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Bush’s New Strategy: Copy The ‘Success’ of Vietnam

By Judd Legum on December 18, 2006 at 3:30 pm

"Bush’s New Strategy: Copy The ‘Success’ of Vietnam"

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vietnamRetired General Jack Keane is an “influential member of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board” who met with President Bush last week to push his plan to send 40,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq. According to media reports, President Bush is leaning toward taking Keane’s advice.

In the most recent issue of the Weekly Standard, editor Fred Barnes lauds Keane’s plan. He explains that is an “application” of the “counterinsurgency approach” that was executed “so successfully” in Vietnam:

The Keane-Kagan plan is not revolutionary. Rather, it is an application of a counterinsurgency approach that has proved to be effective elsewhere, notably in Vietnam. There, Gen. Creighton Abrams cleared out the Viet Cong so successfully that the South Vietnamese government took control of the country. Only when Congress cut off funds to South Vietnam in 1974 were the North Vietnamese able to win.

Barnes is parroting the view of Henry Kissinger. Bob Woodward explained in his book, State of Denial:

Kissinger sensed wobbliness everywhere on Iraq, and he increasingly saw it through the prism of the Vietnam War. For Kissinger, the overriding lesson of Vietnam is to stick it out.

In his writing, speeches and private comments, Kissinger claimed that the United States had essentially won the war in 1972, only to lose it because of the weakened resolve of the public and Congress.

You know Iraq is going badly when people suggest the way to turn it around is to make it more like Vietnam.

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UPDATE: Rick Perlstein explains why Kissinger was wrong:

To begin unraveling the true meaning of Kissinger’s advice to the White House, we have to go back to August 3, 1972. On that date, President Nixon repeated to the good doctor, his national security adviser, what he’d been saying in private since 1966: America’s war aim (standing up a pro-American and anti-Communist South Vietnamese government in Saigon) was a fantasy. “South Vietnam probably can never even survive anyway,” the president sighed. But a presidential election was coming up. He had long before promised he was removing the U.S. presence, more-or-less victoriously (though “victory” was a word Nixon, by then, wisely avoided; instead, he called it “peace with honor”).

It was Kissinger, who had been shuttling back and forth to Paris for peace negotiations with the enemy, who named the dilemma: “We’ve got to find some formula that holds the thing together a year or two, after which–after a year, Mr. President, Vietnam will be a backwater. If we settle it, say, this October, by January ’74, no one will give a damn.” Thus was confirmed what historians would come to call the “decent interval” strategy. Having pledged to Saigon–and American conservatives–that Communist troops would not be allowed in South Vietnam after a peace deal was signed, Kissinger negotiated the opposite. “Peace is at hand,” he announced on the eve of the 1972 presidential election, in one of his rare appearances before the TV cameras. The United States left the following spring; the Communists moved in; Saigon fell.

That’s not how Nixon and Kissinger told the story, of course. They blamed the defeat on a combination of the liberal congressmen who refused to vote for continued aid to South Vietnam in 1974 and Saigon’s own unfortunate lack of will.

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