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we were all wrong...,
snatching pixies from the jaws of midgets:
Former US Secretary of Defense (1969-'73) and the orchestrator of the "de-Americanization" of the American invasion of Vietnam has come out of his hole to advocate withdrawal from Iraq, using his old policy as the model.
Nowhere in history is it recorded that Melvin R. Laird ever opposed the escalation and expansion of the US air campaign in Indochina that followed the election of Richard M. Nixon. Rather, he opposed the US troop presence in Vietnam, prefering the tactical annhilation of Laos and Cambodia from bases in Thailand. He also notably opposed lying to the public, on the narrow ground that it couldn't be kept a secret:
It's like the Cambodian bombing: I was all for bombing the sanctuaries in Cambodia, but I could not tell the President of the United States, the Secretary of State or the National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, that I could keep it secret; and I thought it would be a very bad thing if that came out at a later time - and I knew it would, because we had 12,000 people that had all that information, and you just can't keep secrets.
Marilyn B. Young, in The Vietnam Wars, records this narrow opposition to keeping unkeepable secrets as a "level of disagreement" with a policy of "direct American military involvement" in Cambodia that was ignored (p.246). Not a very serious level of disagreement, but a level of it nonetheless.
Laird then continues on to advance the old 'snatching defeat from the jaws of victory' argument that the lack of aid appropriations by Congress for the incompetent and fatally corrupt Thieu regime caused the downfall of the ARVN:
the $300 million that was needed [in 1974] for replacement parts and so forth was defeated in the United States Congress. That broke the back and the morale of the South Vietnamese forces. [ibid.]
This is a rather roundabout way of descrbing the actual facts of Congressional activity in 1974, when in August Congress lowered military appropriations to South Vietnam from the requested $1 billion to $700 million [c.f. jespersen and a "decent interval"]. Congress did not cut off aid but reduced it by a rather marginal amount that could hardly be responsible for the fall of the ARVN. As Young describes it:
On paper the hysteria over increased aid hardly seemed justified. ARVN forces outnumbered their opponents by two to one; they possessed one thousand four hundred artillery pieces as against four hundred on the other side and twice as many tanks. The Air Force, equipped to the point of excess, was efficiently maintained by Americans on civillian contract to the Department of Defense. Yet on the battlefield, as Hanoi and the PRG moved to take the offensive in early 1975, the disparity in equipment had little meaning. [p.292] [c.f. pribbenow]
One could pick numerous arbitrary points at which the South was abandoned to the North by the US. Kissinger in May of 1971 abandoned the demand for "mutual withdrawal" of US and NVA troops as part of a settlement, instead allowing the North's army to remain occupying swathes of the South during and after US withdrawal. Or the rigging of Thieu's re-election later that same year, preventing the election of a Southern government capable of negotiating a peace with the NLF and other opposition groups and unifying the South. Or economic tailspin in the urban economy due to high inflation rates jacking up the price of basic foodstuffs, the withdrawal of a major sector of economic activity (servicing the US presence), a global recession, and nevermind the civil war. One could probably argue that Congress was forced to restrict military appropriations due to their inability to successfully restrain the Whitehouse's illegal expansion of its war into neighboring countries, e.g. Laird's failure to oppose war with Laos and Cambodia resulted in his failure to get his $300 million in spare parts for the ARVN.
How the government of South Vietnam was supposed to resist a takeover by the government to the North while at war with much if not most of its own population, and which had already lost major portions of territory to the North Vietnamese by the time the US exited, is beyond me. I don't see how one can take seriously the suggestion that $300 million in replacement parts would have forestalled its surrender.
In the article in Foreign Affairs Laird goes on, implausibly, to stress that "we still do not spend enough of our total budget on national defense" due to an absolutely hysterical "downward trend in defense spending". He suggests, by way of proposing a solution to this crisis, that our FICA taxes for Social Security and Medicaid be redirected into the Pentagon budget.
A brilliant mind for serious times. I wonder if an additional but unspoken component of Laird's withdrawal plan might be to expand the US air war into Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia to undercut support for the Arab nationalist, radicial Shi'ite, and Sunni extremist factions that are at odds with US objectives in Iraq, and to enter into secret negotiations with insurgent factions to find a settlement that we then can lie about the terms of and disembowel the reality of on a regular basis in the persual of an honorable peace.
To paraphrase him, the ranks of the misinformed include seasoned politicians, reporters, and even bureaucrats who earned their stripes in Vietnam.