Last month the International Republican Institute honored Henry Kissinger with its 2009 Freedom award in recognition of his contribution to the security and progress of the United States. HAK was introduced by his old friend Senator John McCain, and his former associate and fellow Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger.
HAK was interviewed by historian Niall Ferguson, a Senior Research Fellow at Jesus College, Oxford, and currently the holder of professorial chairs at Harvard University and the Harvard Business School.
After the presentation of the Award, HAK sat down for a conversation with writer and historian Niall Ferguson. As an opener, Professor Ferguson asked if there is any historical parallel between our experiences in Afghanistan today and Vietnam back in the day. HAK’s reply was concise and memorable:
First of all, I have a perception of Vietnam which is not the majority media perception of Vietnam.
I think in essence we defeated ourselves. Vietnam was a problem of the American soul and not of the American performance.
And until we accept this we are not going to learn the lessons of the period.
We entered a war with decent motives and attempted to pursue it by judgments that turned out to be not applicable to the situation because they were drawn from a European experience.
And when I say “we” I mean the Kennedy and Johnson administration.
President Nixon attempted to disengage us from that war. And, while he is accused today of having prolonged the war, the only decision he made that prolonged the war was his refusal of the communist demand that, at the beginning of the peacemaking process, we had to replace the Government of Vietnam with a communist-dominated government, and after which we would have to withdraw our troops under fire.
Those two conditions he refused, and if that is prolonging the war, we would do it again.
The whole program, as broadcast by C-SPAN, concluding with the Kissinger-Ferguson conversation, can be seen here.
HAK at the IRI dinner, chatting with Gen. Brent Scowcroft, his erstwhile assistant and subsequent successor as National Security Adviser.