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With Honor: Melvin Laird in War, Peace, and Politics

Recorded on November 21, 2008

Location: The Heritage Foundation's Lehrman Auditorium

With the approaching announcement of the new President's Cabinet members, we are reminded of the singular importance they can play in the advancement of public policy.  Former Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird was just such an appointee.  In 1968, at the peak of the Vietnam War, the Republican Congressman from Wisconsin agreed to serve in Richard Nixon's Cabinet.  Laird knew that serving as Secretary of Defense was a move not likely to endear him to the American public.  But for the next four years, he deftly navigated the morass of the war he had inherited. 

In the first book to focus on Laird's legacy, Dale Van Atta reveals the central and often unrecognized role Laird played in managing the crisis of national identity sparked by the Vietnam War - and the challenges, ethical and political, that confronted him along the way.  Van Atta offers a portrait of a man striving for open government in an atmosphere fraught with secrecy.  He illuminates the inner workings of high politics: Laird's behind-the-scenes sparring with Kissinger over policy, his decisions to ignore Nixon's wilder directives, his formative impact on arms control and health care, his key role in the selection of Ford for Vice President, and his frustration with the country's abandonment of Vietnamization.

Watching Laird operate, I sometimes wondered if Nixon realized what he had gotten when he picked Laird.
       - Bob Schieffer, commentator on CBS's Face the Nation