Thursday, November 17, 2016

Melvin Laird, RIP

A blast from the past:
Melvin R. Laird, a former congressman who served as President Richard M. Nixon’s defense secretary at the height of the Vietnam War and designed policies that eventually led to the American withdrawal from combat operations, died Nov. 16 at a hospital in Fort Myers, Fla. He was 94.

The cause was complications from congestive heart failure, said a son, David Laird.

A shrewd and influential Wisconsin Republican, Mr. Laird became his party’s leading expert on military affairs during his 16 years in the House of Representatives.

Out of party loyalty, he reluctantly agreed to leave Congress and become defense secretary in January 1969, at a moment when U.S. troop strength in Vietnam — around 550,000 — was nearing its peak. During his four years at the Pentagon, Mr. Laird dramatically reduced U.S. troop involvement in the conflict, supported the cause of bringing home U.S. prisoners of war held under horrible conditions in North Vietnam and worked to end the deeply unpopular draft.
Laird represented the 7th District in Wisconsin, a vast area in the north and central part of the state. He was an old school guy and he looked like one even then. I remember seeing a lot of Laird on television when I was young, because he was regularly in the news. He wasn't as controversial a figure as his predecessor at Defense, Robert McNamara, but he had a plan and he stuck to it. Among Nixon's men, he was one of the few who was completely free of the taint of scandal. He was an advocate for openness and accountability in the federal government, which was also at odds with how Nixon preferred to operate. And once he left Washington, he didn't cash in as a lobbyist. Instead, he went to work for Reader's Digest. I don't know that you can find many people in Washington like Melvin Laird anymore. Would that we could.

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