8/20/2005

Lessons for an Exit Strategy from Kissinger

"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 Between 1969 and the end of 1972, more than 500,000 U.S. troops were withdrawn.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... These measures were possible because, after the failure of Hanoi's Tet Offensive, the guerrilla threat was substantially eliminated. Saigon and all other urban centers were far safer than major cities in Iraq are today. [Gotta love it when Vietnam warmongers can boast accomplishments to Bush warmongers! It would be funny if it wasn't so tragic -- law]

Lessons for an Exit Strategy
By Henry A. Kissinger - Friday, August 12, 2005; WaPo Page A19

There have been conflicting reports about the timing of American troop withdrawals from Iraq. Gen. George Casey, commander of U.S. forces there, has announced that the United States intends to begin a "fairly substantial" withdrawal of U.S. forces after the projected December elections establish a constitutional government. Other sources have indicated that this will involve 30,000 troops, or some 22 percent of U.S. forces in Iraq. Some high-level statements from Baghdad have indicated that the beginning of withdrawals may be delayed until next summer. On either schedule, progress is dependent upon improvements in the security situation and in the training of Iraqi forces.

A review of withdrawal strategy therefore seems in order. For one thing, how are the terms "progress" and "improvement" to be defined? In a war without front lines, does a lull indicate success or a strategic decision by the adversary? Is a decline in enemy attacks due to attrition or to a deliberate enemy strategy of conserving forces to encourage American withdrawal? Or are we in a phase similar to the aftermath of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam in 1968, which at the time was widely perceived as an American setback but is now understood as a major defeat for Hanoi?


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.

Lessons for an Exit Strategy

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