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Vietnam Era Adversaries Came Together Over Iraq

Wall Street Journal, 28 August, 2008

Many people have rightly remarked that former Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter Rodman, who recently died, will be greatly missed. I was once his fierce adversary, and I will miss him too. He was everything that his friends and colleagues say: a man of rare of intellect, passionate conviction, and extraordinary good manners.

I first came into conflict with Peter in 1981, after I published "Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia." I argued that America was the world's most vital democracy, but I was very critical of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger's careless policies toward Cambodia, the sideshow to Vietnam. I argued that these policies helped create the conditions in which the genocidal Khmer Rouge communists came to power.

Peter was then working for Mr. Kissinger, and in the American Spectator he published a scorching analysis of the way in which I had used ("misused," he said) the official U.S. documents I had obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. I responded to his attacks, he replied, so did I. The four-part exchange laid out deeply different views of the nature of evidence, the war, and the U.S. role in the world. I thought it interesting to readers and so published the whole exchange in subsequent editions of "Sideshow."

Over the years to come I did not change my mind about "Sideshow," but I did think a lot about America, a country I have loved since I first came here in 1972. I also thought a good deal about one particular line of Peter's. He said if in the early 1940s the U.S. had been hobbled as he thought I wanted, I, a native of Britain, "would have grown up speaking German." A fair point.

Then came 9/11. Peter, an assistant secretary in the Defense Department, helped articulate Washington's response in first Afghanistan and then Iraq. Having written about both the Taliban and Saddam, I believed those policies were broadly correct. On the basis of the reports by United Nations weapons inspectors from 1995-2001 I was certain-like almost every intelligence agency-that Saddam was harboring WMD. And I thought that after 9/11 that posed an intolerable risk for the U.S.

In 2004 Peter and I met in person at a policy forum meeting run in London by Devon Cross. Peter was remarkably articulate, thoughtful and persuasive-even to European critics of President Bush's policies.

Peter and I hit it off. I enjoyed and admired his wry and sharp, but softly spoken, arguments. In June 2007 we collaborated on an op-ed for the New York Times, "Defeat's Killing Fields," in which we said that, despite our differences over U.S. policy in Indochina, we agreed that the human and political costs of the communists' victories there were appalling.

Remembering Indochina, we supported the surge led by Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq and warned against premature withdrawal-as men like Sens. Barack Obama and Joseph Biden were demanding.

Soon afterwards, our article was cited in a speech on Iraq by President Bush: "Recently two men who were on the opposite sides of the debate over the Vietnam war came together. . . Together they wrote that the consequences of an American defeat in Iraq would be disastrous."

We did indeed. Defeat in Iraq, we said, would produce an "explosion of euphoria" among the enemies of the West and demoralize all those who trusted in American and Western values. Defeat would destabilize moderate, friendly governments and accelerate the radicalization of every conflict in the Middle East. We shared the view that America is an absolutely vital force for good in the world and that America's defeat-in Iraq or Afghanistan -would be catastrophic.

Earlier this year we decided to write more articles on U.S. policy together. When I heard of Peter's sudden death from leukemia last month I was more shocked and saddened than I would have expected. I had lost a challenging former critic and a good new friend. Peter Rodman was a man of great wisdom and great civility. The West has lost one of its most articulate defenders.


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