In 1954, as a young Army officer detailed to the CIA with little experience, Rufus Phillips became a member of what was then called the Saigon Military Mission – several years before America’s military involvement in Vietnam became a matter of public record. He worked directly under Col. Edward Lansdale, the Air Force officer working for the CIA who was responsible for managing the U.S. presence and advising the nascent South Vietnamese government of President Ngo Dinh Diem – trying, for example, to convince Diem to post realistic-looking election results. As the war progressed and America’s involvement deepened, Phillips led counterinsurgency efforts and won the CIA’s Intelligence Medal of Merit for his work; later, he became a consultant for the State Department and served as an adviser to Vice President Hubert Humphrey until the 1968 election.
Phillips wrote a book Why Vietnam Matters and gave a lecture and Q&A session on it at the Pritzker Military Library on 11.22.2008. Phillips was concerned with outlining the lessons he learned in Vietnam and how they applied to Iraq and Afghanistan. One interesting observation Phillips made is on the domino theory in response to an audience question. He argued that the domino theory was very much in play in the mid-1950s in Laos, Cambodia, and South Vietnam. There was no organized native government at all so a few Commie insurgents showing up with a rifle was enough to constitute a government. This was less true in later years when those nations had developed some institutional strength, though it’s interesting that Laos and Cambodia followed South Vietnam in succumbing to Communist rule rather quickly…almost like dominoes.
Lt. Col. R. Alan King
Middle East expert Col. R. Alan King is a retired leader of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division. Under his command, the unit became the most decorated civil affairs battalion in the history of the US Army.King served 16 months in Iraq with the U.S. Army, first as a Civil Affairs battalion commander, then later as a deputy director of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad. King was the top civil-military adviser in Baghdad when the previous Iraqi regime fell in 2003. He is also credited with leading the coalition’s tribal affairs and Sunni outreach programs and served as a senior member of the April 2004 ceasefire talks in Fallujah. During his 16 month tour of duty, King met with approximately 3,500 sheiks, clerics and other local Iraqi leaders and was made a sheik himself.
King discusses his experiences in his book Twice Armed: An American Soldier’s Battle for Hearts and Minds in Iraq in a lecture and Q&A session at the Pritzker Military Library on 6.12.2008. King was quite successful in handling the sheiks until he was undermined by the greatest threat facing the American soldier: Army bureaucracy. King had arranged for a terrorist cell leader to turn himself in in exchange for his son’s release from prison. The terrorist leader turned himself in but the Army somehow reached deep into its best Vietnam traditions and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. They failed to release the son, King lost his credibility with the Iraqi sheiks, and violence spiraled out of control.
Cross-posted on The Committee of Public Safety.