Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Nixon Tapes Show Cautious Defense Secretary Laird


New tapes and documents from the Nixon presidency were released yesterday revealing his Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird highlighting the public's unrest over the increasingly unpopular Vietnam War.

Laird was Nixon's defense secretary from 1969-73 and was a major proponent of allowing the South Vietnamese to slowly take control of the war on their own. The policy called "Vietnamization" lowered casualties and reduced the number of troops in Southeast Asia.

On January 28, 1971, Laird spoke to The Commonwealth Club of California and touted the success of Vietnamization. "My trip confirmed a continuing conviction that President Nixon's strategy for achieving our goals in Southeast Asia is working." Laird's trip is a reference to meetings he held with commanders and South Vietnamese diplomats.

The seven-page memorandum released yesterday and written in October of 1969 shows Laird's belief that expanded bombings in North Vietnam favored by the military would bloat the already high cost of the conflict and further the tide of discontent among Americans.

With combat activity levels reduced in South Vietnam, but with seemingly rising levels of discontent in the United States, we should review the overall situation and determine the best course of action.... The sum total of the considerations ... casts grave doubt on the validity and efficacy.

The bombings did not take place in 1969, but did result in the "Christmas Bombings" of Hanoi in 1972. Some historians believe the controversial military operation was illegal, while others blamed the North Vietnamese for walking out of the Paris peace talks.

In Laird's Commonwealth Club speech, he touches upon the North Vietnamese attitude toward the negotiations.

President Nixon early made explicit the U.S. interest in pursuing the negotiations route. As it became clearer that other side regarded Paris as an opportunity for propaganda rather than serious negotiation, the prospect of resolving the conflict by diplomacy alone appeared more and more remote.

Laird, 86, stands by his decisions to support Vietnamization during his tenure at the defense department and believes it was a factor in the eventual stabilization of Vietnam today.

In a 2005 article for Foreign Affairs, Laird regards the governments propped up in Vietnam during the conflict to be "puppets." He compares the present government of Iraq today favorably, despite early problems.

"The factious process of writing the Iraqi constitution has been painful to watch, and the varying factions must be kept on track," Laird writes. "But the process is healthy and, more important, homegrown."

People have drawn many parallels between the Vietnam War and the current situation in Iraq, yet there is one important difference. How many people in our government today can be called a supporter of true "Iraqization" – other than the Iraq government?


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