A primer from the past for Iraq diplomacy

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As President Bush and Congress fight over his plan for a military surge in Iraq, they might do well to study the lessons of diplomacy from quagmires past.

Diplomats, historians and activists who have studied the wars in Vietnam and Lebanon say the history of negotiations in those conflicts can be instructive in finding a way out of Iraq.

"It's a silly argument to say you shouldn't talk to Iran and Syria," said Winston Lord, a top aide to U.S. National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger during the Vietnam War negotiations in Paris that resulted in the Jan. 27, 1973, accord and led to the final U.S. troop withdrawal. "Of course you do, much in the same way as in Paris," Lord said.

The Vietnam negotiations started in March 1968, and dragged on for nearly five years. While the talks initially were unpopular among Americans, with opponents calling them a prelude to "cutting and running," support grew as war casualties mounted.

"The negotiations took much longer than any of us expected, but by the end of it almost everyone in (the United States) was in favor," said Tom Hayden, the former California state legislator, who during the Vietnam era was a leader of the anti-war movement and met several times in Paris with U.S. and North Vietnamese negotiators.

"It was known among the U.S. chattering class as 'talk-talk-fight-fight,' which is what they called the North's position, but the United States was doing the same thing, hoping to break down the will of the other side while talks went on," said Hayden...

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