The Hill: Henry Kissinger was worse than a fraud in Vietnam

    WORLD  04 December 2023 - 04:03

    Donald Kirk has written an opinion piece for The Hill arguing that the Koreans see Henry Kissinger, the former US Secretary of State, as having betrayed them in Vietnam. Caliber.Az reprints the article.

    Two quotes endure from the final years of the Vietnam War. The first is “Peace is at hand,” uttered by Henry Kissinger on October 26, 1972, when he swore he’d reached a solution with North Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho for ending the war. The bad guys — the “North” Vietnamese and their southern affiliate, the Viet Cong — would stay where they were in “South” Vietnam and eventually work out an accommodation with the Saigon government, which would still have all the arms it needed from the U.S. 

    The other memorable quote, “Peace with honour,” was uttered by President Nixon after the signing on January 23, 1973, of the Paris Peace Accords that essentially gave Le Duc Tho about all that he wanted. Hanoi — that is, North Vietnam — would return all the American prisoners of war, but the last of the American troops were going home. 

    I was in Saigon at the time. You could still drive up Route One to Danang and Hue on the central coast or Route Four down to the Mekong Delta. There was no question, though, that the North Vietnamese were infiltrating arms and ammunition down the Ho Chi Minh trail network, through Laos and Cambodia, as they had been doing for years despite on-and-off bombing. More boldly, unimpeded by the Americans, they were able to build still more roads directly from North to South Vietnam. They even paved some of them and set up a pipeline for fueling their trucks along the way.

    Neither Nixon nor Kissinger would acknowledge the war was already as good as lost. “Peace” had never been “at hand,” as Kissinger promised, and there would be no “peace with honour,” as Nixon wanted Americans to believe.

    Americans had fallen for a gambit worked out by a former Harvard professor with roots deep in pre-World War II Europe, who had never lived or worked in Asia, did not appreciate what the United States had sacrificed for Vietnam, and had his eyes only on China, with which he was already negotiating and from which in later years he earned mega-millions in investment and consulting fees.

    To say that Henry Kissinger was a fraud would be too charitable. Rather, he betrayed not only the Americans and South Vietnamese who had fought and died in the Vietnam War but also the people of Vietnam, about 2 million of whom fled before the victors from the North could round up all those whom it regarded as “traitors” and kill or imprison them. As it was, the North Vietnamese sent several hundred thousand to the infamous “reeducation camps,” from which many never returned.

    But Kissinger wasn’t concerned about those whom the Americans betrayed as a result of the Paris Peace Accords, any more than he cared for the thousands who died under the American “secret bombing” in Cambodia and Laos in the years of fitful talks with the North Vietnamese team under Le Duc Tho that preceded the agreement. In his years at Harvard and in Washington, Kissinger no doubt mastered a factual and theoretical knowledge of the former French Indochina, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, but he was not equipped to deal with realities on the ground. 

    What could have shown Kissinger’s ignorance better than his advocacy of the “leopard spot” arrangement under which Communist forces could maintain their base areas in the South? Had such a cockamamie scheme ever been suggested before? Has any other peace agreement since then allowed for one power to keep its forces intact within the enemy’s territory?

    But Kissinger had another consideration: China. Even as he was negotiating with Le Duc Tho, Kissinger led a delegation of diplomats on a secret mission in July 1971 to Beijing. Meeting Zhou Enlai, the Chinese premier, he laid the groundwork for President Nixon to go to China six months later, in February 1972, and meet Chairman Mao Zedong. 

    Kissinger had to wait nearly seven years before President Carter made the fateful decision to switch diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing as the capital of all China. That decision may have marked the high point of Kissinger’s career. In subsequent years, he not only venerated China, supporting its policies at just about every turn, but profited immensely from his relationships with the Chinese, proffering advice on dealing with China via his own prestigious consulting firm in Washington.

    Later, Kissinger would claim that Hanoi had gone back on the Paris peace agreement, flagrantly violating the terms, but he would have known the North Vietnamese would never honour a “peace” that opened the way for Hanoi to send its forces pouring down the map of South Vietnam to final victory in 1975. While the American Congress refused to approve the sale of more arms for South Vietnam, President Ford would not order air strikes needed to stop the invasion.

    Did Kissinger care? Not really. He had gotten what he wanted, namely the “opening” with China. The “domino theory,” the view that the rest of Southeast Asia would fall “like a row of dominoes” before the Chinese Communists, is still held in contempt. Meanwhile, China expands its influence, military and economic, throughout the region and Washington counters with relationships of its own, beginning with strengthened alliances with Japan and South Korea.

    The confidence of Japanese and Koreans in America’s determination to defend them in a showdown is wavering. The Koreans see Kissinger as having betrayed them in Vietnam. South Korea lost 5,000 dead in the Vietnam War, second among the allies only to the 58,220 American KIA.

    The best defence of the deal that Kissinger made with Le Duc Tho is that, with no experience in Asia, much less Vietnam, he didn’t know what he was doing. Less charitably, he was not concerned about turning his back on millions of Vietnamese and Americans who never believed that Washington, in the crunch, would betray them so blatantly and cynically.


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