A History of America's Involvement in and Extrication from the Vietnam War

By Henry Kissinger

Simon & Schuster. 563 pp. Paperback, $18

This book, the product of years of writing and thinking on the Vietnam War, is by far Henry Kissinger's most comprehensive defense of Nixon administration policies in Indochina. Drawing on four of his previously published works and adding new material, Kissinger argues that President Richard Nixon pursued the diplomatic and military strategies he did in Indochina because there were no other options.

The Nixon White House faced one basic problem in constructing its withdrawal strategy: how to secure from Hanoi the release of American prisoners of war in exchange for a U.S. troop withdrawal before Congress cut funding for the war. Nixon also needed to give South Vietnam time to develop its military capabilities in the face of an inevitable challenge from the communists.

There were also some delicate matters of domestic political perception. The Nixon administration's goal was to withdraw from Vietnam as a matter of policy, not because of domestic pressure, and without threatening other national obligations. This was accomplished, Kissinger writes, through skillful diplomacy and the adroit application of military force. He implies that by using a stick -- expanding the war into Laos and Cambodia and intensifying the bombing of North Vietnam -- as well as the carrot of American withdrawal and postwar reconstruction aid, Nixon forced concessions from Hanoi that eventually led to an honorable peace.

If there were failings in Vietnam, Kissinger concludes, they were not his own. Unlike some other Vietnam-era policymakers, he accepts none of the responsibility for the debacle. He is, however, quick to blame others. The reckless liberalism of Kennedy and Johnson did just enough to get America deep into the quagmire of Vietnam, but not enough to make a difference militarily. Congress, too, was at fault: By the time Nixon took office in 1969, Kissinger writes, war-weary senators introduced resolutions on an almost daily basis to limit American involvement in Indochina, moves that undercu