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A Decent Interval

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Today, on March 29, 1973, the last U.S. troops left Vietnam. As the country debates the war in Afghanistan and a new poll indicates that two-thirds of Americans are against U.S. involvement in the war, it is interesting to listen to this secret White House recording from 1972 between President Richard Nixon and his National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, as they discuss a time frame for pulling American troops out of Vietnam.

Earlier this month, Leslie Gelb writing for the Daily Beast noted that although U.S. troops are due to be reduced gradually until all combat is turned over to the Afghans in 2014, Obama will not likely speed up that time table.

“Forget about President Obama expediting U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan this year. It matters not that some American soldiers are coming apart at the seams, killing innocent Afghans, and burning Qurans, or that President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan screams to restrict U.S. operations. Nor will polls showing increasing numbers of Americans fed up with the war induce Obama to press the pullout button. Mr. Obama is not going to take the slightest risk that a faster exit might trigger a collapse of the Kabul government and a Taliban takeover after 10 years of sacrificing American blood and treasure. He’s not going to give warhawk Republicans a campaign issue.”

Back in August 1972, President Nixon acknowledged that South Vietnam would probably fall to the North Vietnamese if the United States pulled out. But he and Kissinger discussed making sure that its collapse did not negatively impact the 1972 presidential election or the Nixon administration’s foreign policy. Kissinger advised that they need a “formula” to hold South Vietnam together until which time the public would not only lose interest in the matter but that it also would hold Saigon, and not the Nixon administration, responsible for the political and military defeat.

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