I’ve been reading Daniel Ellsberg’s book, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers. It’s depressing beyond words to be reminded of how precisely George W. Bush is following in the footsteps of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. Here’s the way “cut and run” looked back in the day:
Reading a few years later my analyses written before mid-1969, I was struck by their tacit, unquestioned belief that we had had a right to “win,” in ways defined by us (that is, by the president). The same is true of the writings of that time by virtually all other strategic analysts, as well as all official government statements, both public and internal.
That unspoken premise underlay another one, also unspoken, held by the large and growing number of officials, former officials, and liberal members of the establishment who no longer believed in the practical feasibility of “winning” at acceptable cost.
This was the assumption that we had nevertheless a right to prolong an unwinnable war to postpone defeat or, at the very worst, to lose only gracefully, covertly, slowly, at the cost of an uncounted number of Asian lives, a toll on which they and our policy set no real limit …
The next morning, before I flew home to California, I called Mort Halperin, who was working for Henry Kissinger in the White House on Vietnam. I said to him, “Let me put a question to you, Mort. What would be your best guess on the proportion of Vietnamese, by now, who would rather see the war over, no matter who won?”
He said, not to my surprise, “I suppose about eighty or ninety percent.”
”What do you think your boss would say?” I was referring to Kissinger.
”I’ve never discussed it with him. But I would guess he would say about the same.”
I said, “Those guesses sound about right. But here’s a question that’s new to me. It’s starting to bother me a lot. If it were true that most of the South Vietnamese wanted the war to be over, whether that was at the cost of either a Communist victory or a GVN victory, how could we be justified in prolonging the war inside their country? Why would we have the right to keep it going even one more day?”
There was long silence. Then Mort said, “That’s a very good question. I don’t have an answer. Let me think about it.”
It remains a very good question. Let’s all think about it.