More Precious Than Peace

Rodman’s Realpolitik view of international affairs stems from the question: given that the United States is a world power, for which nonintervention is a matter of choice more than it is of limitation, what should it do in the realm of foreign affairs? His book begins with the era of Woodrow Wilson and of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, tracing the development of policy on both sides of what would come to be known as the Cold War. Rodman’s insider status has provided him with considerable information regarding the roles that influential people, especially influential Americans, played on various stages, including Angola, Central America, and Cambodia. His well-documented accounts are of great historical interest. His general interpretation of the many and large foreign involvements in which the United States has participated in the twentieth century is that the doves were wrong, and that the hawks sometimes made mistakes.

For example, in his chapter on Vietnam, Rodman points out that “there can be no doubt” that Hanoi intended “to dominate all of Vietnam plus Laos and Cambodia.” In the early years of U.S. intervention in Vietnam, he also points out, presidents and secretaries of state wished to avoid “losing” Vietnam the way that Harry S Truman had “lost” China. The consequence of the Vietnam War was an “isolationist impulse” and congressional legislation, including the War Powers Resolution of 1973, which required congressional approval for deployment of U.S. troops in hostilities abroad for more than six days. Rodman points out the “ironies” of the lack of enforcement of the War Powers resolution, and the “myth” upon which it was based. For Rodman, the war in Vietnam led to a loss of credibility; by the 1980’s, the American people no longer believed what their government told them, and Saddam Hussein did not believe that the United States would retaliate if he invaded Kuwait. America had to “earn” its credibility again “by war.”

One may consider Rodman’s interpretation of war credible or incredible, but his arguments are straightforward.