Comparing Nixon's Vietnam and Bush's Iraq

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NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr discusses the recent release of some 50,000 pages of material from the Nixon White House — and notes the administration's concern about the Vietnam War bears a remarkable resemblance to the current administration's difficulties with Iraq.


Worried about flagging support for the war? The president tells his aides in a secret memo, `Publicly we say one thing; actually, we do another.'


NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: That was not President Bush on Iraq, but President Nixon on Vietnam and Cambodia. It's only one line in some 50,000 pages of newly declassified documents in the National Archive. It's not surprising, but still a little unsettling to learn how often a president will not level with the people. The revelation of the abuse of detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad was bad news for the Bush administration, as was the 1968 massacre of more than 350 South Vietnamese civilians in the village of My Lai. My Lai was treated by the Nixon White House as a public relations problem more than a moral problem. Defense Secretary Melvin Laird warned Nixon that My Lai could prove acutely embarrassing to the United States and could affect the Paris peace talks with North Vietnam. Laird added that My Lai will provide grist for the mill of anti-war activists and could be ruinous to our image.

Nixon said that an image could be changed, and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger weighed in with the observation that the trial of Lieutenant William Calley, implicated in the My Lai massacre, would alleviate press concerns about a cover-up. Some of the discussions about the future of Vietnam read eerily like memos on Iraq. In May 1969, a Nixon White House document said the United States wanted to establish in Vietnam procedures for political choice that give each significant group a real opportunity to participate in the political life of a nation. Sound a little like Iraq? And to bring this up to date, former Secretary Laird has an article in the current Foreign Affairs magazine. Its title: Iraq: Learning the Lessons of Vietnam.

Arguing for de-Americanizing the Iraq War, Laird says that our presence is what feeds the insurgency. Laird says he's the one who invented the term `Vietnamization.' And maybe the word today should be `Iraqization.'

This is Daniel Schorr.

HANSEN: It's 18 minutes past the hour.

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