Monday, October 17, 2005

Iraq's Cambodia

Now that we’re getting purposefully mired in the shifting sands of the Syrian-Iraqi border, it’s time for a little refresher course in presidential hubris and Dr. Strangelove, otherwise known as the Nixon and Kissinger show. It was December 9, 1970. Nixon and Kissinger had this phone conversation:

Kissinger: Mr. President.
Nixon: The thing that concerns me about this thing you sent over on Cambodia was [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Thomas] Moorer’s, it seems to me, lame excuse that they did not have any intelligence because the weather has been bad. I don’t think they are trying to do a good enough job in trying to get the intelligence over there. You understand what I mean?
Nixon: There are other methods of getting intelligence than simply flying. They’ve got the methods of the Cambodians to talk to and a hell of a lot of other people and I don’t think they have done enough there. The second thing is as I have put on here now I want you to get ahold of [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Thomas] Moorer tonight and I want a plan where every goddamn thing that can fly goes into Cambodia and hits every target that is open.
Kissinger: Right.
Nixon: That’s to be done tomorrow. Tomorrow. Is that clear?
Kissinger: That is right.
Nixon: I want this done. Now that is one thing that can turn this around some. They are running these goddamn milk runs in order to get their air medal. You know what they are doing Henry. It’s horrible what the Air Force is doing. They aren’t doing anything worth a damn.
Kissinger: They are not imaginative.
Nixon: Well, they’re not only not imaginative but they are just running these things — bombing jungles. You know that. They have got to go in there and I mean really go in. I don’t want the gunships, I want the helicopter ships. I want everything that can fly to go in there and crack the hell out of them. There is no limitation on mileage and there is no limitation on budget. Is that clear?
Kissinger: Right, Mr. President.
Nixon: You know we talk about this Cambodia thing and I’m not going to have another crisis on Cambodia hit us in the face like it did last year. That again was a case of them not being on top of things. By God we are not going to let this happen this time.
Kissinger: The problem is Mr. President the Air Force is designed to fight an air battle against the Soviet Union. They are not designed for this war and that is the—in fact they are not designed for any war we are likely to have to fight.
Nixon: That’s right. There isn’t going to be any air battle against the Soviet Union as you well know.
Kissinger: Exactly, I agree completely. […] And I will get the bombing campaign laid on for tomorrow.
Nixon: I want them to hit everything. I want them to use the big planes, the small planes, everything that will help out here and let’s start giving them a little shock. There must be something we can do. Let [U.S. Commander in Vietnam, Creighton] Abrams, he’s to take personal charge and dismiss the Air Force commander if necessary over there. And I want Haig to look into this when he is over there.
Kissinger: Absolutely.
Nixon: We have to do a better job because we are just coming to the crunch. Right now there is a chance to win this goddamn war and that’s probably what we are going to have to do because we are not going to do anything at the conference table. But we aren’t going to win it with the people—the kind of assholes come in here like today saying well now there is a crisis in Cambodia. Hell, I have been asking about it for the last two weeks you know and you said there isn’t one.

Once Kissinger hung up with Nixon, he called up Haig to relay Nixon’s desires: “[H]e wants a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. He doesn’t want to hear anything. It’s an order, it’s to be done. Anything that flies on anything that moves. You got that?”

Go back one year, to November 3, 1969, and Nixon’s Vietnamization speech: “In July, on my visit to Vietnam, I changed General Abrams’ orders so that they were consistent with the objectives of our new policies. Under the new orders, the primary mission of our troops is to enable the South Vietnamese forces to assume the full responsibility for the security of South Vietnam. […]Enemy infiltration, infiltration which is essential if they are to launch a major attack, over the last 3 months is less than 20 percent of what it was over the same period last year.”

That’s essentially the same policy of Iraqization in place now, echoed by the same reports of better American controls over Tal Afara or other regions of western Iraq. The incursions into Syria, like the incursions into Cambodia, show up the gulf between public pronouncements and on-the-ground realities. What we don’t yet know is the sort of conversations Bush is having with his inner circle, which is as much of an echo chamber as Kissinger was for Nixon.