Wednesday, January 25, 2012

two different countries

The Kennedy Library in Boston has released the last batch of tape recordings secretly made by the President. Among them are meetings on Vietnam in September, 1963, including one where he heard a report from a senior military officer and a State Department official who had just returned from the war-torn country. The general was optimistic about the situation; the diplomat was pessimistic. The President asked, "You both went to the same country?"

They did, physically, but not mentally. In Vietnam then, as more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military has a narrow focus on contending military units, and it can see progress. The diplomats, however, have to deal with the central government which, then and now, is often faction-ridden, corrupt, and ineffective. The military can buy time for the politicians to make peace, but that happens only occasionally.

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