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Secret Reports Dispute White House Optimism

The president also met privately with Kissinger every couple of months, making him the most regular and frequent outside adviser to Bush on foreign affairs.

Kissinger sensed wobbliness everywhere on Iraq, and he increasingly saw it through the prism of the Vietnam War. For Kissinger, the overriding lesson of Vietnam is to stick it out.

In his writing, speeches and private comments, Kissinger claimed that the United States had essentially won the war in 1972, only to lose it because of the weakened resolve of the public and Congress.

In a column in The Washington Post on Aug. 12, 2005, titled "Lessons for an Exit Strategy," Kissinger wrote, "Victory over the insurgency is the only meaningful exit strategy."

He delivered the same message directly to Bush, Cheney and Hadley at the White House.

Victory had to be the goal, he told all. Don't let it happen again. Don't give an inch, or else the media, the Congress and the American culture of avoiding hardship will walk you back.

He also said that the eventual outcome in Iraq was more important than Vietnam had been. A radical Islamic or Taliban-style government in Iraq would be a model that could challenge the internal stability of the key countries in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Kissinger told Rice that in Vietnam they didn't have the time, focus, energy or support at home to get the politics in place. That's why it had collapsed like a house of cards. He urged that the Bush administration get the politics right, both in Iraq and on the home front. Partially withdrawing troops had its own dangers. Even entertaining the idea of withdrawing any troops could create momentum for an exit that was less than victory.

In a meeting with presidential speechwriter Michael Gerson in early September 2005, Kissinger was more explicit: Bush needed to resist the pressure to withdraw American troops. He repeated his axiom that the only meaningful exit strategy was victory.

"The president can't be talking about troop reductions as a centerpiece," Kissinger said. "You may want to reduce troops," but troop reduction should not be the objective. "This is not where you put the emphasis."

To emphasize his point, he gave Gerson a copy of a memo he had written to President Richard M. Nixon, dated Sept. 10, 1969.

"Withdrawal of U.S. troops will become like salted peanuts to the American public; the more U.S. troops come home, the more will be demanded," he wrote.


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