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March 2005

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Vietnam and Beyond: A Foggy Bottom View
Review by William Dale
Vietnam and beyond: A Diplomat's Cold War EducationVietnam and Beyond: A Diplomat's Cold War Education. By Robert Hopkins Miller. (Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University Press; ADST-DACOR Diplomats and Diplomacy Series and the Modern Southeast Asia Series, 2002, Pp. xix, 247. $36.50 cloth.

"Miller's purpose in writing his memoirs was to provide raw material for scholars of future generations to help them understand the mindset and actions of America during the Cold War and to acquaint the public with the dedication of Foreign Service employees and the excitement and dangers of their lives."

An Army veteran and graduate of Stanford and Harvard, Robert Hopkins Miller spent forty years in the Foreign Service, a third of which involved Vietnam. Miller wrote his memoirs to provide raw material for scholars of future generations to better understand the mindset and actions of America during the Cold War—especially during the Vietnam War— and to acquaint the public with the dedication of Foreign Service employees and the excitement and danger they experienced serving their country.

State Department official records, including Miller's own communications, form the factual basis of the book. The author also makes use of published materials, particularly those of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Miller's matter-of-fact writing style does full justice to the dramatic events—such as the American defeat in Vietnam—which he vividly describes. Organized chronologically and substantively based on the author's own recollection of events, Miller traces his career from his early days working at the State Department's Washington headquarters and at the U.S. Embassy in Paris to his varied assignments that spanned the globe. In dealing with each post, the author first analyzes the political setting and then describes most insightfully the immediate issues he faced.After his stint in Washington and Paris dealing with Western Alliance matters, Miller experienced the crisis-ridden Congo before heading off to serve in the following capacities: Deputy Chief of the Political Section in Saigon, teaching at the Imperial Defense College in London, participating in the Vietnam peace talks in Paris, U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia, Deputy Director of the Office of Management Operations in the Department of State, U.S. Ambassador to the Ivory Coast, Vice President of the National Defense University, and finally Diplomat in Residence at the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University.

Miller's contribution to our understanding of the Cold War is valuable in three respects. First, and most importantly, it provides us with a highly personal account of the gradual change in his own views concerning America's involvement in Vietnam, which he initially supported, but later opposed. Secondly, Miller gives us a thorough explanation of the process by which U.S. foreign policy is formed and a most useful description of the proliferating agencies that implement those policies. Finally, the ambassador provides—through a Foreign Service Officer's lenses—a detailed and convincing description of how the career service operates.

An example of the author's frank criticism of his government's policies in Vietnam included: "During the war, it [Washington] had no idea of an alternative leadership to Diem, no means of preserving or restoring internal political stability in the vacuum that followed the coup against Diem that it had encouraged, and no clear strategy for winning militarily. In our frustration, we progressively pushed aside the South Vietnamese, whose war it was, and took ever more responsibility for prosecuting it, thereby rendering defeat inevitable." Miller was equally candid in his descriptions of the American officials who played key roles in the war. In his assessment of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, he wrote: "Kissinger, brilliant, egotistical, and obsessed with power, its attributes, and its rewards, only too readily responded to a president who was determined to isolate his secretary of state and control policy from the White House."

Habib
Miller's evaluations of fellow diplomats were not always so critical. In describing the officer to whom his book is dedicated, he wrote: "he [Ambassador Philip Habib] was tireless in fulfilling his responsibilities. He orchestrated the routine work of the delegation and, at the same time, challenged us all to think deeply about the issues despite the tight policy constraints imposed by Washington."

This finely crafted memoir succeeds brilliantly in the tasks Ambassador Miller set for himself, namely, to record his experiences in a manner that will help scholars evaluate U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War. Additionally, it provides most useful guidance to those considering a career in the Foreign Service as well as affording those of us who have tasted foreign service life and found it a most pleasurable experience.

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Ambassador William N. Dale is a retired senior Foreign Service Officer whose lengthy career included service on the staff of the National Security Council and the Department of State's Policy Planning Council. He has also served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Tel Aviv and U.S. Ambassador to the Central African Republic. He is past President and a continuing member of the Board of Directors of American Diplomacy Publishers. A frequent contributor to American Diplomacy, he currently resides in Chapel Hill, NC.

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