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Monday, September 2, 2013

Syria and Vietnam

In 1965, Lyndon Johnson’s national-security adviser, McGeorge Bundy, acknowledged the uncertainty of the Vietnam War in a memo to his boss: “We cannot assert that a policy of sustained reprisal will succeed in changing the course of the contest in Vietnam. It may fail, and we cannot estimate the odds of success with any accuracy.”

Back in the day—as America plunged itself ever more deeply into Vietnam, Bundy also told Johnson that “even if it fails, the policy will be worth it.” In that sense, Vietnam demonstrated America’s resolve to stand up against the Soviet Empire in the midst of the Cold War, and in the words of the late John F. Kennedy, “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship.”

But Syria? No. At best, American involvement in Syria would be a military commitment taken in the aftermath of Barack Obama’s having carelessly tossed out the phrase “red line,” in the course of a reelection campaign.
The Pentagon Papers were a classified official history of the Vietnam war, which Daniel Ellsberg leaked to the New York Times.  An excerpt:
"Humiliation" was much on the minds of those involved in the making of American policy for Vietnam during the spring and summer of 1965. The word, or phrases meaning the same thing, appears in countless memoranda. No one put it as starkly as Assistant Secretary of Defense John McNaughton, who in late March assigned relative weights to various American objectives in Vietnam. In McNaughton's view the principal U.S. aim was "to avoid a humiliating US defeat (to our reputation as a guarantor)." To this he assigned the weight of 70%. Second, but far less important at only 20% was "to keep SVN [South Vietnam, then a separate country] (and then adjacent) territory from Chinese hands." And a minor third, at but 10%, was "to permit the people of SVN to enjoy a better, freer way of life."