General H.R. McMaster
National Security Adviser
Executive Office of the President
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 2006
Dear General McMaster:
I just finished your book, Dereliction of Duty. Your book was a courageous indictment of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) for their refusal to give President Johnson the benefit of their military advice in 1964 and 1965 as civilian policy makers Americanized the Vietnam war.
You state their refusal to advise silently endorsed a flawed policy leading to the Americanization of the war and the deaths of over 50,000 US soldiers and over one million Vietnamese.
You state the Vietnam war was lost in Washington, D.C. Now you are in Washington, DC, our National Security Adviser. Dereliction of Duty must be on your mind as you watch civilian policy makers Americanizing war in Iraq, Syria and probably Iran that could lead to another massive misuse of those brave soldiers you have commanded in the field.
The analogies between what you recorded in your Vietnam history and today are many and alarming, are they not?
You know the Iraq war of 2003 was based on a lie, just like the Gulf of Tonkin incident.
The US installed the Catholic Diem as South Vietnam’s Prime Minister. He started killing Buddhists. The US installed the Shi’a al-Maliki as Iraq’s Prime Minister. He started killing Sunnis.
When the US civilian policy-makers overthrew Diem, the replacement Prime Minister dismantled the governing institutions, just as US Proconsul Bremer did in 2004, making Iraq ungovernable.
US military advisers were sent to “train” the army of an illegitimate South Vietnamese government, just as US advisers were sent to train the army of an illegitimate government headed by Iraq’s al-Maliki. US advisers couldn’t counter the governmental corruption that led to the Viet Cong gaining support in the countryside, anymore than US training prevented a Sunni insurgency in Iraq, or kept al-Maliki from abandoning Mosul in June 2014 without firing a shot.
The current President fits your description of LBJ, “a profoundly insecure man who craved and demanded affirmation.” President Trump’s civilian advisers have a messianic purpose to defeat Islam, just like LBJ needed to defeat “communism.” LBJ’s ideology blinded him to the reality of the Vietnamese resistance, just as Trump’s will blinds his.
You criticized LBJ for hiding what was going on in Vietnam in order to save his Great Society. Now President Trump proposes a $54 billion budget increase, not to strengthen the military but to hide a domestic assault on all the governmental constraints to corporate profits.
You have a President who says kill “radical Islamic terrorists,” just as LBJ said “kill more Viet Cong.” You said in your book that such a demand was simply “a tactical mission” and, without a clear political purpose, a waste of military equipment and soldiers’ blood.
In your book you denounced the very things happening today… “graduated pressure,” “hit and run,” “pinprick” “limited war,” advisers in combat situations, and combat troops being introduced “without consideration of its long-term costs and consequences.”
I know you are in a difficult spot. There is no one equivalent to a Mike Mansfield pushing President Trump to clarify his war policy, no anti-war movement teach ins, no frightened white kids facing the draft or Black conscripts dying for a country that killed Malcolm, Medgar and Martin and no equivalent to the Vietnamese boat people. Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan are warehousing refugees from our wars. If Americans saw them, as I have seen them in refugee camps, they might rethink our bombing campaigns.
Still, there are soldiers and families of soldiers who are being placed in harm’s way by a destructive Chief Strategist. I hope you can call for a halt to this build-up until the military objective is clarified for the American people and explicitly sanctioned by Congress.
You quoted a passage written for LBJ by his civilian adviser, McGeorge Bundy, in 1965. It is eerie how closely it mirrors the US experience since we invaded Iraq in 2003.
“For 10 years every step we have taken has been based on a previous failure. All we have done has failed and caused us to take another step which failed. As we get further into the bag, we get deeply bruised. Also we have made excessive claims we haven’t been able to realize.”
Bundy continued: “We are about to fight a war we can’t fight and win, the country we are trying to help is quitting. The failure on our own to fully realize what guerrilla war is like. We are sending conventional troops to do an unconventional job…. aren’t we talking about a military solution when the solution is political.”
Daniel B. Leahy
1415 6th Avenue SW
Olympia, Washington 98502