'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Persistence of Nixonian Foreign Policy 

Is it possible that Obama secretly admires the pragmatism of Richard Nixon? The realpolitik of Henry Kissinger? Consider this, from today's New York Times:

On the campaign trail, Senator Barack Obama offered a pledge that electrified and motivated his liberal base, vowing to “end the war” in Iraq.

But as he moves closer to the White House, President-elect Obama is making clearer than ever that tens of thousands of American troops will be left behind in Iraq, even if he can make good on his campaign promise to pull all combat forces out within 16 months.

"I said that I would remove our combat troops from Iraq in 16 months, with the understanding that it might be necessary — likely to be necessary — to maintain a residual force to provide potential training, logistical support, to protect our civilians in Iraq,” Mr. Obama said this week as he introduced his national security team.

Publicly at least, Mr. Obama has not set a firm number for that “residual force,” a phrase certain to become central to the debate on the way ahead in Iraq, though one of his national security advisers, Richard Danzig, said during the campaign that it could amount to 30,000 to 55,000 troops. Nor has Mr. Obama laid out any timetable beyond 16 months for troop drawdowns, or suggested when he believes a time might come for a declaration that the war is over.

In the meantime, military planners are drawing up tentative schedules aimed at meeting both Mr. Obama’s goal for withdrawing combat troops, with a target of May 2010, and the Dec. 31, 2011, date for sending the rest of American troops home that is spelled out in the new agreement between the United States and the Iraqi government.

That status-of-forces agreement remains subject to change, by mutual agreement, and Army planners acknowledge privately that they are examining projections that could see the number of Americans hovering between 30,000 and 50,000 — and some say as high as 70,000 — for a substantial time even beyond 2011.

As American combat forces decline in numbers and more provinces are turned over to Iraqi control, these military planners say, Iraqi security forces will remain reliant on significant numbers of Americans for training, supplies, logistics, intelligence and transportation for a long time to come.

People with good memories will recall that this was essentially the same approach that Nixon and Kissinger devised to implement Nixon's secret plan to end the Vietnam War. They marketed it as Vietnamization, turning the war over to the Vietnamese to fight. It prolonged the war until 1975, resulting in the deaths of thousands more Americans, and who knows how many hundreds of thousands, if not more, Vietnamese.

Fast forward to the chaos in Iraq that was unanticipated by the architects of the 2003 invasion. What to do? The people around Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, more specifically comptroller Dov S. Zakheim, pondered the poor quality of the options available to them, and finally discovered an answer: yes, you guessed it, Vietnamization! Not very surprising given that Rumsfeld served in several posts in the Nixon administration, including US ambassador to NATO.

Or, as the Times reported: Mr. Zakheim has estimated that no more than 75,000 troops would be required, compared with the approximately 160,000 troops the United States will have in Iraq when the additional brigades in Mr. Bush’s plan are deployed. Sounds a lot like . . but that's getting a little ahead of ourselves.

Unfortunately for Rumsfeld and Zakheim, the ferocity of the Iraqi insurgency rendered a proposed draw down of US troops impossible (as it may still be today). As time passed, and the party primary season began, Hillary Clinton proposed her own variation of the Zakheim plan. Obama supporters implied that she was more hawkish than him because of it.

Now, with with Obama having subcontracted foreign policy out to Clinton, Obama has adopted his own variant. It will probably work about as well in Iraq as it did in Vietnam. From the standpoint of an American political figure like Obama, it does have the allure of forestalling acknowlegment of defeat while requiring Iraqis to incur even more of the casualties associated with the attempt to impose an American client state upon the country. No wonder Henry Kissinger is pleased with Obama's selection of Clinton to serve as Secretary of State.

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