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Nixon's Vietnam-Era Defense Chief Calls for Iraq Exit Plan

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RedEarth Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 10:43 AM
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Nixon's Vietnam-Era Defense Chief Calls for Iraq Exit Plan
WASHINGTON -- The defense secretary who served under President Richard M. Nixon during the Vietnam War is warning that the United States is repeating in Iraq some of the mistakes that led to public disillusionment and ultimate defeat in Vietnam, including the impression that there is no clear goal for victory or a detailed, well-described plan to bring US troops home.

Melvin R. Laird, who led the Defense Department in the final years of the Vietnam War, writes in the next edition of Foreign Affairs magazine that most Americans want to see a clearly defined exit strategy and will not tolerate an open-ended military commitment in Iraq -- something that he said would make the fledgling Iraqi government even more dependent on US forces and hinder its independence.

In the article, which breaks more than three decades of silence about his tenure during Vietnam, the 83-year-old Laird compares on-the-job lessons he learned from the US experience in Southeast Asia with the ongoing US presence in Iraq and calls on President Bush to begin a phased withdrawal of some troops on a one-for-one plan: When one newly trained Iraqi soldier is ready to fight, one US soldier heads home. Bush, Laird writes, must also hold top administration officials accountable for abuses of detainees in American custody to restore US prestige in the region.

''The war in Iraq is not 'another Vietnam.' But it could become one if we continue to use Vietnam as a sound bite while ignoring its true lessons," writes Laird, a former nine-term Republican congressman from Wisconsin who served as Nixon's secretary of defense from 1969 to 1973. ''The United States should not let too many more weeks pass before it shows its confidence in the training of the Iraqi armed forces by withdrawing a few thousand US troops from the country. 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."

He adds, ''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."
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