Asia Times Online :: Middle East News - Iraq: Kissinger's 'decent interval', take two
An inspection of Vietnam-era secret documents now declassified after the lapse of the mandatory 30-year period does not make for encouraging reading. On June 20, 1972, then-national security adviser Henry Kissinger told Chinese premier Zhou Enlai in the course of a four-hour meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing:
So we should find a way to end the war, to stop it from being an international situation, and then permit a situation to develop in which the future of Indochina can be returned to the Indochinese people. And I can assure you that this is the only object we have in Indochina, and I do not believe this can be so different from yours. We want nothing for ourselves there. And while we cannot bring a communist government to power, if as a result of historical evolution it should happen over a period of time, if we can live with a communist government in China, we ought to be able to accept it in Indochina.
A month and a half later (August 3, 1972), Kissinger explained to president Richard Nixon:
We will agree to a historical process or a political process in which the real forces in Vietnam will assert themselves, whatever these forces are. We've got to find some formula that holds the thing together a year or two, after which - after a year, Mr President, Vietnam will be a backwater. If we settle it, say, this October, by January '74, no one will give a damn.
The 'strategy' - if you want to call it that - summarized here by Kissinger had been conceived at least a year earlier. As noted in the Indochina section of the briefing book for Kissinger's July 1971 China trip:
On behalf of President Nixon I want to assure the prime minister [Zhou] solemnly that the United States is prepared to make a settlement that will truly leave the political evolution of South Vietnam to the Vietnamese alone. We are ready to withdraw all of our forces by a fixed date and let objective realities shape the political future
... We want a decent interval. You have our assurance. [Marginal notation in Kissinger's hand.] If the Vietnamese people themselves decide to change the present government, we shall accept it. But we will not make that decision for them.
One wonders what exactly the United States' South Vietnamese allies would have thought or done had they known the substance of Kissinger's 'diplomacy' - if you want to call it that - on behalf of their future.