In the last few years there’s been a lot comparisons between the current Iraqi adventure and the Vietnam war, two towering blunders in US foreign policy, not to mention the immeasurable loss of life and the cataclysm in the social conscience of a nation.
Iraq is not Vietnam — or is it?
(Illustration found here).
Noted investigative historian and journalist Gareth Porter takes a look this morning at Jack Kennedy’s attempt to button-up Vietnam in the early 1960s and President-Elect Obama’s near-like pledge to get US GIs out of Iraq.
In an extremely-interesting piece at antiwar.com, Porter outlines the obstacles faced by JFK to get the troops out of Vietnam by 1965 — horribly the very year LBJ escalated the conflict — and those problems centered on the US military itself.
One unnerving aspect is Obama’s keeping Bob Gates as defense secretary.
Porter says that could be the opening salvo:
- But the one historical precedent of a president seeking to get an unwilling military to go along with a presidential troop withdrawal plan suggests that Obama will be unable to implement his plan for Iraq without the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff fully on board.
That is the lesson of President John F. Kennedy’s effort in 1962 and 1963 to get the U.S. military commanders in Vietnam to adopt a plan for withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Vietnam by the end of 1965 — the only other historical case of a president who tried to pursue a timetable for rapid withdrawal of combat troops from a war against the wishes of field commanders.
But the little-known story of Kennedy’s timetable for U.S. withdrawal from South Vietnam underlines the critical importance to a president of having his two top national security officials on board in order to have any chance of prevailing over the resistance of commanders in the field.
Kennedy was trying to present himself to the national security community as centrist by striking a strong anti-Communist posture in public.
But behind the scenes, he was trying to push through a timetable for withdrawal from Vietnam.
Nevertheless the Pacific Command and the commander in Saigon continued to drag their feet on the 1965 deadline.
Like Petraeus and the top commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, in relation to Obama’s plan in 2008, they argued that the proposed rapid timetable for complete withdrawal from Vietnam was too risky.
And if he becomes too distracted by his primary concern — the U.S. economy — or is reluctant to have a confrontation with his national security team over the issue, Odierno and Petraeus are likely to drag their heels just as U.S. commanders stonewalled Kennedy over Vietnam.
And, of course, LBJ took the baton and killed thousands with it.
Obama must stand firm — history requires it.