinger settled for a face-saving peace settlement that they could
have obtained shortly after they took office. The final agreement merely
provided a “decent interval” between U.S. troop withdrawal and the fall
of the South Vietnamese regime to the communists.
Yet Kissinger’s version of these events is that by 1972, the United
States had virtually won the Vietnam War, but Congress and the American
people wimped out and snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory.
Although the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam in the Linebacker II air
offensive of 1972 and threats of using nuclear weapons probably led the
North Vietnamese to negotiate more seriously, Kissinger’s argument that
the United States had “won” the war is a fantasy. No one on either side
of the ensuing negotiations believed that the North Vietnamese were
going to honor the Paris Peace Accord after the United States left.
Even if one believes that the United States had won the war
militarily, an effective counterinsurgency campaign also requires
winning politically. Because the North Vietnamese were fighting for
their own country and the United States was merely fighting in some
faraway jungle, the North Vietnamese were prepared to take horrendous
casualties to wait out the Americans.
As late as 1972, Nixon and Kissinger had a majority of popular
support for the heavy Linebacker II offensive, and they, not the public,
were the ones who were attempting to pressure the North Vietnamese to
give them a “for show” peace deal that was a mere fig leaf. If the
United States was winning the war, one should ask why Nixon and
Kissinger were so eager to salvage any honor that the United States had
left. In 1972, even Kissinger himself clearly wanted to end the war.
Even if the Congress and the American people were to blame for the
loss of the Vietnam War, as Kissinger contends, politicians should take
into account that democracies will not allow an indefinite waste of
lives and money to win a war that has little to do with national
security. And the Bush administration, after the Vietnam experience,
should have known that the public tires quickly of such unneeded
Ivan Eland is a Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute,
Director of the Institute’s
Center on Peace &
Liberty, and author of the books
The Empire Has No Clothes, and
Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.