Thursday, January 26, 2012

Clarifying A Couple Points

OK, so I ran ahead of the available evidence, stating as fact what instead is merely an interpretation of the correlation of a couple events - the SEAL raid in Somalia that rescued a couple American aid workers being held hostage there; the State of the Union message delivered by Pres. Obama on Tuesday night. I think my backtracking in the comments on my previous post should be clear enough. The disgust I was feeling at what I felt was the crass exploitation of our military for cheap, short-term, partisan political advantage by the President led me to state that feeling as fact.

Let me state for the record I still feel that way. Let me also state for the record there is no way to disprove the statement, rendering it, at the very least, not perhaps unintelligible, but certainly something that, prudence always being better than its opposite, should be a caution as we move forward. I know that there is no evidence, and none should be forthcoming, supporting or disproving the statement. It is, nothing more or less, than my own opinion.

How, one might ask, could I come to such a hyper-cynical conclusion? I can't imagine (pp. 606-607 of linked book).
While Kissinger was being feted as the peacemaker, Nixon and Colson were having frantic conversations with Sidlinger. The pollster, who made his reputation as an analyst of economic issues, had been among the first to measure accurately the extent of Nixon's strength among Democratic working-class voters. Sindlinger had predicted to Colson that Nixon would win at least seventeen million votes from that group. "Nixon had the hardhat labor members who figured that was a tough guy who could handle Congress and all the other crooks," Sindlinger says. "I figured Nixon was a smart crook."

Over the summer and fall of 1972, Sindlinger was in close contact with Colson and Colson's deputy, Richard Howard. Early on the morning of October 26, Colson telephoned Sindlinger about the Kissinger press conference, which Sindlinger watched. "Peace is at hand" stunned him. "I grabbed the telephone and called Chuck. I was angry. 'You've just elected McGovern. My God. There are seventeen million Democrats who will vote for Nixon because he's a crook and he's tough. All the polls have Nixon so far ahead that these fellows will now vote straight Democratic.'" Twenty minutes later, Colson called back put Nixon on the line. "Chuck says we made a mistake." "Made a mistake?" Sindlinger told the President. "You've lost the election." The pollster went through his reasoning, emphasizing that the hardhats would no longer feel the need to vote for Nixon. Then he asked Nixon directly: "Do you have an agreement? Is peace at hand?" Nixon said no and Sindlinger urged him to "let it hang. McGovern would never figure out what's going on."

An hour later, Nixon telephoned again. "He asked me," Sindlinger says, "what would be the public reaction if we bombed Hanoi?" Sindlinger promised to research the issue. Before the end of the day, there was at least one more telephone call from the President. Singlinger concluded that there were problems between Kissinger and Nixon. Nixon had somehow conveyed that the concept of a settlement was "Kissinger's idea,," and there was a curious moment during one of their talks when Nixon asked how Kissinger's popularity compared with his. "I said,'You're almost equal,'" Sindlinger remembers, "He gulped."

The excitement over Kissinger's pronouncement was reflected in the press. On October 27, in a column titled "The End of the Tunnel", James Reston wrote, "It has been a long time since Washington has heard such a candid and even brilliant explanation of an intricate political problem as Henry Kissinger gave to the press on the peace negotiations." Reston would wrte two columns that week on the "Kissinger compromise," without raising any questions about Nixon's two cables to Hanoi, as made public by North Vietnam, in which he pronounced the negotiations complete. The serious allegations broadcast by Hanoi were effaced, and North Vietnam's account of Nixon's perfidy was treated as Communist propaganda. Kissinger's persuasiveness had made Hanoi's notion that it was the United States which was engaged in wholesale distortion seem impossible. The Los Angeles Times breathlessly described Kissinger's announcement as a "dramatic negotiating breakthrough," although Kissinger was really describing a negatiating breakdown. Many other key issues were also obscured. No reporter saw fit to ask Kissinger to elaborate on what he meant when he acknowledged that the agreement called for "the existing authorities with respect to both internal and external policies [to] remain in office. . ." Kissinger did not tell the journalists the essence of the bargain: that the Thieu regime would have to share political and legal authority with the PRG. That issue would remain fuzzy - deliberately so - for the next three months.

Kissinger also managed to obscure the fact that the United States was seeking to repoen the negotiations after having reached a final agreement with the North Vietnamese. He did this by telling the journalists that there had been a "misunderstanding" on Hanoi's part: "It was, however, always clear, at least to us . . . that obviously we could not sign an agreement in which details remained to be worked out simply because in good faith we had said we would make an effort to conclude it by a certain date." Nixon and Kissinger had done much more than commit themselves to a "good faith" effort to sign by October 31; they had reassured Hanoi in two cables that they would do so. Hanoi's leaders were now being told that the Nixon Administration reserved the unilateral right to reopen the negotiations. They also were being told that it was their "misunderstandings," and not Kissinger's ambitions, Nixon's treachery, and Nguyen Van Thieu's categorical opposition, that had create the difficulties.
A couple points to clarify some of the things in Hersh's narrative. Kissinger went first to Paris then to Hanoi, to meet with his North Vietnamese counterparts in a sincere effort to conclude an agreement ahead of the November, 1972 Presidential elections. Nixon, meanwhile, was wary of what the Democrats might do should such an eleventh-hour settlement be reached. Kissinger's stock in the Nixon White House had been in steady decline for a while; he was negotiating the end to what was then America's longest war without the imprimatur of the President of the United States who was, in fact, trying to undermine him at every turn. Ultimately, he would succeed; Kissinger, however, was a partner in his own demise not least by his near-constant courting of the Washington press corps that, for some reason, took his words at face value.

In an interview with Hersh, a former aide to North Vietnamese leader Le Duc Tho, Nguyen Co Thach, spoke of the Washington collapse over what was, for them, a preliminary agreement only being presented as a fait accompli by Kissinger. On p. 602, he is quoted as follows: "We knew that they would only like to have this understanding to move smoothly through the elections, and not to sign a peace agreement," he said. "They would like to have it setlled but not signed, so they can say there is no more to the Vietnam War. . . . They would like to change it after the election."

When the North Vietnamese realized what was going on, Radio Hanoi released the full text of the agreement, along with the accompanying diplomatic cables - American and North Vietnamese - which Nixon used as a casus belli for the single largest bombing campaign up to that time: the so-called "Christmas Bombings" of North Vietnam. The two Vietnams had already received more tonnage than all fronts in WWII, including the atomic bombing of Japan. The Christmas Bombings would increase that total by close to fifty percent.

So forgive me for even imagining a President might be so crass as to order the military to rescue some Americans in order to make himself look good. An American President undermining negotiations undertaken in his own name out of the multiple paranoias directed at his staff, the press, the Democratic candidate, the American people, and the fear that an end to the Vietnam War might lose him the election sounds like the stuff of way too many movies, doesn't it.

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