Viet­nam and Iraq

The Washington Times Weekly - - National -

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.

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