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Kosovo Air Campaign, 1999

Wednesday, October 20, 2004; Page A08

In supporting the U.S.-led intervention in Kosovo four years later, Kerry tried to distinguish the action from the Vietnam War. He went out of his way to praise the senators who voted against the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which gave President Lyndon B. Johnson a blank check to escalate the Vietnam War, even as he explained why the situation before him differed from the one 35 years earlier.

"One of the great lessons of the Vietnam period," he said that day, was to keep faith with the troops by sticking to a decision once it is made to send them into combat. "If you are going to commit American forces, you make the decisions at the outset about what you are trying to achieve, and . . . you do so with the understanding that you are committed to achieving the goals that you have set out." The only way that the Balkans would become another Vietnam, he added, would be through a "lack of resolve and pursuit."

(Franco Debernardi -- AP)

Kerry even went so far as to praise President Richard M. Nixon's decision to carry out the 1972 bombing offensive against North Vietnam, launched after peace negotiations in Paris broke down. "I hated it back then, but I have come to understand that there are, in fact, sometimes things that do speak and make a difference to certain people. . . . I have learned that that did help make a difference," he said.

Kerry didn't say explicitly what he meant, but less than a month after the U.S. bombing campaign, North Vietnam signed the Paris accords, under which the remaining U.S. forces were withdrawn and U.S. prisoners of war were returned.

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