The U.S. war in Laos began in early 1961, when President Dwight Eisenhower, on one of his last days in office, approved a paramilitary CIA mission known as Operation Momentum to arm the ethnic Hmong population against communist forces. Under Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, the proxy war grew to become the largest CIA paramilitary operation in U.S. history. In his new book, “A Great Place to Have a War: America in Laos and the Birth of a Military CIA,” drawing on declassified CIA files and interviews with key players, Joshua Kurlantzick reframes the Laos war as the training ground for today’s CIA, which has led the shadow war against terrorism since 9/11. “The strategies used to keep most of the war on terror secret,” he writes, “would have been completely familiar to the CIA operatives running the Laos war.”
In an interview, Kurlantzick spoke with WPR about his book and the lessons of the CIA’s war in Laos that can be applied today.
WPR: President Barack Obama leaned on the use of the CIA’s paramilitary activities, arguably even more so than George W. Bush. Looking at the Trump era, do you think that there will be a continuation of that, or even more of it?