Raznor's Rants

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Thursday, June 02, 2005

History is fun to ignore
Posted by Raznor

Norbizness does a nice little fisking of Peggy Noonan's latest tripe about Deep Throat. I'll leave you to click the first link and read his capable dissection of this badly written column. Go ahead, have fun. Take your time, I'll be right here when you get back.

Okay, you're done? Pretty good huh.

Oh wait a minute, did you just skip over the link and continue reading this long post. Shame, no more reading this post for you until you've finished reading Norbizness. Go ahead.

Okay, now we we can go on.

Anyway, I have to take some issue with this paragraph from Noonan:

What Mr. Felt helped produce was a weakened president who was a serious president at a serious time. Nixon's ruin led to a cascade of catastrophic events-- the crude and humiliating abandonment of Vietnam and the Vietnamese, the rise of a monster named Pol Pot, and millions--millions--killed in his genocide. America lost confidence; the Soviet Union gained brazenness. What a terrible time.


Okay, I know more than my share fair on the history of the Vietnam War, so I thought I'd go over this point by point. However as an initial disclaimer, I don't really know that much about Pol Pot or the rise of the Khmer Rouge, so I'll mostly skip that one. However, I was under the impression that the Khmer Rouge came to power with the backing of the US in order to counter the North Vietnamese infiltration of Cambodia, but I may be mistaken about the details and certainly don't have any of the nuances. If you know more about this than me, hey, that's what comments and trackback are for. Also e-mail.

Anyway, as for the paragraph, let's talk about the first statement, that the Watergate incident let to the "ambadonment" of Vietnam. I think I'll begin by quoting Nixon's Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, on this, from his book Diplomacy*, chapter 24, p 604:

My own brief acquaintance with de Gaulle provided a stark introduction to his principles. Our first encounter took place during Nixon's visit to Paris in March 1969. At the Elysee Palace, where de Gaulle was hosting a large reception, an aide located me in the crowd to say that the French President wished to speak with me. Somewhat awestruck, I approached the towering figure. Upon seeing me, he dismissed the group around him and, without a word of greeting or other social courtesy, welcomed me with this query: "Why don't you get out of Vietnam?" I replied with some diffidence that a unilateral retreat would undermine American credibility. De Gaulle was not impressed, and asked where such a loss of credibility might occur. When I indicated the Middle East, his remoteness turned into melancholy and he remarked: "How very odd. I thought it was precisely in the Middle East that your enemies were having the credibility problem."


Take note of this, this was 1969, 2 months after Nixon's inauguration. And as insistent as Kissinger may have been, his response paints a bleak picture for the situation in Vietnam, when the only reason for staying is for credibility, as it certainly wasn't for a foreseeable military victory. De Gaulle recognized Vietnam for what it was - a lost cause. Just like it had been for the French 15 years earlier.

1968 began with the Tet Offensive, which although a military victory for the United States, proved that the North Vietnamese were capable of launching a major attack, simultaneously hitting several South Vietnamese cities at once. This went against everything the American public was led to believe regarding the North Vitnamese military capability, thus the US military, already having credibility problems, had lost a little more of the American public's trust. What followed this was the bloodiest year in the Vietnam War. For info, I'll direct you to read the book After Tet if you have the time.

So things were looking bad by the time Nixon took office. Nixon's solution for this was Vietnamization, which amounted to the slow withdrawal from Vietnam, leaving the South Vietnamese to fight their own battles. Nixon announced this plan in November of 1969, and by 1973 American troups had fully withdrawn except for a small presence in the embassy in Saigon, and in 1975 the North Vietnamese unleashed a major invasion on the South hence uniting the entire country under Communist rule. For more on this, check out chapter 7 of America's Longest War

So going back to Noonan, and look at the chronology - in 1969 Nixon announced a slow withdrawal from Vietnam - nearly three years before the Watergate breakin, then in 1973 Nixon's planned withdrawal was completed, a year before he was impeached and resigned in disgrace. So the Watergate investigation led to the withdrawal from Vietnam apparently by going backwards through time.

As far as Soviet brazenness? Puh-lease. This was a mere 15 years since the Soviet Union brutally crushed a Hungarian revolt. A mere 10 years after Kruschev attempted to solidify his negotiating position regarding Berlin by placing missiles in Cuba. And a mere 5 years after Soviet tanks were rolling down the streets of Prague. I don't think the Soviets needed any help in being brazen.

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*- Note to my readers, even if your as arch liberal as me (or even moreso) I strongly recommend picking up Kissinger's Diplomacy. Whatever you may think of him as a policy maker or even human being, it cannot be denied that he is one of the premiere diplomatic historians of the past 50 years, and a good writer at that.

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