Vietnam and Iraq
Not every conservative completelydislikestheIraqStudyGroup report.Whilesomelabelitthe“Iraq Surrender Group,” retired Marine Lt. Gen. Charles Cooper embraces some of its ideas on working to get most combat troops out of Iraq by early 2008.
“I think the report is very constructive and useful,” he tells us. “It does an excellent job of defining the problems,showingthecomplexityof the situation and most importantly states its purpose is ‘to give Iraq an opportunity to avert anarchy.’ ”
“Itisnot‘cutandrun,’assomeDemocrats may have wished. It also stresses that we must get more directly involved with the Iraq government, the political leaders, and stop playing nice while we wait for goodthingstohappeninthecurrent government.”
But the idea for taking out most combat troops by early 2008 and other military options “are largely impracticable,” he tells us.
Gen. Cooper has the experience to judge such questions. He fought in Vietnam. And, as an aide to the chief of naval operations in 1965, he witnessed President Johnson chew out the Joint Chiefs of Staff over Vietnam policy.
The scene: Maj. Cooper, the five JointChiefsmembersandMr.JohnsonintheOvalOffice.Thepublicdid not know it then, but a schism had developedbetweenthenation’shighest military officers and Defense SecretaryRobertS.McNamara.Mr. McNamara endorsed a big buildup of ground troops. The chiefs opposed it. The objectives were not clear, they said. They wanted Mr. Johnson to approve air strikes on Hanoi and harbor mining to inflict pain on the North.
That day, Maj. Cooper held the map of South and North Vietnam. The general later recounted the WhiteHousewarplanninginhisautobiography,“CheersandTears.”The part on the secret White House session was published as a stand-alone articleinNavalInstituteProceedings, titled “The Day It Became the Longest War.”
“[The chiefs] expected it to be of momentous import, and it met that expectation,too,”Gen.Cooperwrote. “Unfortunately, it also proved to be a meeting that was critical to the proper pursuit of what was to become the longest, most divisive, and least conclusive war in our nation’s history — a war that almost tore the nation apart.”
Mr. Johnson, Gen. Cooper wrote, remained calm and seemingly attentive, during the briefing.
“Then suddenly discarding the calm,patientdemeanorhehadmaintainedthroughoutthemeeting,[Johnson] whirled to face them and exploded,” he wrote. “I almost dropped themap.Hescreamedobscenities,he cursed them personally, he ridiculed themforcomingtohisofficewiththeir ‘militaryadvice.’Notingthatitwashe who was carrying the weight of the freeworldonhisshoulders,hecalled them filthy names [. . .]. He then accusedthemoftryingtopassthebuck for World War III to him. It was unnerving, degrading.”
We tell Gen. Cooper’s story because it has relevance to today’s debate. As far as we can tell, President BushandtheJointChiefsofStaff,all ofwhomheappointed,generallysee eye-to-eye on Iraq.