Former Nixon adviser Alexander Haig said military leaders in Iraq are repeating a mistake made in Vietnam by not applying the full force of the military to win the war.
“Every asset of the nation must be applied to the conflict to bring about a quick and successful outcome, or don’t do it,” Haig said. “We’re in the midst of another struggle where it appears to me we haven’t learned very much.”
The comments by Haig, also a Secretary of State under President Reagan, came Saturday at a conference at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum examining the Vietnam War and the American Presidency.
The conference brought together advisers from the Nixon, Johnson and Kennedy administrations, and talk turned to Iraq where the panelists saw parallels with Vietnam.
Former Nixon Secretary of State Henry Kissinger made a rare appearance at the conference. He said he agreed to come out of admiration for the Kennedy family.
Kissinger was greeted outside by about 25 protesters who chanted “Kissinger should go to jail, no bail.” He refused to directly respond to a question, submitted by the audience and read by a moderator, that asked if he wanted to apologize for policies that led to so many deaths in Vietnam.
“This is not the occasion,” Kissinger said. “We have to start from the assumption that serious people were making serious decisions. So that’s the sort of question that’s highly inappropriate.”
Kissinger defends Cambodia bombing
In another audience question, Kissinger was asked whether he agreed that the U.S. bombing of Cambodia led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge, and, if so, was he responsible for the two million people the Khmer Rouge killed?
“The premise that the bombing of a 5-mile strip led to the rise of Khmer Rouge and the murder of two million people is an example of masochism that is really inexcusable,” he said.
Kissinger said that the Vietnam War “has fundamentally affected my life in the sense that the Nixon debate doesn’t ever seem to end and for many I am the surviving symbol of the Nixon administration.”
Kissinger also spoke about the war in Iraq, saying he supported the invasion.
“We have a jihadist radical situation,” he said. “If the U.S. fails in Iraq, then the consequences will be that it motivates more to move toward the radical side. This is the challenge.”
Former Johnson adviser Jack Valenti said that the lessons of Vietnam have been “forgotten or ignored” in Iraq.
“No president can win a war when public support for that war begins to decline and evaporate,” he said.
Valenti, former head of the Motion Picture Association, added there was no such thing as a good war, saying “all wars are inhumane, brutal, callous and full of depravity.”