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Kissinger finds parallels to Vietnam in Iraq

Former diplomat cites 'divisions in the United States'

Kissinger said the United States is battling to stop the spread of radical Islam.


United States
Henry A. Kissinger

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An architect of the U.S. war in Vietnam more than 30 years ago said Sunday that he has "a very uneasy feeling" that some of the same factors that damaged support for the conflict there are re-emerging in the 2-year-old war in Iraq.

"For me, the tragedy of Vietnam was the divisions that occurred in the United States that made it, in the end, impossible to achieve an outcome that was compatible with the sacrifices that had been made," former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

Support for the war has dropped in recent polls, and criticism of President Bush's handling of the conflict has grown. The latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, taken Aug. 5-7, found that 54 percent of those surveyed thought the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a mistake.

Kissinger said the United States faces a battle to halt the spread of radical Islam in Iraq, and it would be "a catastrophe for the whole world" if it fails.

Kissinger, who served as national security adviser and secretary of state in the Nixon and Ford administrations, said the United States should remove any troops that are not necessary to the American goal of stabilizing Iraq -- "But we cannot begin with an exit without having first defined what the objective is."

"If a radical government emerges in Baghdad or if any part of Iraq becomes what Afghanistan used to be, a training ground for terrorists, then this will be a catastrophe for the Islamic world and for Europe, much as they may -- reluctant as they may be to admit it -- and eventually for us."

U.S. losses have spiked sharply in August, with 54 Americans killed in Iraq since the beginning of the month. Iraq's transitional government faces a Monday deadline to present a proposed constitution for an October referendum, followed by elections for a permanent government.

President Bush poured cold water on talk of troop withdrawals last week, telling reporters at his Texas ranch that a premature withdrawal would send "a terrible signal to the enemy." He said U.S. troops are needed to train an Iraqi army and police force that can take responsibility for the country's security before they can leave.

But The Washington Post reported Sunday that the Bush administration "is significantly lowering expectations of what can be achieved" in Iraq.

Sen. Joseph Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a harsh critic of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, told NBC's "Meet the Press" that he agreed with that report.

"I think that the administration has significantly downgraded their expectations," said Biden, D-Delaware. "They have squandered about every opportunity to get it right."

Rumsfeld, Biden said, "should get his notice on Monday morning" after The New York Times reported that some U.S. troops in Iraq still do not have the body armor they need. If Rumsfeld worked for a corporation instead of the U.S. government, "He'd be fired by now," Biden said.

"It's frustrating, and it makes it hard to support this administration," he said.

Bush and other administration officials said the March 2003 invasion, which toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, was needed to strip of Iraq of weapons of mass destruction that it could provide to terrorists. Iraq was later determined to have abandoned its non-conventional weapons programs in the 1990s, though it had concealed some weapons-related research from U.N. inspectors.

The president now says establishing a stable, democratic Iraq will foster reforms in other Middle Eastern countries that will undercut support for terrorism.

More than 1,840 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since the invasion. Most have been killed battling a persistent insurgency that followed the collapse of Saddam's regime.

Biden, a likely Democratic presidential candidate, predicted that a democratic Iraq "will not happen in my lifetime." He said he was hoping instead for Iraq to become a secure nation "that's basically a representative government" and poses no threat to its neighbors. But he opposed calls for a quick U.S. withdrawal.

"If we withdraw immediately now, we're going to end up with a haven for terror -- the very thing that didn't exist before, becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy in the middle of a region that is of vital interest to us," he said.

And Sen. John McCain, a leading member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the United States needs more troops in Iraq, not fewer.

"The day that I can land at the airport in Baghdad and ride in an unarmed car down the highway to the Green Zone is the day that I'll start considering withdrawals from Iraq," said McCain, R-Arizona, another possible presidential contender in 2008.

Sen. Richard Lugar, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said U.S. commanders do not have enough troops to keep insurgents from returning to towns that American forces have cleaned out.

"When the withdrawal occurs, sometimes the insurgents return, and this comes from the fact that we cannot leave forces behind. They are at a premium to find other places," said Lugar, R-Indiana. He said the U.S. attitude has been "to get by with a minimum of force," but that more is needed.

However, he called it "very unlikely" that more U.S. troops will be dispatched to Iraq. Instead, he said, American commanders need to focus on training enough Iraqis to replace U.S. forces.

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