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Kissinger told China communist takeover in Vietnam was acceptable
May 26, 2006 4:10 PM   Subscribe

Today, George Washington University's National Security Archive has published online the most comprehensive collection of memoranda of conversations (memcons) involving Henry Kissinger.

Revealed in the collection is the fact that "Kissinger quietly acknowledged to China in 1972 that Washington could accept a communist takeover of South Vietnam if that evolved after a withdrawal of U.S. troops - even as the war to drive back the Communists dragged on with mounting deaths....[He] told Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai: 'If we can live with a communist government in China, we ought to be able to accept it in Indochina.' ...[His] comments appear to lend credence to the 'decent interval' theory posed by some historians who said the United States was prepared to see Communists take over Saigon, as long as that happened long enough after a U.S. troop departure to save face."
posted by ericb (38 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Zhou Enlai is the guy who put Mao in charge of the Communist party, if you were wondering.
posted by delmoi at 4:20 PM on May 26, 2006


“In fact, they did not pursue a consistent strategy from beginning to end and did not win a peace with honor.”

But...what about the nobel peace prize?
posted by Smedleyman at 4:22 PM on May 26, 2006


So everyone who died between 1972 and 1975 died to save face? How very .... inscrutable.

Though really, everyone who died at any time in that mess died for no good fucking reason at all.
posted by Rumple at 4:34 PM on May 26, 2006


But...what about the nobel peace prize?
I think the Golden Globes are more prestigous these days.
posted by wendell at 4:35 PM on May 26, 2006


"Discussing Cambodia with Thailand's Foreign Minister, Kissinger acknowledged that the Khmer Rouge were "murderous thugs" but he wanted the Thais to tell the Cambodians "that we will be friends with them": Cambodia aligned with China could be a "counterweight" to the real adversary, North Vietnam."

More immorality in the name of ideology. Ironically, it was the North Vietnamese, once they cleaned out the South Vietnames puppet regime, who wound up forcing the Khmer Rouge maniacs out of power.
posted by Rumple at 4:43 PM on May 26, 2006


Great post.

Will somebody please keep track of this stuff and blanket the Wingnuts on USENet with it. I'm sick of reading their Ann Coulter revisionist bullshit.
posted by tkchrist at 5:02 PM on May 26, 2006


Yeah... but, but, but... Kennedy traded away our bases in Turkey for getting those missiles out of Cuba. You lousy liberals, your sellout was worse than ours! Blah, blah, blah, parrot, parrot, parrot, does not compute, does not compute... crash... burn...

More immorality in the name of ideology.

They used to call it realpolitik. But yeah, that's pretty much the size of it.
posted by psmealey at 5:07 PM on May 26, 2006


Will somebody please keep track of this stuff and blanket the Wingnuts on USENet with it. I'm sick of reading their Ann Coulter revisionist bullshit.

As I understand it, the neoconservatives dislike Kissinger anyway. The Economist:
Mr Wolfowitz is the leader of a small group of foreign-policy neo-conservatives who have been hanging around Washington since the 1970s. They criticised the realpolitik approach to foreign affairs championed by Henry Kissinger for accepting the cold war's status quo and for implying that there was a moral equivalence between the Soviet Union and the United States. They argued that America should be much more willing to champion its values, insisting that this would advance, not threaten, global security. The biggest threats to America's security were regimes based on values that America, and other free countries, deplore; change those regimes by advancing western values and—hey presto—you strengthen American security.
Historian Eric Bergerud on Kissinger and the "decent interval" theory:
Kissinger admired the great diplomats of the 19th Century: Metternich, Bismarck, etc. Bismarck in particular never thought that events could be predicted with precision. When a policy was pursued a range of outcomes could be expected. The trick was to develop policy where the minimum outcome (today we might call it a worst case scenario) was acceptable. If a triumph ensued great. If it was something in between, don't die of surprise.

It was no secret that many "Henry watchers" inside and outside the administration thought that Kissinger considered Thieu expendable. (Thieu thought this.) He did not desire the fall of SVN, but believed that LBJ and others had grossly overestimated the harm that a Hanoi victory would have on America's position. Kissinger was, however, extremely concerned about the overall course of the Cold War and wanted American concentration firmly pointed in the correct direction - dealing with Moscow. I rather think Kissinger enjoyed juggling the fears and desires of Moscow, Beijing and other lesser players. The biggest obstacle to playing the game, as made clear in his memoirs, was the Vietnam War. Therefore Paris was a good deal from Kissinger's point of view. The minimum outcome was an American withdrawal from Vietnam and a face-saving interval of peace: an acceptable position from which to get down to truly important business even if the
GVN failed in the end. The maximum outcome, which I suppose sounded feasible, was that Thieu would stick it out and the US could, at some future date, claim victory. The important point is that wherever events fell on the minimum-maximum continuum, America was out of the war and had its hands free to play the great game on even terms. In sum, I think Kissinger would have considered Paris good work regardless of what took place ultimately in Vietnam.
posted by russilwvong at 5:31 PM on May 26, 2006 [3 favorites]


On Vietnam, Kissinger's main concern was President Thieu's fear that an agreement with North Vietnam would "sell out" the South; for Thieu, the proposed tripartite "Committee of National Reconciliation" would amount to a "disguised coalition government" by including representatives of the National Liberation Front. Worried that the "obtuse" Thieu would make his objections public, Kissinger declared that would be "their death and our death" because it would give a "big boost" to George McGovern's presidential campaign.

Highlighted for anyone who continues to think partisan politics might not drive matters of life and death in foreign military campaigns.

I dunno, I've always hated that *&^%$er Kissinger but these archives are just making me really pissed off.
posted by Rumple at 5:32 PM on May 26, 2006


Zhou Enlai is the guy who put Mao in charge of the Communist party, if you were wondering.

References? I always thought Stalin was ultimately the guy who put Mao in charge of the Communist party, but I haven't kept up with recent scholarship, and in particular I haven't read Thomas Kampen's Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and the Evolution of the Chinese Communist Leadership, which is supposed to be "devastating to the official party narrative of revolutionary history" (ref). I used to have an unhealthy fascination with the early history of the CCP, and I'd certainly enjoy an update.
posted by languagehat at 5:40 PM on May 26, 2006


Rumple, here's another example:

The heroic side of LBJ:
One of the coups of Dallek's research is his confirmation that, during the 1968 presidential campaign, Nixon used emissaries to convince the Vietnamese to delay their participation in the Paris peace talks until after he was elected. Nixon, a private citizen, was committing treason (delaying peace talks for a war in which America was involved) in pursuit of political office. Johnson had this information (as well as proof that the Greek military junta was funneling millions to the Nixon campaign via Spiro Agnew) and refused to use it. He saw it as leverage against any investigation Nixon might undertake against him that would sully his image.

posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 5:48 PM on May 26, 2006 [1 favorite]


thanks ducksqueezer -- that little vignette manages to sully LBJ, Nixon, Agnew and the Greeks at once. Makes me feel a lot better, actually.

So what odd decisions were made in the summer of 2004 regarding Iraq?
posted by Rumple at 5:57 PM on May 26, 2006


So what odd decisions were made in the summer of 2004 regarding Iraq?

Fuck 2004. I want to know what odd decisions were made at Crawford during the President's first month long vacation in the summer of 2001.
posted by psmealey at 6:12 PM on May 26, 2006


Direct link to the PDF of Kissinger's conversation with Zhou Enlai. Excerpt is from page 37.
posted by beerbajay at 7:08 PM on May 26, 2006



Fuck 2004. I want to know what odd decisions were made at Crawford during the President's first month long vacation in the summer of 2001.



My guess: 1/4 wild turkey or 1/8th colombian marching powder
posted by lalochezia at 7:31 PM on May 26, 2006


Rumple: More immorality in the name of ideology.
psmealey: They used to call it realpolitik. But yeah, that's pretty much the size of it.


I was under the impression that realpolitik was expreedly un-ideological. The linked memo proves this: Kissinger couldn't have cared less about the morality of communism. Instead he was willing to bargain countries and negotiate with despots in order to secure more power for the States (and his party). Contrast this with the neocons, who believe that spreading American ideals is worth weakening your strategic position.

I think both approaches taken to the extreme are contemptable. You cannot reason away ethical decisions with self-interested calculus, and you can't declare yourself arbiter of what's right and wrong either. The root of the both sins is the unquestioned assumption that America should always look out for America first. But I don't suppose that will change anytime soon.
posted by Popular Ethics at 8:27 PM on May 26, 2006


If Kissinger is so big on realpolitik (which shouldn't really be about the pursuit of ideology in any sense, just national self interest), why did he strongly support the invasion of Iraq?
posted by Chuckles at 8:36 PM on May 26, 2006


Read this: The Thirty-Year Itch
posted by homunculus at 9:28 PM on May 26, 2006


That looks like a great article homunculus. I've only skimmed very quickly at this point, but I have to say, Kissinger's role isn't all that clear:
Kissinger has never acknowledged having planted the seeds for the article. But in an interview with Business Week that same year, he delivered a thinly veiled threat to the Saudis, musing about bringing oil prices down through "massive political warfare against countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran to make them risk their political stability and maybe their security if they did not cooperate."
What I really mean, I suppose, is that we can still view Kissinger in the 70's as playing at realpolitik.
posted by Chuckles at 9:38 PM on May 26, 2006


"Ironically, it was the North Vietnamese, once they cleaned out the South Vietnames puppet regime, who wound up forcing the Khmer Rouge maniacs out of power."

People like Kissinger have never had a problem with brutal, murderous regimes as long as they kept their labor prices in check.

Kissinger: another war criminal who should have been locked up years ago.
posted by rougy at 10:06 PM on May 26, 2006


"Contrast this with the neocons, who believe that spreading American ideals is worth weakening your strategic position."

That might be what they say, but it's not what they mean.

"American ideals" is code for cheap labor, privatized resources, and puppet governments.
posted by rougy at 10:12 PM on May 26, 2006


Robert Kagan, a leading neoconservative strategist, recently told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution."We will probably need a major concentration of forces in the Middle East over a long period of time," he said. "When we have economic problems, it's been caused by disruptions in our oil supply. If we have a force in Iraq, there will be no disruption in oil supplies."

This is touchingly naive, in retrospect.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 11:22 PM on May 26, 2006


Popular Ethics: The root of both sins is the unquestioned assumption that America should always look out for America first.

I don't see what's wrong with this as a starting point. If the US doesn't look out for its interests, nobody else is going to.

The question isn't whether the US will pursue its own interest; the question is how it does so. Morality should govern which methods should be ruled out, e.g. torture, assassination, indiscriminate bombing.
posted by russilwvong at 11:47 PM on May 26, 2006


Kissinger is one of the biggest and most murderous liars in American history. He should have been fed to a chipper, a bit at a time. Similar to what he and his kind did to the youth of my generation.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:29 AM on May 27, 2006


I was under the impression that realpolitik was expreedly un-ideological.

The means, yes. The ends? I'm not so sure. Maybe it comes down to pure self-interest rather than ideology, but I'm not entirely sure the two are unrelated. To wit, often realpolitik was the justification for propping up murderous right wing tyrants in South And Central America (and elsewhere), rather than let popularly elected socialists accede to power. The message we got from Kissinger, Nixon, Ford, etc. was that communism was a threat to our system no matter where it took root, so any alternative was better. Sounds like ideology to me, though it definitely bows to expedience first. I could be splitting hairs, though.
posted by psmealey at 5:37 AM on May 27, 2006


Popular Ethics: The root of both sins is the unquestioned assumption that America should always look out for America first.
russilwong: I don't see what's wrong with this as a starting point. If the US doesn't look out for its interests, nobody else is going to.


That's the prevailing attitude, I know. I link to think (naïvely I know) that adhering to international agreements like the Geneva convention, and good-faith participation in international bodies will lead to more equitable foreign policy. That's why the UN was created.
posted by Popular Ethics at 8:42 AM on May 27, 2006


It's probably worth noting that Vietnam fought a very bloody war with China after the Americans withdrew.
posted by Artw at 11:06 AM on May 27, 2006


psmealey: The message we got from Kissinger, Nixon, Ford, etc. was that communism was a threat to our system no matter where it took root, so any alternative was better.

Definitely not Kissinger and Nixon. They didn't have a problem with Communist China, for example, just as the Truman administration didn't have a problem with Yugoslavia after Tito's split with Stalin. The threat was the Soviet Union, not communism. The "communism = evil" idea I associate more with primitives like Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Popular Ethics: I like to think (naïvely I know) that adhering to international agreements like the Geneva convention, and good-faith participation in international bodies will lead to more equitable foreign policy.

That has more to do with means than ends. e.g. The Geneva conventions basically say that non-combatants--including both civilians and soldiers who have surrendered or been captured--have to be protected; they can't be tortured, raped, summarily executed, starved, or worked to death. They don't say anything about national interest.

We don't have a world government, and I doubt we ever will. I don't think it's so unreasonable for each government to pursue its national interest, provided that it does so with prudence and restraint, including awareness of other countries' vital interests.

Kirth Gerson: Similar to what he and his kind did to the youth of my generation.

I wasn't there, but looking back, it seems to me that Lyndon Johnson deserves equal if not greater blame, as the person responsible for escalating the war and sending American troops on a large scale. In the end, it was Nixon and Kissinger who got the US out of the war.
posted by russilwvong at 3:25 PM on May 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


Russil, yes, Johnson was part of my "and his kind." Nixon and Kissinger got the U.S. out of the war - what, six years after Nixon was elected promising that? Six years during which they knew we'd lost, but just kept feeding kids into the chipper while they tried to find some way to "save face." And a fine job they did at that, eh? Oh, and I was there. Nixon was first elected when I was in Vietnam. Having watched the 1960 election, Nixon's '68 election was, to me, inexplicable.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:46 PM on May 27, 2006


The "communism = evil" idea I associate more with primitives like Senator Joseph McCarthy.

I dunno. Thanks to Nixon's own career prior to his ascendency, Alger Hiss was promoted from low-level mole in the State Department to the guy that was instrumental in selling out our WWII victory (hyperbole) to the Commies at Yalta. Regardless, though, you raise some excellent points.

I had always considered Kissinger and, by extension "realpolitik" to be every bit as ideological as what we call neoconservatism today, they just he had more of a "first things first" mentality; a willingness to compromise in the interim if it meant ultimately achieving longer term goals.

Kissinger to me is just as malignant as Cheney, Rumsfeld or Rove, he just has more of an elder statesman's patience. That's how I always say realpolitik in any event, but it could just be my own personal definition.

In the end, it was Nixon and Kissinger who got the US out of the war.

I know that you didn't mean to state that to their credit, but I hear it frequently. Yes, it's true the Nixon and Kissinger got the US out of Vietnam (w00t), but not before they had escalated the war to a horrendous degree, resulting in several hundred thousands of unnecessary deaths in Vietnam, AND they suspended aid to the government of Cambodia, which gave the Khmer Rouge and open path to power, which they used to kill nearly two million of their own countrymen.
posted by psmealey at 6:02 PM on May 27, 2006


Sorry for a bit of a derail, but on the subject of Nixon and getting us out of the Vietnam war, psmealey is right on. One of my professors told my class that in '97 when a conference was organized to bring together statesmen from US (led by McNamara) and Viet Nam to discuss the past, exchange notes and try to learn where they'd all gone wrong in assessing each other's motivations and priorities, etc... the Vietnamese officials said they would meet with everybody except people from the Nixon administration, because they still could not forgive the brutality of the warfare they were responsible for. If you examine the link, the list of U.S. officials is at the bottom, and they were all in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. This conference was the starting point of this book. A summary of the lessons learned:

Lessons that the United States should take from the Vietnam War, according to McNamara, include:

*

understand the mindset of your adversary
*

communicate with your adversary
*

never unilaterally apply military power
*

understand that there are some problems for which there may be no solution.

posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 8:26 PM on May 27, 2006


"...it was Nixon and Kissinger who got the US out of the war."

Sort of like a couple of psychopaths kicking a few drunk marines out of a whore house.
posted by rougy at 2:11 AM on May 28, 2006


Kirth: Russil, yes, Johnson was part of my "and his kind."

Thanks for clarifying.

Nixon and Kissinger got the U.S. out of the war - what, six years after Nixon was elected promising that? Six years during which they knew we'd lost, but just kept feeding kids into the chipper while they tried to find some way to "save face." And a fine job they did at that, eh?

Didn't they start withdrawing troops pretty much immediately? From The Oxford Companion to American Military History:

Late 1967: 485,600 U.S. troops in Vietnam.
1969: Nixon becomes President.
June 1969: first withdrawal of 25,000 troops announced.
End of 1970: 334,600 US troops in the South.
December 1971: 156,000 US troops.
Spring 1972: 100,000 US troops.
October 1972: initial agreements.
January 1973: Paris agreements.

Theodore Draper, drawing on Haldeman's diaries:
From the very start of the negotiations in 1969, the North Vietnamese made their position clear—the removal of the South Vietnamese regime headed by General Nguyen Van Thieu and the equivalent of a North Vietnamese victory. Nixon's policy was three-fold—the progressive removal of American troops from South Vietnam, the continued pressure on North Vietnam by large-scale bombing and mining of North Vietnamese harbors, together with refusal to give up on Thieu.

According to Haldeman, both Nixon and Kissinger were strangely optimistic about ending the war rapidly. On March 20, 1969, Nixon "stated flatly that war will be over by next year." On October 8, 1969, Nixon "fully expected that an acceptable, if not totally satisfactory, solution would be achieved through negotiation within the first six months." In April 1970, both Nixon and Kissinger agreed that the war could be wound up this year "if we keep enough pressure on and don't crumble at home." In March 1971, both again agreed that "there's a 50/50 chance at least of getting a Vietnam settlement this summer and ending the war completely."

When none of these expectations was fulfilled, Nixon resorted to heavy bombing in Cambodia and Laos and the mining of Haiphong harbor. Through all of these setbacks and miscalculations, Nixon continued to bring back American troops; both he and Kissinger agreed in May 1972 that "regardless of what happens now, we'll be finished with the war by August." By the end of 1972, 500,000 American troops were reduced to 20,000. A break came on October 8, 1972; the chief North Vietnamese negotiator, Le Duc Tho, agreed to end the war without removing Thieu. More months passed before the final accord was reached. It gave the North Vietnamese all they wanted except for one thing—the United States was not going to take responsibility for kicking out Thieu.
It seems to me that it's a lot easier to get into a quagmire than it is to get out. (See Iraq.)

Which is not to say that Nixon and Kissinger are morally admirable--obviously they're not. But from a political point of view, they were the ones who were able to recover from finally able to exploit the Sino-Soviet split (which had happened back in 1959), which was a major step forward in the Cold War.

psmealey: I had always considered Kissinger and, by extension "realpolitik" to be every bit as ideological as what we call neoconservatism today, they just he had more of a "first things first" mentality; a willingness to compromise in the interim if it meant ultimately achieving longer term goals.

Interesting assertion. I'm not sure what you mean by "ideological." I think the big problem with the neoconservatives (e.g. Wolfowitz) is hubris, the belief that it's possible for the US to bring democracy to the Middle East through fire and sword. Kissinger doesn't have that kind of crusading spirit at all; he's well aware of the limits of US power. (Where he appears to be lacking is in moral conscience and personal humility.)

--not before they had escalated the war to a horrendous degree, resulting in several hundred thousands of unnecessary deaths in Vietnam, AND they suspended aid to the government of Cambodia, which gave the Khmer Rouge and open path to power, which they used to kill nearly two million of their own countrymen.

All true. It was worse than suspending aid--Nixon and Kissinger bombed Cambodia illegally (they didn't have congressional approval), which did a great deal to destabilize Sihanouk's government.
posted by russilwvong at 3:01 PM on May 29, 2006 [1 favorite]


Didn't they start withdrawing troops pretty much immediately?

Sure, but they also sanctioned the invasion and bombing of Cambodia which paved the way for the Khmer Rouge, so..

It seems to me that it's a lot easier to get into a quagmire than it is to get out. (See Iraq.)

Only because of ego. Or, reputation, if we are talking nations rather than specific individuals. A similar argument was made during the domestic propaganda phase of the invasion of Iraq, journalists everywhere were saying "once you tell an army to go, it is really hard to make them stop."

Patently absurd, of course. Just look how easy it was to stop the northern based invasion force - Turkey said no, it stopped!

But from a political point of view, they were the ones who were able to recover from finally able to exploit the Sino-Soviet split

I know very little about this, but.. It rings of claims made by the supporters of Paul McCartney, Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan, who are each credited with the fall of the Soviet Union. Actually, I think there are a couple more for the list too, like McDonald's of Canada. It might make a great AskMe :P

The wikipedia page on the Sino-Soviet split is a very interesting read.
posted by Chuckles at 8:59 PM on May 29, 2006



Didn't they start withdrawing troops pretty much immediately?


But this is exactly the point: they were ready to deal with a communist Vietnam, they had basically given up on winning the war, but to save face they dragged the war out for another 5 years, killing tens of thousands on all sides, and, as Chuckles notes, paving the way for the Khmer Rouge. This is the height of a cynical exercise and they deserve absolutely no credit for it whatsoever. They were cynical, calculating butchers and should rot in hell for all time.
posted by Rumple at 9:03 PM on May 29, 2006


Chuckles: Sure, but they also sanctioned the invasion and bombing of Cambodia which paved the way for the Khmer Rouge, so..

I was thinking more from the point of view of the American troops who were drafted and sent to Vietnam (fed into the wood-chipper, as Kirth put it).

Or, reputation, if we are talking nations rather than specific individuals.

Reputation--that is, how much power a nation is believed to have, particularly in the eyes of its adversaries and allies--is important. I don't know enough about this stage of the Cold War to be able to say what the consequences of an immediate pullout in 1969 would have been. (If I recall correctly, Kissinger claims in Diplomacy that it would have been disastrous.) But if it were possible, I imagine Johnson would have done it earlier.

I know very little about this, but.. It rings of claims made by the supporters of Paul McCartney, Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan, who are each credited with the fall of the Soviet Union.

The Nixon/Kissinger opening to China certainly didn't bring about the fall of the Soviet Union. But it was a pretty important step, and one that was long overdue.

Michael Howard on Kissinger: Henry Kissinger was Machiavellian in both the best and worst senses of the word.
posted by russilwvong at 9:47 PM on May 29, 2006


I'm not sure there is any point clarifying, I think we are just banging up against ideologies, but..

Sure, I got the bit about the wood chipper referring to American Soldiers, but I think the wider issues are just as important. I probably shouldn't derail someone else's comment though..

Also, I didn't mean to imply that the opening of China led to the fall of the Soviet Union. I was noting a parallel, where everybody in the west tries to take credit for something that could as easily be explained by local circumstances (in or between the nation or nations in question).

I don't know enough about this stage of the Cold War to be able to say what the consequences of an immediate pullout in 1969 would have been.

I don't know enough about any of it! Still, I think concentrating on the reputation issue is wrong, here at least.

Was the US any less embarrassed by what happened than it would have been with an immediate pull out? I think Kissinger was convinced that a 'reasonable interval' (or whatever they called it) was important.. I suppose for internal US politics it was, considering all the Vietnam War revisionists/apologists around, but I can't imagine that other nations were fooled by such silliness. They wouldn't have been even if the fall of Saigon had taken another year or two (or n-->inf, really, because the US was still forced leave).

Maybe it comes down to the notion that the US should be perceived as crazy, capable of anything.. Isn't that a Kissinger notion (can't find ref., too tired)? So, you have to bomb the hell out of the country, and its neighbors, before you go home. That way, the next country that comes along will know that they will be bombed into the stone age too, even if they win.

Ultimately, that is why Kissinger is a war criminal, I think. But, maybe the reputation thing is important after all..
posted by Chuckles at 12:29 AM on May 30, 2006


Maybe it comes down to the notion that the US should be perceived as crazy, capable of anything.. Isn't that a Kissinger notion (can't find ref., too tired)? So, you have to bomb the hell out of the country, and its neighbors, before you go home. That way, the next country that comes along will know that they will be bombed into the stone age too, even if they win.

The problem the US had during the Cold War is that its nuclear deterrent was inherently ... implausible. The Soviet Union had much larger conventional forces (tanks, troops, etc.). NATO's conventional forces in Europe provided what was known as a "plate-glass" defense: the Soviet Union could punch right through it, but in theory it would trigger a nuclear response. The problem is that by responding with a nuclear counterattack, the US would be risking escalation into all-out nuclear war, resulting in the destruction of the US homeland.

Would the US really do this? Or would they just stand by?

The paradox of nuclear weapons is that nuclear deterrence doesn't work if your opponent believes that you're completely rational. If you're completely rational, then when the hour of crisis comes, it would make more sense not to push the button.

In order for nuclear deterrence to work, your opponent has to believe that there's some risk that you will actually escalate to nuclear war, risking your own total destruction. This was Kissinger's "madman theory." The key audience wasn't domestic; it was the Soviet leadership. They had to believe that invading Western Europe would carry an unacceptable risk of nuclear war, because they couldn't predict exactly how the US would respond.

The US had made an enormous commitment to South Vietnam, most obviously in the form of 500,000 troops. Kissinger's claim was that if the US had simply ignored this commitment and abandoned South Vietnam immediately under domestic pressure, without even an agreement by North Vietnam to let the Thieu government stand, its other commitments (including its commitment to Western Europe) would have no credibility whatsoever. (A Norwegian perspective.)

Note that if the Soviet leadership and the US's European allies had come to believe that the US leadership, despite its repeated claims, would not actually go to war with the Soviet Union to defend Western Europe, then the Soviet Union wouldn't have had to actually launch an invasion. It's like chess: the threat is enough. A series of coups backed by the threat of Soviet troops would have been sufficient. (See Czechoslovakia, 1948.)

For a good explanation of the Cold War, I'd recommend Louis Halle's The Cold War as History (1967). I've posted some long excerpts in this newsgroup thread.

Ultimately, that is why Kissinger is a war criminal, I think.

When it comes to the laws of war, motivations aren't as relevant as actions. In particular, no matter how good your motivations are, you're supposed to adhere to proportionality: the risk to non-combatants must be proportional to the military benefit of the action. Indiscriminate bombing violates the laws of war, no matter what your motivations are. More here (in section 3.2.3).
posted by russilwvong at 11:12 AM on May 30, 2006


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