Don’t Pass the Salted Peanuts, Henry
Tom Lehrer said that political satire was rendered obsolete when Henry Kissinger won a Nobel Peace Prize for prolonging the Vietnam War.
But even the inventive Lehrer could never have imagined that Dr. Strangelove would get a second chance to contribute to misleading the public about a military catastrophe in a misunderstood land — a do-over in scarring the American psyche and reputation in profound ways.
Yet, as Bob Woodward reveals in “State of Denial,” the sequel to “Bush is a Genius,” Mr. Kissinger has been one of the few trusted outside advisers that W. has listened to on Iraq. The administration has shaped its policy to hew to the 83-year-old Unwise Man’s belief that the only way to beat an insurgency is to stick it out, no matter how many American kids and foreign civilians die.
Especially if elections are coming up. As the historian Robert Dallek, who is writing a book on Nixon and Kissinger, notes, “Kissinger was complicit in using foreign policy to try to save Nixon during Watergate.”
Bob Haldeman wrote in his diary on Dec. 15, 1970, using “K” for Kissinger and “P” for President Nixon: “K came in and the discussion covered some of the general thinking about Vietnam and the P’s big peace plan for next year, which K later told me he does not favor. He thinks that any pullout next year would be a serious mistake because the adverse reaction to it could set in well before the ’72 elections. He favors, instead, a continued winding down and then a pullout right at the fall of ’72 so that if any bad results follow they will be too late to affect the election. It seems to make sense.”
Thirty-five years later, Mr. Kissinger, the consummate fawner, was once more able to sway a president with faux deference. Dr. K encouraged W. to play the tough guy on the war, even though he’d never gone to war himself.
In September 2005, Mr. Woodward writes, W.’s head speechwriter, Mike Gerson, visited Mr. Kissinger and received a lecture declaring that the only exit strategy for Iraq was victory and a copy of the diplomat’s “salted peanut memo” from 1969, warning against resisting pressure to withdraw troops from Vietnam: “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.”
It’s the kind of logic that makes Dr. K such a valuable counselor to a president who has already declared privately that his midterm election strategy is to tar the Democrats this way: “Surrender and taxes.”
The shrink-wrapped president did not consult his own father before going to war against the same dictator. And, moving from Dr. Strangelove to Dr. Freud, two of W.’s top war counselors — Rummy and Henry the K — are men who did not bother to conceal their contempt for Bush senior as a naïve lightweight.
As Mr. Woodward notes, part of Rummy’s allure for W. was the fact that Poppy Bush considered him an arrogant, Machiavellian sort who could get you in deep doo-doo. “It was a chance,” Mr. Woodward says, “to prove his father wrong.” Or right.
It’s been clear for years that Dick Cheney and Rummy have been using the Bush presidency like an elaborate vanity production to replay Watergate and Vietnam, and to try to reverse things that bothered them during prior stints in the Nixon and Ford administrations.
As Mr. Cheney told his pal Rummy when W. gave him a second crack — a quarter-century later — at the defense chief job: “Get it right this time.”
The vice president has been diabolically successful in exploiting 9/11 to restore the Imperial Presidency to where it was before Congress and the public became such Nosy Parkers after Watergate. Mr. Cheney and Rummy have been less successful in their attempt to exorcise the post-Vietnam American skittishness about using force; their abysmal misadventure in Iraq has only reinforced it.
Mr. Kissinger’s reasoning for favoring war in Iraq had none of the idealistic gloss about democracy that the president came up with later. Like Mr. Cheney, he thought it was a good idea to invade Iraq not because it was strong, but because it was weak. “We need to humiliate” radical Islam, he told Mr. Gerson, and send the message that “we’re not going to live in this world that they want for us.”
Half a century of foreign affairs experience, and he still doesn’t understand that humiliating young Arab men — and occupying Muslim land — just radicalizes them? We’re expanding terror at a cost of about $6 billion a month.