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Memo from the late Sen. Mansfield to Sen. Biden--RE: The new cold war

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Early in his senatorial career, Democratic vice-presidential running mate Joseph Biden was mentored by Sen. Mike Mansfield (D-Montana, 1903-2001), who served as majority leader from 1961 to 1977. Having initally supported US involvement in Vietnam, Mansfield became the first in high-level official to express doubts about the progress of the war following his visit to South Vietnam in 1962. In early June 1965, Sen. Mansfield sent two memoranda to President Lyndon Johnson criticizing Johnson's commitment of over 90,000 U.S. combat troops to South Vietnam and the escalation of the war through bombing of the north. Mansfield also suggested in those memoranda that Johnson expand diplomatic efforts to bring about a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Below I've combined elements of those memos, swapping out a phrase or location name here and there, in hopes of invoking Sen. Mansfield's spirit to exorcize Sen. Biden's recent hawkish posturing toward Russia.

Memorandum from the late Sen. Mike Mansfield to Sen. Joe Biden

Washington, August 23, 2008
SUBJECT: The Republic of Georgia and the new cold war

Pursuant to your recent trip to Georgia, and your warning that "Russia's actions in Georgia will have consequences," I want to plead for your resistance to pressures for an irreversible revival of the cold war. That is what America's unconditional support for Georgia could well amount to. I say that because the new cold war would be more than just another military measure. It would also be a political act of the first magnitude.

In keeping the lid on these pressures, you would be on sound historic and realistic grounds in terms of the vital interests of the United States. The word "vital" is used most advisedly because the following is what I believe would result from the new cold war.

1. The new cold war is likely to have no significant value to us in the military situation because the Russians have long expected it and have undoubtedly made their plans accordingly.

2. The new cold war is likely to forestall indefinitely any prospects of discussions with the other side, unconditional or otherwise.

3. The new cold war is likely to provide another world-wide impetus to nations to disassociate themselves from the American position.

4. The new cold war is likely to insure the irreversibility of Russian involvement and will act to seal Russian domination over Georgia.

5. The new cold war is likely to freeze Russia into the role, at least, of principal outside supplier of military equipment for states opposing US domination.

6. The new cold war is likely to bring about an enlargement and acceleration of the ground war in Georgia and, hence, it will compel the rapid injection of more American forces on the ground, even to hold the situation in that region.

7. The new cold war is likely to insure that the war eventually will have to be carried, in the search for decision, into other parts of the former Soviet Union, and probably into Russia itself. And who is going to carry the main burden of this extension if not United States ground forces? If the expansion goes on to include combat with Russian forces all over Eastern Europe, we had better start thinking in terms of millions of troops on the ground.

These consequences of a new cold war would do violence to the vital interests of the United States. For, at the end of the line, even if there is something which could be called a victory, we would be faced with a cost of an occupation and reconstruction which would dwarf anything which has yet been seen.

I think it is about time you got an accounting from those who have pressured you in the past to embark on this course and continue to pressure you to stay on it. It is time to ask, not only what immediate advantages it has in a narrow military sense, but where does it lead in the end: What was promised by the revival of cold war tensions? And what, in fact, have they produced to date?

In short we are now at the point where we are simply acting to prevent a collapse of the Georgian military forces which we pay for and supply in any event and who presumably are going in the same direction we are going. That reality is not going to be lost on any government--friend or foe--anywhere in the world.

It raises again the question, and it is a crucial one: In what direction are we going in Georgia? We can talk of negotiations, conferences and peace. We can talk of the independence and welfare of the Georgian people. We can talk of unconditional discussions. But the question is going to be asked increasingly: What do we mean when we say we are going to stay in Georgia and for what specific United States or Georgian ends are we going to stay there?

As I see it there are no significant American interests which dictate an essentially massive American military effort to control the flow of events in Georgia or even in the former Soviet Union as a whole. There is, on the contrary, only a general interest, shared with many other outsiders, in the stability, peace and progress of the region. That is not the kind of interest which we can serve by overwhelming the region with either our military strength or our substance. It is the kind of interest which requires us to do a share, along with the other outsiders whose tangible, political and economic and commercial stake in the region is in some cases much larger than our own. It is the kind of interest which, it would seem to me, calls for a maximum initiative on our part to get this whole sorry business to a conference table as soon as possible.

Moreover, if a sustained peace offensive succeeds in bringing about a conference, new elements will inevitably be introduced into the situation and it is conceivable that they could begin to point the way to a resolution of the problem.


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Memo from the late Sen. Mansfield to Sen. Biden--RE: The new cold war