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Harsh words from Nixon’s Vietnam chief

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    Harsh words from Nixon s Vietnam chief By David Broder Washington Post Mel Laird has a unique perspective on the U.S. engagement in Iraq. Not surprisingly, the
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 16, 2005
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      Harsh words from Nixon's Vietnam chief
      By David Broder
      Washington Post

      Mel Laird has a unique perspective on the U.S. engagement in Iraq.
      Not surprisingly, the man who was secretary of defense in the Nixon
      administration and the architect of the policy that managed the
      extraction of American forces from the seemingly endless war in
      Vietnam has his own view of the current struggle.

      In a lengthy essay in the forthcoming issue of Foreign Affairs
      magazine, Laird offers an analysis of the parallels — and
      differences — between Iraq and Vietnam that challenges the thinking
      of both President Bush and the critics of administration policy.

      By speaking out publicly for the first time on the subject, the
      longtime Republican leader — who served 16 years in Congress before
      going to the Pentagon for four years in 1969 and to the White House
      staff for the final year of Nixon's presidency — has done another
      service to his country.

      Laird does not concede, even now, that Vietnam had to fall to the
      communists, blaming the loss directly on the Democratic Congress and
      indirectly on the Ford administration for acquiescing in the cutoff
      of aid to the Saigon regime.

      Nor does he consider democracy in Iraq a lost cause.

      However false the original premise of the war, the fight against
      terrorism is one that must be won, he says. But speaking from
      experience, he argues two points that call for a change in emphasis,
      if not direction, in American policy, and a third that would require
      Bush to execute a complete about-face.

      Noting that the U.S. effort in Vietnam was undercut by its eagerness
      to install "a real puppet government" in Saigon, made up of "selfish
      men who were no more than dictators in the garb of statesmen," he
      argues that in Iraq, "a legitimate government, not window-dressing,
      must be the primary goal." To the extent that the United States is
      seen as manipulating both the writing and the ratification of the new
      Iraqi constitution, that advice has been ignored.

      Second, Laird argues that the United States should "not let too many
      more weeks pass" before beginning to withdraw troops from Iraq and
      turning over the security of the country to Iraqi forces.

      When he took over the Pentagon, Laird said, he changed the mission
      statement "from one of applying maximum pressure against the enemy to
      one of giving maximum assistance to South Vietnam to fight its own
      battles."

      That should have been U.S. policy in Iraq "even before the first shot
      was fired." It ought to begin now and continue indefinitely, with the
      pace to be restrained only by the judgment of American military
      commanders on the capabilities of Iraqis to fill the security role.

      "We owe it to the restive people back home to let them know there is
      an exit strategy and, more important, we owe it to the Iraqi people,"
      Laird says. "Our presence is what feeds the insurgency, and our
      gradual withdrawal would feed the confidence and the ability of
      average Iraqis to stand up to the insurgency."

      White House officials would maintain they are doing their best to
      establish a legitimate government in Iraq and to boost the fighting
      capacity of Iraqi forces. But on Laird's third point, they cannot
      pretend to be in accord.

      Himself a veteran of World War II, Laird has harsh words to say about
      abuse of prisoners in American hands.

      "To stop abuses and mistakes by the rank and file, whether in the
      prisons or on the streets, heads must roll at much higher levels than
      they have thus far," he says.

      "To me, the alleged prison scandals reported to have occurred in
      Iraq, in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay have been a disturbing
      reminder of the mistreatment of our own POWs by North Vietnam. The
      conditions in our current prison camps are nowhere near as horrific
      as they were at the `Hanoi Hilton,' but that is no reason to pat
      ourselves on the back. The minute we begin to deport prisoners to
      other nations where they can be legally tortured, when we hold people
      without charges or trial, when we move prisoners around to avoid the
      prying inspections of the Red Cross, when prisoners die inexplicably
      on our watch, we are on a slippery slope toward the inhumanity that
      we deplore."

      Those are powerful words from a powerful source. One can only hope
      they are heeded.
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