Kissinger On Iraq Troop Withdrawal

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Somebody alert Christopher Hitchens…Henry Kissinger is talking about the Iraq war and how it relates to Vietnam.

For someone like me, who observed firsthand the anguish of the original involvement in Vietnam during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and who later participated in the decisions to withdraw during the Nixon administration, Casey’s announcement revived poignant memories. For a decision to withdraw substantial U.S. forces while the war continues is a potentially fateful event. It affects the calculations of insurgents and government forces alike, so that the definition of progress becomes nearly as much a psychological as a military judgment. Every soldier withdrawn represents a larger percentage of the remaining total. The capacity for offensive action of the remaining forces shrinks. Once the process is started, it runs the risk of operating by momentum rather than by strategic analysis, and that process is increasingly difficult to reverse.

Despite such handicaps, the decision to replace U.S. forces with local armies during the Vietnam War — labeled “Vietnamization” — was, from the security viewpoint, successful on the whole. Between 1969 and the end of 1972, more than 500,000 U.S. troops were withdrawn. American involvement in ground combat ended in early 1971. U.S. casualties were reduced from an average of 400 a week in 1968 and early 1969 to an average of 20 a week in 1972.

The piece is well worth your time as it talks about how we will be considered failures if we pull out and don’t win against the insurgency. But how do you kill a hydra?

In essence, the Iraq war is a contest over which side’s assessment turns out to be correct. The insurgents are betting that by exacting a toll among supporters of the government and collaborators with America, they can frighten an increasing number of civilians into, at a minimum, staying on the sidelines, thereby undermining the government and helping the insurgents by default. The Iraqi government and the United States are counting on a different kind of attrition: that possibly the insurgents’ concentration on civilian carnage is due to the relatively small number of insurgents, which obliges them to conserve manpower and to shrink from attacking hard targets; hence, the insurgency can gradually be worn down.

Because of the axiom that guerrillas win if they do not lose, stalemate is unacceptable. American strategy, including a withdrawal process, will stand or fall not on whether it maintains the existing security situation but on whether the capacity to improve it is enhanced. Victory over the insurgency is the only meaningful exit strategy.

Agreed. And if anything, shouldn’t we be sending more troops in their to squash the insurgency? I do agree with Bush when he says it’ll send the wrong message to the insurgents if we start pulling out troops. Obviously, given the historical examples, Kissinger agrees too.

But that’s not what’s happening. Nearly 20,000 troops will be pulled out at the beginning of next year. I wish I felt that decision was being made to make the situation in Iraq better, instead of feeling like it’s being made to help Bush’s poll numbers and the midterm elections in 2006. And if it isn’t, let’s start hearing more about why this is happening and less from Bush about attacking the strategy while the military is planning to do it.

(Thank you memeorandum)

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