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The CIA and the Policial Defeat

By Zalin Grant

Pub Date: Jan. 14th, 1990
ISBN: 393-02925-5
Publisher: Norton

A tellingly detailed history of the West's counterinsurgency campaigns in post-WW II Indochina, which is notable, among other things, for its attention to Vietnamese viewpoints. In tracing the efforts of first France and then the US to help their Sargon clients gain control of the provincial countryside, Grant focuses on the career of Tran Ngoc Chau, a soldier-statesman whose game plan for neutralizing Communism was at odds with force-of-arms doctrine. The author (who spent five years in Southeast Asia as a correspondent for Time and The New Republic) documents the appeal of Chau's community-action strategies for Colby, Ellsberg, Lansdale, Vann, and other American mavericks. Rather than make the sociopolitical commitment required to win a guerrilla belligerency, however, Washington elected to wage an essentially conventional war in Vietnam. In the meantime, Grant recounts, the CIA co-opted Chau's pacification agenda and transmitted it into the sinister Phoenix Program. By the author's knowledgeable account, policies weighted toward body counts, bombing, and retaliatory terror won the Americans and Vietnamese a host of battles; they also cost the oddly coupled allies the war. In Grant's opinion, moreover, many of his fellow journalists as well as bloody-minded military advisors, murderous intelligence agents, and willful politicians shared responsibility for Hanoi's eventual triumph. In the event, Chau, who ran afoul of South Vietnam's corrupt leadership, was abandoned by most of his American friends. Imprisoned by the Thieu regime and later the Communists, Chau finally escaped to the US, where he has begun to rise phoenix-like from the flames and ashes of his former life. A thoughtful, engrossing narrative of civil strife and a consequential casualty's odyssey, which complements William Colby's Lost Victory (1989) and corrects the one-sided record offered by Douglas Valentine in The Phoenix Program (p. 1316).