[From the diaries by susanhu w minor edits.]
With the recent rumors that W is about to announce a shift in strategy for the Iraq war, to include significant troop withdrawals due to increased readiness of Iraqi units — and to greatly increase air support — we find ourselves facing an almost eerie replay of the latter days of the Vietnam War.
More knowledgeable commentators than I have made the comparisons between “Vietnamization” and “Iraqification”, so I won’t belabor the point. What’s new and interesting to note is that concurrent with that process, Nixon turned to air power to address the problem of increased enemy belligerence and stalled Paris peace negotiations. The North Vietnamese thought they would hit Nixon at a weak moment – during the 1972 elections – just as they did (successfully) to Johnson with the 1968 Tet Offensive. Nixon was not Johnson, however, and decided that the answer to the challenge was to hit back – hard.
Then, as today, the military was not in favor of the idea, and the planning and decision-making for the operation went on without their full involvement. Orders went from the Administration to the battlefield without much Pentagon involvement.
We see the same thing today starting to happen, as susanhu mentioned in her front-page piece yesterday where she mentioned Seymour Hirsh’s interview on CNN</a in which he discussed his New Yorker story on the planned increase in the aerial bombings. Of course, in Vietnam, journalists were given daily counts of sorties; today there is no information released to the public. Bombing is already going on, but as in the Secret War in Laos, the public is in the dark…
What was the result in Vietnam? In the short term, the results were good. The North Vietnamese military advances were halted somewhat, and the peace talks restarted in 1973 with renewed energy. Some time was bought for the face-saving withdrawal of American troops to continue. In the longer term, the effect was a brief delay of the inevitable collapse of the South Vietnamese government and a significant ratcheting up of the anti-war movement at home. In terms of diplomatic relations, other nations uniformly and soundly condemned the bombing campaign, increasing America’s diplomatic isolation resulting from the war.
It remains to be seen if Syria is going to play the role of Cambodia or Laos in the Bush Studio’s remake of “The Quagmire of War.” Cambodia was invaded in May 1970 because, while not a part of the war, its territories were being used as a staging ground for enemy operations. Operations were even more significant in Laos, involving 30,000 Laotians under CIA direction in the largest US covert operation between WWII and the Afghan-Soviet war. Syria has been accused of the same kind of support of the enemy, and there are reports (that have gotten little domestic press coverage) of small-scale incursions into Syrian territory already occurring.
And, of course, Bush’s justifications sound eerily like Nixon’s – although Nixon was much better at “speechifyin'” (from the speech to the nation announcing the invasion of Cambodia):
(more on the flip)
We will not react to this threat to American lives merely by plaintive diplomatic protests. If we did, the credibility of the United States would be destroyed in every area of the world where only the power of the United States deters aggression. Tonight I again warn the North Vietnamese that if they continue to escalate the fighting when the United States is withdrawing its forces, I shall meet my responsibility as Commander in Chief of our Armed Forces to take the action I consider necessary to defend the security of our American men. The action that I have announced tonight puts the leaders of North Vietnam on notice that we will be patient in working for peace, we will be conciliatory at the conference table, but we will not be humiliated. We will not be defeated. We will not allow American men by the thousands to be killed by an enemy from privileged sanctuaries. [snip]
My fellow Americans, we live in an age of anarchy, both abroad and at home. We see mindless attacks on all the great institutions which have been created by free civilizations in the last 500 years. Even here in the United States, great universities are being systematically destroyed. Small nations all over the world find themselves under attack from within and from without.
If, when the chips are down, the world’s most powerful nation, the United States of America, acts like a pitiful, helpless giant, the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy will threaten free nations and free institutions throughout the world. It is not our power but our will and character that is being tested tonight. The question all Americans must ask and answer tonight is this: Does the richest and strongest nation in the history of the world have the character to meet a direct challenge by a group which rejects every effort to win a just peace, ignores our warning, tramples on solemn agreements, violates the neutrality of an unarmed people, and uses our prisoners as hostages?
If we fail to meet this challenge, all other nations will be on notice that despite its overwhelming power the United States, when a real crisis comes, will be found wanting. [snip]
Whether I may be a one-term President is insignificant compared to whether by our failure to act in this crisis the United States proves itself to be unworthy to lead the forces of freedom in this critical period in world history. I would rather be a one-term President and do what I believe is right than to be a two-term President at the cost of seeing America become a second-rate power and to see this nation accept the first defeat in its proud 190-year history.
Well, he got the latter, protestations to the contrary. Or at least part of a second term.
It remains to be seen if events play out differently this time. It certainly is a reflection of the desperation in the administration that they’d consider turning back to the Vietnam-era playbook. Or a reflection of the hubris with which they think, “the rules don’t apply in our case.”
Hersh certainly believes it’s the latter, from what he’s hearing:
HERSH: Suffice to say this, that this president in private, at Camp David with his friends, the people that I’m sure call him George, is very serene about the war. He’s upbeat. He thinks that he’s going to be judged, maybe not in five years or ten years, maybe in 20 years. He’s committed to the course. He believes in democracy.
HERSH: He believes that he’s doing the right thing, and he’s not going to stop until he gets — either until he’s out of office, or he falls apart, or he wins.
BLITZER: But this has become, your suggesting, a religious thing for him?
HERSH: Some people think it is. Other people think he’s absolutely committed, as I say, to the idea of democracy. He’s been sold on this notion.
He’s a utopian, you could say, in a world where maybe he doesn’t have all the facts and all the information he needs and isn’t able to change.
I’ll tell you, the people that talk to me now are essentially frightened because they’re not sure how you get to this guy. [snip]
And if you’re a general and you have a disagreement with this war, you cannot get that message into the White House. And that gets people unnerved.
BLITZER: Here’s what you write. You write, “Current and former military and intelligence officials have told me that the president remains convinced that it is his personal mission to bring democracy to Iraq, and that he is impervious to political pressure, even from fellow Republicans. They also say that he disparages any information that conflicts with his view of how the war is proceeding.”
Those are incredibly strong words, that the president basically doesn’t want to hear alternative analysis of what is going on.
HERSH: You know, Wolf, there is people I’ve been talking to — I’ve been a critic of the war very early in the New Yorker, and there were people talking to me in the last few months that have talked to me for four years that are suddenly saying something much more alarming.
They’re beginning to talk about some of the things the president said to him about his feelings about manifest destiny, about a higher calling that he was talking about three, four years ago.
I don’t want to sound like I’m off the wall here. But the issue is, is this president going to be capable of responding to reality? Is he going to be able — is he going to be capable if he going to get a bad assessment, is he going to accept it as a bad assessment or is he simply going to see it as something else that is just a little bit in the way as he marches on in his crusade that may not be judged for 10 or 20 years.
He talks about being judged in 20 years to his friends. And so it’s a little alarming because that means that my and my colleagues in the press corps, we can’t get to him maybe with our views. You and you can’t get to him maybe with your interviews.
How do you get to a guy to convince him that perhaps he’s not going the right way?
Jack Murtha certainly didn’t do it. As I wrote, they were enraged at Murtha in the White House.
And so we have an election coming up — Yes. I’ve had people talk to me about maybe Congress is going to have to cut off the budget for this war if it gets to that point. I don’t think they’re ready to do it now.
But I’m talking about sort of a crisis of management. That you have a management that’s seen by some of the people closely involved as not being able to function in terms of getting information it doesn’t want to receive.
Footnote: I’m certainly no military historian, and I remember little of the military details from the time (I was an adolescent, but reading Nixon’s speech made my hair stand on end in recollection, so I must have seen it at the time). However, Google is my friend, and if you’d like to look into this in more detail, try googling “Operation Linebacker II Christmas Offensive.” I look forward to the feedback of those with more familiarity with the subject than I as to whether I’m on base in this assessment, and to what degree the Iraqi insurgency has their eyes on the 2006 / 2008 elections and US polls in developing their strategies.
I also remember how Nixon came unglued behind the scenes as his world crumbled, and how we only saw it in bits and pieces and hints at the time. When Hersh says “he’s not going to stop until he gets — either until he’s out of office, or he falls apart, or he wins” I think there may be more that we’ve yet to hear of what’s really going on in the West Wing.