'Rabin Opposed 'Overwhelming' US presence in Vietnam'

Prof. Marvin Kalb says that Rabin felt Arabs would misread America's defeat as sign US could no longer keep its word to an ally.

July 11, 2011 14:30
2 minute read.
Marvin Kalb

Marvin Kalb. (photo credit: The Kalb Report)


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Yitzhak Rabin privately expressed his opposition to America's use of “overwhelming military force” in Vietnam and was concerned the Arabs would misread the U.S. defeat as a sign it could no longer keep its word to an ally, according to Harvard University Professor and veteran network correspondent Marvin Kalb.

“Back in 1975, Yitzhak Rabin told me – and he had visited Vietnam and seen the military operation there – that he was very unhappy with the way in which the U.S. was so completely dependent in its operation in Vietnam upon overwhelming military force,” said Kalb, author of the newly published Haunting Legacy (Brookings Institution Press) in an audio interview with Inside Israel's Mordechai I. Twersky on JPost.com. “He thought it was a far more complicated war. It involved a different approach.”
Rabin, according to Kalb, kept quiet at the time. “He was a great admirer of the United States,” Kalb recalled. “He appreciated what the U.S. was doing for Israel, and and so he did not publicly criticize the United States at the time.”

After the U.S lost in Vietnam in 1975, a question arose in the minds of Israeli strategists, according to Kalb. “What would happen if we, in Israel, were under the gun?” he asked. “Would the United States come to help us, or would they abandon us, as they had, in effect, abandoned the South Vietnamese in pursuit of the deal with the North Vietnamese? Would they also abandon us Israelis?”

According to Kalb, who in his book examines how America's trauma from the Vietnam War has continued to influence the war and peace decisions of every U.S. President since Lyndon Johnson, Rabin and other Israeli leaders answered that question “very forcefully at the time,” rejecting the possibility of U.S. troops ever fighting in a war alongside Israel and instead preferring a package of sustained American aid.

“That has always been the Israeli position, to the best of my understanding,” said Kalb, Professor of Practice at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and host of The Kalb Report at the National Press Club. “I think right now, it is not a matter of Israel getting into trouble and requiring American troop assistance, so much as it is requiring American diplomatic, military and economic support. Not to the degree of sending U.S. troops, but to the degree of maintaining a consistent support role for Israel, as Israel faces its many challenges.”

Kalb predicted a sustained American involvement in the Middle East Peace process for the foreseeable future.

“I think the U.S. will remain involved in the Middle East for several reasons,” he said.  “One of them is oil. O-I-L. Until the United States, somehow, resolves that problem, it is going to remain in that one part of the world, which has so much oil.”  

Kalb said the United States has “very, very, powerful commitments – especially to a country like Israel.” “There is no indication whatever, whether it is a Democratic or Republican – that any American President is going to abandon that. No indication of that at all,” he said.

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