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Nearly 40 years ago I sat in front of my television with millions of other Americans and watched President Lyndon Johnson make the promise that he would not send American boys to do the job of South Vietnamese boys.

Eventually, he did just that. You know the rest.

President Bush is on the cusp of just such a decision and just such a promise — this time in Iraq.

The issue is not whether to wage and how to win a war against Saddam Hussein. The issue is what comes next.

Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress (an exile dissident group waiting to take over for Hussein) — argues in The Wall Street Journal that the Bush plan to leave American military administrators in Baghdad for up to two years is a mistake.

I think almost anybody would recognize that an American general in charge of Iraq for a short time is a reality that will not change, but I think Chalabi is right.

An American military administration of the new Iraq for anything longer than the bare minimum might very well be the mistake that turns a victory into something far less desirable.

I don't know if it would be a disaster, but I do know it would engender even more Arab resentment and anger towards the U.S. It will convince the many viewers of Al Jazeera who despise Hussein and want to see him gone, that the Americans are the new British colonialists — not the liberators.

I think President Bush might want to make Johnson's promise all over again about post-war Iraq. He should then keep that promise, and turn Iraq over to Iraqis ASAP.

Keep the win a victory. Don't let it morph into a sorry and unwanted postscript to an otherwise good story.

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