Sunday, August 21, 2005

Republican senator likens Iraq war to Vietnam


Republican senator likens Iraq war to Vietnam

By Sue Pleming

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An influential Republican senator said on Sunday the longer the United States stayed bogged down in Iraq, the more the conflict looked like another Vietnam War.

"What I think the White House does not yet understand and some of my colleagues, is the dam has broken on this (Iraq) policy," said Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee and possible presidential candidate in 2008.

A decorated Vietnam War veteran, Hagel also said the war in Iraq had further destabilized the Middle East and the White House needed to find an exit strategy for Iraq.

Hagel's comments on ABC's "This Week," coincide with President George W. Bush's new offensive to counter growing public discontent over U.S. involvement in Iraq and calls for a pull-out date.

The White House rejected Hagel's remarks and said it was essential the United States complete its mission in Iraq.

"The president knows a free and democratic Iraq will help transform a dangerous region and lay the foundation of peace for our children and grandchildren," White House spokesman Trent Duffy said in Crawford, Texas.

"Our policies of the past only allowed the Middle East to become a terrorist breeding ground," he said. "Quitting now wouldn't help anyone except terrorist killers, who certainly aren't quitting their efforts to target innocent people."

Bush is taking his message on the road this week when he will invoke the September 11, 2001, attacks to contend that the United States must stay the course in Iraq.

But the public is showing more discontent with Bush's handling of Iraq, with high-profile protests during his Texas ranch vacation and new poll results showing growing concern over the outcome of the war.

Hagel said there were growing similarities between Iraq and U.S. involvement in Vietnam and he predicted the longer the United States stayed in Iraq the more unpopular it would become.

"We are locked into a bogged down problem not unsimilar or dissimilar to where we were in Vietnam. The longer we stay the more problems we are going to have," he said.


Republican Sen. George Allen of Virginia, speaking on the same program, strongly disagreed with Hagel's assessment and said there were huge differences between Iraq and Vietnam.

Allen backed the president's view that the Iraq war, which began in March 2003, was a focal point in America's war on terrorism after the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

"It is absolutely essential that we win it. We cannot tuck tail and run (from Iraq). We have to prevail. We must win. If we lose, that will destabilize the Middle East," said Allen.

Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin broke ranks with many of his colleagues this week and called for a December 2006 deadline to withdraw from Iraq, arguing this would take the wind out of the sails of the insurgency.

In an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press," Feingold said if a target date was not set the American public would become more and more disillusioned.

"The president is not telling us the time frame ... what's happening is that the American public is despairing of the situation," said Feingold. "I felt it was time to put on the table an idea and break the taboo," he added.

But fellow Democrat Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico, disagreed and said a fixed timetable was not needed.

"The senator (Feingold) is understandably frustrated, like all America is. What we need in Iraq is either a strategy to win or a strategy to get out," he told ABC.

Feingold and Allen are also on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Hagel also did not back Feingold's approach but he said there needed to be a clearer strategy from the White House.

"I don't know how many more casualties we're going to take. We're spending a billion dollars a week now (in Iraq)," said Hagel.

More than 1,800 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq and thousands more have been wounded.

"We should start figuring out how we get out of there. But with this understanding, we cannot leave a vacuum that further destabilizes the Middle East," said Hagel.