Sometimes it’s hard to believe Henry Kissinger is still alive. He seemed so old already back when he was Secretary of State in the 70s to both Nixon and his successor Ford.
Odd to recall Kissinger received the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the ill-fated Paris Peace Accords. He is nothing if not controversial, accused of war crimes by Christopher Hitchens and others, and in general resembling (or so I always thought) the blue meanies of the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” movie.
That’s to let you know that I’m aware Kissinger isn’t an authority most people cotton to. And yet this op-ed piece of his in today’s LA Times makes some interesting Vietnam/Iraq analogies.
Those who are interested in international law should read this paragraph:
Whether the [Paris Peace] agreement, officially signed in January 1973, could have preserved an independent South Vietnam and avoided the carnage following the fall of Indochina will never be known. We do know that American disunity prevented such an outcome when Congress prohibited the use of military force to maintain the agreement and cut off aid after all U.S. military forces (except a few hundred advisors) had left South Vietnam. American dissociation triggered a massive North Vietnamese invasion, in blatant violation of existing agreements, to which the nations that had endorsed these agreements turned their backs.
So much for Nobel Prizes and peace agreements. The history of Congressional action in that war is—just as Kissinger writes—that after we no longer had fighting forces in Vietnam Congress initiated a step-by-step process that made it impossible to enforce the agreements that had been negotiated, as North Vietnam was well aware.
I detailed that process here, and recently I also wrote about the final reduction of funding to the near-vanishing point for the South Vietnamese. But it’s important to remember that the latter was just the final, pound-foolish act of Congress in the undermining of the South Vietnamese effort; an earlier legislative effort was the Case-Church amendment of 1973 prohibiting any further US military action in Vietnam without the approval of an utterly antiwar Congress, passed about five months after those Paris Peace Accords were signed, and effectively rendering them meaningless and unenforceable.
It was all done for the cause of peace, peace, peace. A worthy goal to be sure—but ironically enough, the means by which it was done made a travesty of the Peace Accords. Whatever the outcome would otherwise have been, such treaties aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on if there is nothing backing them up. What had gotten the North Vietnamese to the table to sign those Accords in the first place was military pressure on them, as Kissinger relates, pressure that was effectively removed by the Case-Church Amendment.
One wonders what Congress actually thought it was doing at the time. I suppose the goal was reining in what it thought of as an out-of-control and warmongering President and Secretary of State (despite that Peace Prize). Preventing unending war and setting up the bitter end, otherwise known as peace.
Peace treaties—unless they are negotiated at the end of a war in which one side is so utterly defeated it cannot soldier on—must have some sort of credible threat of force backing them up. But if that proverbial “big stick” is removed, the enemy knows it has nothing to fear.
Congress is once again intent, I’m afraid, on breaking that stick in half and casting it on the waters of an illusory peace.