J. Robert Moskin’s American Statecraft: The Story of the U.S. Foreign Service (Thomas Dunne, 1,229 pp., $35) is nothing less than a recounting of the entire story of the U.S. Foreign Service from its beginnings during the American Revolution into the 21st century. It’s a mammoth undertaking that includes a short chapter on the Vietnam War as told primarily through the actions of State Department higher-ups such as Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Dean Rusk and U.S. Ambassadors to South Vietnam Ellsworth Bunker and Graham Martin.
Moskin—the author of The U.S. Marine Corps Story and other books— starts with the spring of 1776 when the Continental Congress sent Connecticut merchant Silas Deane on a secret mission to the court of Louis XVI to secure French support for the fight against the British. Working mostly chronologically and writing journalistically, Moskin goes on to tell the story of American foreign policy primarily through the stories of many of the men (and later women) who served in the Foreign Service. As is the case with the Vietnam War, he concentrates mainly on Secretaries of State and ambassadors, but also includes tales of professional Foreign Service men and women working in the many and varied foreign-policy trenches aboard and in Washington.
In his Vietnam War chapter, Moskin looks at, among other things, the 1968 Tet Offensive. His assessment: The results “were mixed. The Communists lost a large number of men but demonstrated their ability to carry the war to the cities. In the end, the South Vietnamese people did not rise [against their government as the VC had hoped]; while in the United States two-thirds of those polled no longer supported President Johnson. The tipping point of the American opinion against the war was Tet’s most important result.”
Moskin has less-than-flattering things to say about Kissinger and his handling of the Vietnam War. In 1969, Moskin says, he interviewed Kissinger when he was President Nixon’s National Security Adviser. Moskin asked Kissinger if Vietnamization, his plan to turn the war over to the South Vietnamese, would “prepare the South Vietnam army to fight the Viet Cong or the strong North Vietnam forces.”
Kissinger, Moskin says, “pushed a button under his desk and an Army colonel appeared. Kissinger repeated the question. Colonel Alexandrer M. Haig, Jr. said, ‘I don’t know, sir. But I’ll find out.’
“Neither of them knew. They were concentrated on the domestic political effect of Vietnamization in the United States, not on foreign policy.”
The author’s website is www.jrobertmoskin.com