Losing Exported Lost Causes
Canadian-born, Keynesian economist John Kenneth Galbraith was a young Harvard-trained New Deal liberal who later served Adlai Stevenson, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. He also served as US ambassador to India.
The latter taught him an understanding of far-off cultures, and to oppose post-WW2 American warhawks who clamored for endless military interventions around the globe.
Galbraith may have understood what Robert E. Lee saw in the defeat and subjugation of the American South in 1865 — the lost conservative balance which Southern statesmen provided against a liberal, revolutionary North: “the consolidation of our States into one vast republic, [is] sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home.”
Losing Exported Lost Causes
“South Vietnam is exceedingly bad. Unless I am mistaken, [Ngo Dinh] Diem has alienated his people to a far greater extent than we allow ourselves to know. This is our old mistake. We take the ruler’s word and that of our own people who have become committed to him. [Their] opponents are thieves and bandits; the problem is to get the police. I am sure the problem in Vietnam is to preserve law and order. But I fear we have one more government which, on present form, no one will support.
In September, back in Washington, I pressed my concerns directly with [President] Kennedy and later added a more marginal thought:
“When I wake up at night I worry that in our first year in office we will be credited with losing Laos which we did not have, losing East Berlin which we did not have, losing East Berlin which we did not have and (touchy point) with failing to persuade the world that Formosa is China. As an extreme idealist I am in favor of lost causes. But I wonder if we should lose our lost causes more than once.”
I had little doubt of Kennedy’s agreement. It was nearly complete. The problem, as ever, was the political pressure of those clamoring of action, those wishing to do something, anything, at the price of doing wrong things. Reference to the Bay of Pigs and the acceptance of a neutral Laos, [Kennedy] said: “You have to realize that I can only afford so many defeats in one year.”
My opposition to the Vietnam policy of [the Nixon] administration was less than absolute. I never wavered in the belief that the Vietnamization of the war was a fraud. The Saigon government and armed forces were, one knew, far too incompetent, much too commercially committed, to stand on their own.
To burden such a government and army, as later in Iran, with complicated weapons and their associated requirements in repair, logistics and sophisticated organization enlarges greatly the opportunities for graft. And in the end it ensures a more resounding collapse.
Weaponry, we will one day learn, must be related in its complexity to the sophistication and competence of the country that seeks to use it. The fraud of Vietnamization, however, like my own earlier arguments for the enclaves, was political cover for the larger goal of getting out. This being so, no one could object.”
(A Life in Our Times, A Memoir: John Kenneth Galbraith, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1981, excerpts pp. 468-469;