The Daily Gamecock

Harvard professor visits university, discusses impact of Vietnam War

Kalb: Foreign policy still influenced by past

Kalb, who spent 30 years reporting with CBS News and NBC News, came to USC to promote his new book, "Haunting Legacy: Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to Obama."
April 30, 1975 — the war's ending date — was a "moment of supreme humiliation" for the United States, Kalb said.

"On that day the United States was kicked out of Saigon by the North Vietnamese Army," Kalb said.
He added that former President Lyndon Johnson, who is widely scrutinized for the war's bleak outcome, referred to North Vietnam as a "raggedy-a-- little fourth-rate country."

Even though the United States was and still is a great power, Kalb said, it was nevertheless beaten by a "raggedy-a-- little fourth-rate country."

This foreign failure had a domino effect on how the next seven presidents conducted their foreign policies, Kalb posited.

Even though 299 American and French servicemen were killed during the October 1983 bombing in Beirut, former President Ronald Reagan did not attack those responsible in Lebanon because he didn't want to fight another Vietnam War, according to Kalb.

"Reagan said that he couldn't attack these people because the American people had already been spooked by the Vietnam experience, and he didn't want to put them through that again," he said.

Kalb cited the Gulf War as another example of Vietnam's lingering effects on policy, arguing that when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, former President George H. W. Bush sent in troops only because the United States had a clear objective, Congress's approval, an exit strategy and an overwhelming military force — all of the components the U.S. lacked during the Vietnam War.

"Vietnam was like a person ... it sat like a ghost marching up and down as a warning of what could have gone wrong," Kalb said.

President Barack Obama has stated many times that "Afghanistan is not Vietnam," Kalb pointed out, indicating how "haunting" the historical proxy is for our current leaders.

"I think that what Obama is doing at this point is kicking the can down the road," Kalb said of the president's handling of the current wars. "Not losing but not winning."

Kalb was the last speaker of Walker Institute of International Studies 50th Anniversary Lecture Series.

Gordon Smith, the Walker Institute's director, said he was delighted to have Kalb close the special lecture series.

"I don't think we could've had a better speaker that could look at past events and see how they still resonate in making foreign policy," Smith said.

After the talk ended, the University Bookstore had a table in the auditorium selling Kalb's book while the author signed copies.

Third-year Russian language student Josh George said the lecture was "informative" for him.

Waiting in line to get a book and Kalb's signature, George described the lecture as "definitely food for thought on how to not repeat accidents from the past."