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Rumsfeld Denies Iraq is 'Quagmire' for US - 2003-11-12

U.S. forces have been in Iraq for less than a year. But already some critics are warning the military's involvement could become another dangerous trap, like Vietnam. Such comparisons are rejected by top defense officials.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld bristles whenever reporters suggest U.S. military involvement in Iraq is threatening to become a Vietnam-like "quagmire." "I do not do quagmires," he asserted.

American forces in Iraq have been there nowhere near the length of time U.S. troops were engaged in Vietnam.

But regular talk by top officials like Mr. Rumsfeld about speeding the turnover of security responsibilities from U.S. soldiers to Iraqi personnel is reminiscent of what was dubbed the "Vietnamization" process.

About three decades ago, facing a rising toll of American battlefield casualties and growing political opposition to the war in Vietnam, the administration of then-President Richard Nixon sought to disengage U.S. combat forces gradually.

"Vietnamization" was the program to expand, equip, and train South Vietnam's forces and to assign them an ever-increasing combat role, while at the same time withdrawing American soldiers.

Mr. Rumsfeld is keenly aware of such unwelcome comparisons.

But even though the number of U.S. forces in Iraq is scheduled to decline while more and more Iraqis are being rushed into service as security personnel, the defense secretary denies the Bush administration's goal is an escape strategy.

"Let me be clear. The goal is not to reduce the number of U.S. forces in Iraq. It is not to develop an exit strategy. Our exit strategy in Iraq is success. It is that simple," he said.

And just to be sure his message is crystal clear, Mr. Rumsfeld repeats it.

"The objective is not to leave, the objective is to succeed in our mission," he stressed. "That is why we remain on the offense, doing - going after the terrorists and regime remnants, rooting them out and capturing them. And we are doing so with the help of a growing number of Iraqis, who are participating in the defense of their country."

But in another development reminiscent of the Vietnam era, administration officials are increasingly critical of the news media for reporting only, what they consider, bad news from Iraq.

Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters regularly that progress is being made, but is ignored by the press. "The American people were hearing plenty about terrorist bombings and sabotage, which exist, but precious little about the achievements that had been racked up by the brave men and women in both civilian and military who are serving in Iraq," he said.

But for weeks, the only news releases being issued on a regular basis to Pentagon reporters were those involving American casualties, bad news straight from official sources.

In recent days, though, the Pentagon has clearly realized it must do more to publicize the "good news." Reporters arriving at the Defense Department, for example, were greeted with an array of fresh releases - more than a dozen - each with an upbeat message.

One talked about a girls' school opening with the help of the U.S.-led coalition. Another reported how Iraqi citizens provided information to American troops that led to the seizure of a huge weapons cache.

Yet another reported a military initiative to allow Iraqis to take over as drivers on U.S. supply missions. That release stressed the initiative would help the local economy. But it also acknowledged letting Iraqis drive supply trucks would reduce the exposure of American soldiers to attacks.