- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 15, 2000

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei Soon to be the first American president to visit Hanoi, capital of communist Vietnam, President Clinton said yesterday he is more sympathetic about Lyndon Johnson's escalation of the war there.
"He did what he thought was right," said Mr. Clinton, a college war protester who avoided military service.
In an interview with the Associated Press aboard Air Force One on a trip that will make him the first American president to visit since the war ended in 1975, Mr. Clinton said, "I now see how hard it was" for President Johnson.
When Mr. Johnson took office in 1963, the United States had 16,000 military personnel in South Vietnam. U.S. troop strength grew to 536,100 by time Mr. Johnson left office in 1969 and more than 30,000 Americans were killed in action while Mr. Johnson was president.
"I believe he did what he thought was right under the circumstances," Mr. Clinton said. "These decisions are hard. And one of the things I have learned, too, is when you decide to employ force, there will always be unintended consequences."
The president avoided saying whether he holds second thoughts about his 1969 description of the war as one he despised.
Instead, he said he is glad "the American people have been able to look to the future" in relations with Vietnam.
Mr. Clinton spoke en route to an economic summit in Brunei with leaders of Pacific Rim nations. Relaxing in a leather seat, wearing jeans and a jacket embroidered with his name and the presidential seal, he was in high spirits even though it was nearly 1 a.m.
As a student at Oxford University in England, Mr. Clinton was a chief organizer of two anti-war rallies in London in 1969 and, back home, helped organize a huge march on Washington.
He said the United States does not owe Vietnam an apology for its involvement in the war, and that no one should say the 58,000 Americans and the 3 million Vietnamese who were killed lost their lives in vain. "I don't think any person is fit to make that judgment," he said.
"People fight honorably for what they believe in and they lose their lives," the president said. "No one has a right to say that those lives were wasted. I think that would be a travesty."
Mr. Clinton is to attend the APEC summit that begins today before traveling to Vietnam.
At the economic conference, some leaders such as Mr. Clinton may be taking a break from political uncertainties at home. But the group of Pacific Rim nations face an array of economic problems high oil prices, the prospect of new world trade talks and the boom in e-commerce.
Asia is well on the road to recovery from its economic crisis, but leaders must grapple with some difficulties and are seeking to push China's bid to enter the World Trade Organization.
The 21 APEC economies, ranging from giants such as the United States and Japan to poorer partners like Peru and Vietnam, are expected to grow by 4.3 percent this year but economists warn that persistent high oil prices could cut those prospects.
APEC economic and foreign ministers held two days of talks that wrapped up Monday.
The discussions likely centered on APEC's plans to urge the World Trade Organization to open a new round of global trade talks, following last year's disastrous meeting in Seattle, where poor nations resisted efforts to include environmental protection and workers rights in any new negotiations.
The Seattle talks collapsed with rioting outside a scene since repeated at other global economic conferences. Brunei made it obvious that anti-globalization activists are not welcome.
U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky pushed to start new WTO talks by next year but could not convince Malaysia's Minister for International Trade and Industry, Rafidah Aziz, who balked at setting a deadline and insisted on an agenda before any talks begin.
The APEC summit is the last for Mr. Clinton, who is credited with starting the annual sessions. After the summit, he will fly to Vietnam on an unprecedented mission to heal old war wounds.

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