WASHINGTON — Say it isn’t so. Hawkish Henry Kissinger is advising President Bush about Iraq war strategy? This is deja vue all over again.
The former secretary of state — who served in that job from 1973 to 1979 and previously from 1969 as national security affairs adviser — inspires too many bad memories of the Vietnam War.
I remember when Kissinger came into the White House press room in 1972 just before the presidential election and announced "peace is at hand."
Three years later, we fled Saigon by our fingertips. Who can forget the pictures of refugees piling into helicopters parked on Saigon rooftops, with the North Vietnamese army at the gate.
That was in 1975 and we survived the defeat. The U.S. and Vietnam are now friendly, with diplomatic and business links.
Kissinger is back as an elder statesman doling out advice to embattled Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney that "victory over the insurgency is the only meaningful exit strategy."
Journalist-author Bob Woodward describes Kissinger’s strong anti-withdrawal views in his new book "State of Denial."
Woodward wrote that the president has met privately with Kissinger every couple of months, making him Bush’s most regular outside adviser. The author said Cheney told him in the summer of 2005 that he meets with Kissinger at least once a month.
Kissinger’s message to the president and his top aides — including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — was they should not give an inch and to stick it out in Iraq.
He maintained that Vietnam collapsed like a house of cards because the Nixon administration did not have time, focus, energy and political support and the American people did not have the will.
Actually, I recall things differently. As I remember it, thousands of Americans hit the streets to protest against the war. Neither President Nixon nor Lyndon B. Johnson before him could sell the public on the need to remain in Southeast Asia. Besides, Nixon was elected in 1968 on his campaign slogan that he had a plan to end the war.
A selective memory may be forgivable, but not when old men continue to want to send young men and women to far off places to fight but can’t quite explain why.
White House press secretary Tony Snow said Kissinger told him "he supports the overall thrust and direction of the administration policy" in Iraq.
Snow also told reporters that "victory was the only exit strategy after the Civil War, and then after World War I and World War II. Typically in time of war, that is the exit strategy."
Excuse me, Tony, but surely you are not comparing the U.S. invasion of Iraq with the two world wars?
Kissinger also is quoted as saying that Bush needed to resist pressure to withdraw troops since that would create a momentum for an exit that is less than victory.
Woodward said on CBS-TV’s "60 Minutes" last Sunday that "Kissinger’s fighting the Vietnam War again because, in his view, the problem in Vietnam was we lost our will." Well, Kissinger was right about that. The reason is simple: People saw no reason to lose more lives there.
According to Woodward’s book, Kissinger told Michael Gerson, Bush’s former chief speechwriter: "The president can’t be talking about troop reductions as a centerpiece."
To make his point, Kissinger gave Gerson a copy of a memo he had written to President Nixon on Sept. 10, 1969.
"Withdrawal of U.S. troops will become like salted peanuts to the American public. The more U.S. troops come home, the more will be demanded," he wrote.
"It will become harder and harder to maintain the morale of those who remain, not to speak of their mothers," he said.
Kissinger also feels that public pressure for withdrawal from Iraq would only encourage the enemy.
His views match the administration’s 35-page "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" issued last year.
The administration would prefer not to evoke memories of the Vietnam quagmire, the 58,000-plus American war dead, and its bitter legacy, yet it all sounds too familiar when we hear officials insist we need to "stay the course" and deride dissenters as those who want to "cut and run."
They seem to forget that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."