TO: CIA Director Gen. Michael V. Hayden
FROM: Kurt Campbell and Shawn Brimley
RE: The Consequences of Losing in Iraq
American policymakers and intelligence analysts are currently struggling to consider the potential repercussions of failure in Iraq. Forty years ago, an earlier generation of U.S. policymakers were thinking about the implications of defeat in another conflict -- Vietnam.
During the summer of 1967, then CIA Director Richard Helms asked for a quiet review of the global political and strategic consequences of an American failure in Vietnam. The result was a classified memorandum circulated on Sept. 11, 1967, "Implications of an Unfavorable Outcome in Vietnam," which detailed a lengthy list of potential dark outcomes and worrisome prospects.
Excerpts from this document -- with only minor edits -- offer eerie parallels to the very different set of circumstances the United States faces today in Iraq. In considering the Iraq war’s endgame, the U.S. government would be wise to review its own notes.
IMPLICATIONS OF AN UNFAVORABLE OUTCOME IN
PROBLEM AND ASSUMPTIONS
1. At some stage in most debates about the
Vietnam IRAQ war, questions like the following emerge: What would it actually mean for the US if it failed to achieve its stated objectives in Vietnam IRAQ? Are our vital interests in fact involved? Would abandonment of the effort really generate other serious dangers?
2. What we are attempting in this paper is to provide some greater precision about the probable costs, for American policy and interests as a whole, of an unfavorable outcome in
Vietnam IRAQ. It is not assumed in this inquiry that such an outcome is now likely; it has been demonstrated, in fact, that the Communists INSURGENTS cannot win if the US is determined to prevent it. But the question of what it would mean for the US if its own objectives are not achieved is relevant and fair. The debate itself shows the need for a sounder basis by which to measure the costs of an unfavorable outcome against the exertions which would presumably still be required to achieve a favorable one.
3. What we mean by "unfavorable outcome" needs to be defined with some realism. We are not discussing the entirely implausible hypothesis of a political-military collapse, say, the precipitate withdrawal of American forces or sweeping political concessions tantamount to granting
Hanoi THE ENEMY outright achievement of its aims in the South IRAQ. It seems realistic to believe, given the present scale of US involvement and the sacrifices already made, that this government would approach a settlement short of its aims only by a series of steps involving gradual adjustment of our present political-military posture. Apart from the domestic political pressures that would cause this to be so, the very concern to minimize unfavorable effects on other relationships and on the American world position would argue strongly for such a course.
SOME GENERAL PROPOSITIONS
8. The failure of American policy in
Vietnam IRAQ would have repercussions worldwide; it cannot be thought of merely as a local or even as a regional event. This is so, not only because world attention has been so intensively focused on the drama of Vietnam IRAQ for so long, but even more importantly, because the US is involved.
11. The contingency we are discussing in this paper would constitute a rather dramatic demonstration that there are certain limits on US power, a discovery which would be unexpected for many, disconcerting for some, and encouraging to others... Most would probably agree that the US could achieve its objectives... if it persisted long enough and paid the cost. But the compelling proposition emerging from the situation would be that the US, acting within the constraints imposed by its traditions and public attitudes, cannot crush
a revolutionary AN INSURGENT movement which is sufficiently large, dedicated, competent, and well-supported. In a narrow sense, this means more simply that the structure of US military power is ill-suited to cope with guerrilla warfare waged by a determined, resourceful, and politically astute opponent. This is not a novel discovery. It has long been suspected. What our postulated situation would do is to reveal it dramatically.