Kissinger, according to Ambrose

So before we get into Kissinger’s assessment of these years…  how does Ambrose characterize him?  In “The Trial of Henry Kissinger” the film inspired by the book by Christopher Hutchins, the claim is made that HK drops the ploy just prior to the ’68 election that South Vietnam will get better treatment by the Republicans causing South Vietnam to abruptly pull out.  Ambrose I don’t see making that connection, but he does name the same woman interviewed in the film who delivered the message.

Was 1968 the US’s chance to end things?  What were Nixon’s choices?  Why did he choose the one he did?  How successful does Ambrose say it was?  What was Kissinger’s role in all of this?

Remember the mining of Haiphong Harbor when we get to Kissinger.  Ambrose recognizes that the Soviet Union does nothing even when they lose a ship.  For years it was believed that a mining of the northern harbor would be translated as a serious escalation of the war and might invite more overt Chinese or Soviet intervention.  When the US finally does mine the harbor, seriously jeopardizing North Vietnam’s flow of supplies, the Soviet Union and China do nothing.  Why?  Why does Ambrose say?  What will HK say?

7 Responses to “Kissinger, according to Ambrose”

  1. Michael Markson says:

    Regarding the mining of Haiphong Harbor, I think it is one last gasp at a display of power by the United States after having reduced troop levels, perhaps in tandem with the eventual bombing of North Vietnam during Operation Linebacker (I and II). I think Ambrose put it nicely when he called it a PR thing.
    One other thing that caught my attention was Ambrose lashing out at the ARVN. He makes a point of mentioning that despite the fact that they were one of the most well-equipped armies in the world, they were so incompetent as to lose to a loosely-banded guerrila army. I believe this speaks to the stubbornness behind the American policymakers in their support of anti-Communist factions or governments, in spite of indications that there was no overwhelming popular support for them, and no sign of success coming from the support.
    Finally, I enjoyed Ambrose’s perspective on Kissinger. He does concede to the fact that Kissinger was by no means stupid (he asserts that Kissinger and Nixon are critical in the use of the Sino-Soviet split in furthering relations with the USSR and the PRC simultaneously), but does not that he is not only arrogant, but paranoid (through his idea of linkage), farsighted (“peace for his children, and his children’s children”), idealistic (see before), and, my favorite, capable of “out Metternich[ing] Metternich.” Ambrose is quite the critic, isn’t he? I’m sure Kissinger will be putting his onw spin on these events, and I eagerly look forward to this.

  2. Bryce Vickery says:

    Ambrose perspective on kissanger sounds accurate and right. I never liked nixon as a president. He didi the right thing but not in the right way. The whole watergate scandal was not okay. When he went into cambodia and laos that was not okay. When he armed south vietnam that was also not okay and implenting missions that put lifes in dangers is not okay. The way nixon operated was illegal and he did not get permission from congress. He had two options when he came into office either to end the vietnam war quickly or slowly pull out. He seem to not be able to decide what to do. He seemed to put more pressure on vietnam and pull out troops but it seemed more lives were lost because of this. The north vietnam were willing to come to a peace term and should of listened to them. In life our friends our are enemies and our enemies our are friends.

    Why didi it take nixon so long to pull out of vietnam and why were so many lifes lost if he was trying to end the war?

  3. Michael Markson says:

    As an addendum to my previous comment, I think the fact that Russia did not retaliate against the United States’ mining of Haiphong speaks to two major points. It indicates 1) the Soviet Union’s lack of desire for a total war, possibly reaching the point of deployment of nuclear weapons, and 2) an apparent belief that the Democratic Republic of Vietnam would be triumphant, and that the United States was losing the war. Whether or not the USSR wanted war (which, apparently, they didn’t), the Cold War did not go hot between the two superpowers. The mining of Haiphong was a desperate grasp at victory by the United States, and it would seem that Brezhnev knew this.

  4. Michele Gill says:

    I agree with what Bryce said about how Kissinger was portrayed. Not only did he encourage Nixon to keep the war going because he believed his policy of ‘linkage’ was a “path to peace”, but everything he seemed to do was in SECRET meetings with Chou En-Lai or in more SECRET meetings with Le Duc Tho. (the quote in the very beginning from Le Duc Tho was kind of funny: “Let me speak to yo honestly, frankly, openheartedly. You are a liar.”)

    I think that Nixon dragged out the war because he was taking advantage of Vietnam (Ambrose stated that the US took no wealth out of Vietnam, just poured it in, but the money went towards creation of services for the US not for beneficiaries for Vietnam). He was making it so that they had complete dependency on the US, so Nixon could then justify his actions by claiming the US was only in Vietnam for the good of those people (thus appealing to both the doves AND the hawks).

    I also think that Nixon was being stubborn and was refusing to end the war, which would make the US appear weak. Nixon’s quote on page 243 was interesting and really portrayed his stubbornness to look weak: “if…the world’s most powerful nation…acts like a pitiful, helpless giant, the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy will threaten free nations and free institutions throughout the world.” Nixon was looking for a way to pull the troops out of Vietnam so that the US would not look like a failure, in his point of view. The Christmas bombings are really what prove this, in my opinion. Even one of Nixon’s own officials stated: “Look, we were in an embarrassing situation…We had to do something. So the bombing began, to try to create the image of a defeated enemy crawling back to the peace table to accept terms demanded by the US” (248).

    And this is just a quote I thought was interesting that my dad told me (said by Nixon): “We won the war but lost the peace”

  5. Camille McPherson says:

    I noted that the gap between American rhetoric and action is particularly prevalent in this chapter. Ambrose quotes that American politicians talked profusely of “pacification” and “winning the hearts and minds of the people” while Nixon simultaneously condemned countless of “the people” to death by ordering an obscene amount of bombs to be dropped on them. Furthermore, Frances FitzGerald’s analysis on which faction of the Vietnamese economy American money was being so heavily invested in proves that, contrary to what was being preached by U.S. statesmen, America was in fact looking out for its own interests and only “helping” Vietnam by providing short term aid while also sentencing them towards becoming a weak country with a pathetic economy and sole dependence on the U.S. Ambrose depicts the ARVN (which represented the majority of the male population) as being indifferent and unmotivated, which contrasts greatly with his description of the VC and Communists, who are regarded as determined, dedicated to their purpose, and increasingly popular. How did America figure it was “fighting for the people” when the people wanted to go Communist???!!! I’m sure my perspective is somewhat idealistic and naive, but I think it would have been better to have never entered troops into the war and to have withheld aid as soon as it became evident that victory was simply unattainable. Then, we should have left them to establish their own government while maintaining negotiations with the newly united country and encouraging more democratic aspects of government to emerge whenever possible. In theory, there is nothing wrong with communism (one can argue that in practice it is extremely flawed, but I think the same can be said about capitalism), and an allegedly Communist dictator is not necessarily any more ruthless towards the people than any other sort of dictator (such as Diem). I see the entire Vietnam “debacle” as one big mistake with horrible consequences.

  6. Pauline Arriaga says:

    Wowww. I LOVE getting these different perspectives on good old Kissinger. ‘Cause I’m also reading this book by Robert Dallek called “Partners in Power: Nixon and Kissinger”. In this book he has the following description of one of Kissinger’s classes:
    “Kissinger is quite a sight as he struts back and forth across the lecture platform alternately praising Metternich, castigating Kennedy, and tossing laurel wreaths to Kissinger for Kissinger’s solutions to the evils that beset our mismanaged foreign policy”

    He also says that apparently some of his fellow grad students, mindful of his “tendency to court authority figures and treat lesser lights with distain called him “Henry Ass-Kissinger””

    This chapter pretty much showed everything about the first quote (I only threw in the second quote because I thought it was hilarious). His Metternich/Bismarck praise is shown in his cabinet diplomacy and his tendency to treat everything like a giant world-wide chess set in which winning the game meant world domination, which for the US would mean world peace, naturally. And I think that a lot of his policies were brilliant. Except misplaced. The fact that he had entirely bypassed Nixon on a lot of the war decisions and meetings was very clever indeed. Except for the fact that, as I heard on an NPR show about some book about Kissinger, it’s not something he could keep secret for long. Because not only was Kissinger mindfully stabbing Nixon in the back, he essentially became Nixon when it came to foreign policy. I remember hearing that there would be times that Kissinger would answer the phone or something for Nixon and say that Nixon was incapacitated and that he was speaking for Nixon and stuff like that. And not only is cabinet diplomacy something that won’t stay in the cabinet for long, it’s something that us ‘Mericans wouldn’t stand for on our principles of democracy.

    He was obviously against Kennedy’s static kind of stance on Vietnam and how nothing seemed to be happening in terms of foreign policy. And I think Kissinger definitely was against Nixon’s continuation of that kind of policy. Kissinger wanted resolution through strong-arming and diplomacy. Kennedy and Nixon wanted to end as fast as possible, which they thought would be through escalating or tapering off the war, which, with guerrilla warfare would take a LONG time.

    And clearly he loved kissing ass. Especially if it’s his own.

    On a side note, it thought it was kind of curious how a lot of the problems with today’s economy can be attributed to some of Nixon’s policies mentioned in this chapter. Clearly, without his recognition of China itself, there probably wouldn’t be such a big debt for us from China. And that move is strange in itself considering that Nixon was pretty much the co-poster-boy for anti-communism in the ’50s, along with McCarthy. Also the fact taht he started the first deficits in international trade accounts and started America importing raw materials, pretty much marking the complete shift from being a colony to being an empire.

  7. Antonio Soto says:

    Mr. Stuessy, i forgot to inform you that i will be giving my English Oral Commentary tomorrow. So ill be missing a big chunk of the period tomorrow. Just letting you know.

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