Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Decider's Choice

I received an email today from a retired admiral, a colleague whom I met and worked with after I retired from the army. The text of the item was the Introduction to a book, “Cheers and Tears,” written by Lieutenant General (Ret.) Charles Cooper, USMC, a Vietnam veteran who, in the months just before the start of the build-up of U.S. forces in Vietnam in the mid-1960s, worked in the Pentagon for the Chief of Naval Operations.

The introduction, titled “The Day it Became the Longest War,” details a White House meeting between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and President Johnson in which the Chiefs attempted to provide their advice directly to the commander-in-chief regarding U.S. involvement in another war in Asia a mere 12 years after the Korean armistice.

Cooper knows what happened because a requested easel for a map the Chiefs used to brief Johnson was not in the Oval Office as arranged – leaving Cooper to hold the map. Despite humiliating treatment by the president, the chiefs told Johnson that if he decided to remain engaged in Vietnam, the best military course of action – what would most rapidly bring an end to the war – would see the Navy and Air Force mine and blockade North Vietnam’s harbors and coast and bomb military significant targets. Putting ground troops in would lengthen the fight and cost untold casualties and treasure.

Reading between the lines, one suspects that the Chiefs really would have preferred Johnson to opt for immediate reversal of policy and withdrawing the advisors already in Vietnam. But they were hired to give advice on the best military option, not the best option if that didn’t include military forces.

Johnson refused to listen – and the rest is history – including more than 55,000 dead U.S. service members and tens of thousands Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, and others caught up in the fighting.

Sometime next week, George "The Decider" Bush will make a similar determination about the U.S. presence in Iraq. Only his decision will involve adding troops to "stabilize" Iraq and enable the government to "stand-up" as a prelude – so the White House is intimating – to beginning the drawdown of U.S. troops.

As the president ponders, one wonders to whom he is listening – if to anyone. What is becoming clear is that the U.S. public wants a change that will get U.S. forces out of a quagmire. This was the message of November 7, 2006, and it is the message still resounding in the emails, letters, faxes, and telephone calls to Congress.

Six months and two weeks after the 2,500th U.S. soldier died in Iraq, the 3,000th died. Will this president’s decision cost another 500 lives – or more – in 2007?

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