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Lessons for Nixon

The Limits of Intervention

by Townsend Hoopes
David McKay, 245 pp., $5.95

Spiro Agnew
Spiro Agnew; drawing by David Levine

The United States may have yet to lose a war, but it is an illusion to believe that it has never suffered defeat. Vietnam is our third in Asia, as Castro’s Cuba is our second in Latin America. In his book, The Limits of Intervention, Townsend Hoopes tells us that Johnson, after campaigning as a peace candidate in 1964, ordered combat troops into Vietnam in 1965 because he did not wish to become “the first American President to lose a war.” Nixon nine months after his election said the same thing to Stewart Alsop of Newsweek, to the joy of Brother Joe.

But Vietnam is not the first example of the limits on our power to intervene. The Chinese Nationalists were driven off the mainland despite a small army of American military advisers, arsenals stocked with American arms and several billion dollars in aid. In the Korean war, primitively armed Chinese Communist “volunteers” pushed us back from the Yalu to the 38th Parallel and reoccupied North Korea even after we had completely crushed the North Korean armies and levelled just about everything above ground. In the perspective of Asia, these were victorious stages in the ebb-tide of white imperialism, which began with Japan’s defeat of Russia in 1905. In the perspective of American policy, China, Korea, and Vietnam are warnings that we cannot add Asia to Latin America as our imperial sphere of influence.

Even in the contiguous areas of Latin America, we have not had everything our own way. Long before the Green Berets and the CIA, US Marines and operatives, whether governmental or from US big business, dominated the political life of Central America and the Caribbean. Yet Mexico was a series of defeats for the military-economic warfare an earlier generation of American anti-imperialists called gunboat and dollar diplomacy. From the bombardment of Vera Cruz in 1913 under Wilson to the world-wide blockade we imposed on Mexican oil under FDR, we were unable to stem the successive stages of a nationalist and peasant revolt that seized—and kept—millions of dollars in US land and oil properties. Fidel was not the first to defy Yanqui Imperialism and get away with it. Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy—at the Bay of Pigs—had to swallow the bitter pill of political-military defeat, and did so rather than gamble on longer and wider war. Nixon will be in good company if he has to do likewise in Vietnam.

The adjustment to reality is always painful, the recovery from illusion is never smooth, and relapses are normal. Hoopes spells out the process brilliantly in his account-from-within of how Johnson was finally led to de-escalate the war, and then began to regret it, as Nixon seems to be doing now. His memoir is given added value because Hoopes is a defector who had two decades of intimate association with the buildup of the military juggernaut which has come a cropper in Vietnam. “I too,” he writes, “was a child of the cold war.” In 1947-48 he was assistant to the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, the military’s chief outpost on Capitol Hill. He went from there to the Pentagon, as an assistant to James Forrestal, the first Secretary of Defense, a fanatical cold warrior. He stayed on in the Pentagon as young man of all work for his three successors, Louis Johnson, General Marshall, and Robert Lovett. In 1957 he became secretary to the Military Panel of the Rockefeller Brothers Special Study Project and, with Henry Kissinger, he was a principal draftsman of its report on military policy. He calls this “the pioneering effort” to replace massive retaliation with “the concept of graduated deterrence and flexible response.”

This was also, though he does not say so, a blueprint for the military requirements needed to police the world and protect American business and other interests against a wide range of threats, in a time of revolutionary turmoil. Symbolically and practically it came naturally from a study project set up by the Rockefeller Brothers, for it was tailored to the needs of the private empire Standard Oil and Chase Manhattan administer. For them it made no sense to have a muscle-bound military machine which could only threaten a universal nuclear Doomsday when somebody made a pass at their oil wells in Peru.

They finally got from the Democrats what the economy-minded Eisenhower Administration denied them. Under Kennedy and McNamara the armed forces were reshaped to meet the varying levels of violence required for a Pax Americana and it was under McNamara that Hoopes returned to the Pentagon in 1965 as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, i.e., No. 2 man in the Pentagon’s own little State Department. This gradually, and his story shows how and why, became infested with doves while the State Department under Rusk remained a nest of hawks. He then moved up to Under Secretary of the Air Force during 1967-69. Thus his return to the Pentagon coincided with Johnson’s decision to Americanize the Vietnam war and he stayed on under Clark Clifford and helped to turn that policy around. It is quite a conversion when a man of this background describes the Vietnamese war as the beginning of the end for the Pax Americana, though he phrases it less bluntly—

as the probable high watermark of America’s tidal impulse to political military intervention in the period following the Second World War.

He sees the war also as marking the end of “a doctrinaire anti-Communism, a social evangelism forming around the idea of American-financed economic development in the Third World and an unquestioning faith in the ultimate efficacy of military alliances and of US military power.”

Vietnam was our biggest war of intervention. It cost easily a $100 billion. It tied down close to 800,000 men in and around Southeast Asia. It cost more casualties than any war except the Civil War and the two World Wars. It is not strange that the disillusion should also have momentous dimensions, though this has only begun to dawn on the principal actors and even on some of the dissenters, who still regard Vietnam as no more than a blunder.

Perhaps the most important lesson to be drawn from the experience is that the bigger and more diverse a nation’s military establishment the bigger and more diverse the troubles it will get that nation into. Iceland may be indignant over what is happening in Southeast Asia but it is fortunately helpless to do anything about it. Johnson got into Vietnam when and because we were ready to get in. “By 1965,” Hoopes writes, “McNamara’s prodigious labors to strengthen and broaden the US military posture were about completed…US ‘general purpose’ forces were now organized to intervene swiftly and with modern equipment in conflicts of limited scope, well below the nuclear threshold.”

The Rockefeller Brothers report on military policy had recommended the reorganization of the armed services into functional commands, which combined naval, air, and army contingents. One such was to be a strike command, framed for swift and distant interventions. Accordingly STRIKECOM—another of those Pentagon acronymic monsters—had been set up, directly under the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and ready at the President’s hand, like the thunderbolts of a new Jove.

This new military capability, Hoopes writes,

had been designed precisely to arrest or restore those deteriorating situations in the world where important or vital US interests were judged to be engaged, to deal with ambiguous subversion-aggressions characterized by little warning and a low silhouette, to blunt national liberation wars.

(How antiseptic it all sounds in the vocabulary of the Pentagon!) Hoopes continues, “To a rational activist like McNamara, with a very thin background in foreign affairs, it seemed entirely logical to employ a portion of this immense US power if that could arrest the spreading erosion in South Vietnam.” In retrospect what McNamara lacked was not a firmer background in foreign affairs, but in human and political understanding. To McNamara the outcome seemed certain. “Surely,” as Hoopes explains, “the use of limited US power, applied with care and precision, but with the threat of more to come, would bring a realistic Ho Chi Minh to early negotiations.” How do you quantify for a computer the irreducible logic and power of men willing to die?

So the means lay at hand for Johnson’s natural pugnacity, and we plunged into the quagmire. What I want to suggest here is that one may deduce from the experience some fundamental axioms of statecraft and history. One is that a large military establishment must justify its existence by finding work to do. The other is that nations which have spent huge sums on a large military establishment will react to complex economic, social, and political problems by trying to solve them with force. What’s the good of all those billions spent on such highly perfected military instruments if you don’t use them? So if you have a STRIKECOM, you are bound sooner or later to have a Vietnam.

Hoopes’s disillusion began early. At the end of 1965 he sent a memorandum to the late John T. McNaughton, then his superior as Assistant Secretary of State for International Security Affairs, which showed an insidious skepticism. He expressed his doubts about the view held “by Lodge, probably Westmoreland and maybe McNamara” that the Viet Cong would just “fade away” when they realized they could not win, making negotiation unnecessary. This is still Secretary Rogers’s favorite bedtime story, as it was Rusk’s. Hoopes thought the USSR and China too deeply committed to allow the US any such clear-cut victory. He had the temerity to suggest that were the situation reversed and 150,000 Chinese Communists in Mexico, “it seems reasonable to believe the US would be determined to fight for decades and even generations to expel them.”

Such objectivity was downright subversive, but it began to spread. By the spring of 1967 McNaughton came back from a White House conference on the war to tell him acidly, “We seem to be proceeding on the assumption that the way to eradicate the Viet Cong is to destroy all the village structures, defoliate all the jungles, and then cover the entire surface of South Vietnam with asphalt.”

Hoopes recorded a similar satiric comment in late 1967 from the famous Major Be, a South Vietnamese officer who got himself fired because he really tried to win “hearts and minds” to the detriment of province chiefs more interested in getting their rake-off from “pacification.” “Everyone is a Communist,” Major Be said of the methods used to “pacify” the villages. “Using the police way, every Vietnamese [in the countryside] would have to be killed and our villages repopulated with Americans.” There was nothing wrong in Southeast Asia which could not be cured by removing Vietnam and the Vietnamese.

Later that year, in his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the futility of bombing the North, McNamara jolted Johnson into complaining, “that military genius, McNamara, has gone dovish on me.” He found himself promoted to head of the World Bank, although its directors had just voted to keep George Wood in office for another year until the end of 1968. “The most Byzantine of American Presidents,” Hoopes comments, “had given McNamara a fast shuffle, and had gauged his man’s character, inner ambivalence and fatigue well enough to be confident that he would go quietly and suffer the indignity in silence.” Thus do men put their loyalty to their bureaucratic team over their loyalty to their country.

It was not safe in the Pentagon to speak one’s doubts aloud until the Têt offensive in February, 1968. It showed the idiocy of Westmoreland’s view that war was neither strategy nor art but simply extermination, as in termite control. “The doctrine of search-and-destroy,” Hoopes writes, “had resulted in scattering US forces all over uninhabited border lands; the Têt offensive had made blindingly clear the fatuousness of Westmoreland’s ground strategy.”

Têt led to a miniature rising in the halls of the Pentagon. The offensive, Hoopes reports, “performed the curious service of fully revealing the doubters and dissenters to each other, in a lightning flash.” Even that veteran “Prussian” cold warrior Paul Nitze, who had succeeded Cyrus Vance as No. 2 man in the Pentagon, suddenly spoke out—i.e., within the Pentagon—on “the unsoundness of reinforcing weakness” and the need to review Vietnam in the light of American commitments elsewhere. Paul Warnke thought Têt showed our military strategy was “foolish to the point of insanity.” Alain Enthoven of the Systems Analysis office used to explain to reporters how a certain quantity of military input would produce an equally certain quantity of guerrilla “output” until the computer curve happily reduced them to zero. Now he began to say “I fell off the boat when the troop level reached 170,000.” The revolt had spread from the Mekong to the Potomac.

The man who precipitated the turn-around on Vietnam was General Westmoreland, with his request in February, 1968, for 206,000 more troops, 100,000 of them in sixty days. This had the full support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. At a Pentagon conference called by McNamara—his last—to discuss this request, the body count nonsense finally boomeranged in a big way. Secretary of The Navy Paul Ignatius wanted to know why Westmoreland needed so many men in a hurry when we were supposed to have killed 30,000 enemy troops since Têt.

The cost estimates were shocking. McNamara figured that to meet Westmoreland’s request would require calling up 400,000 more men for military service and adding $10 billion a year to the $30 billion already being spent on the Vietnam war. Worst of all, there was little reason to believe even these sharp increases would bring victory any closer. In a memorandum to McNamara’s successor, Clark Clifford, Hoopes pointed out that based on the manpower ratios in three years of war, the enemy could neutralize an increase of 206,000 in our forces by adding a mere 50,000 to his own.

The final blow was delivered by Dean Acheson, whom Johnson trusted as a veteran cold warrior and hardliner. “With all due respect, Mr. President,” Acheson told him in a remark which should serve as a warning to all future incumbents of the White House, “the Joint Chiefs of Staff don’t know what they’re talking about.” This salutary discovery had by then cost $100 billion and some 30,000 lives.

By now the story of how hawks like McGeorge Bundy, Cyrus Vance, and Douglas Dillon among Johnson’s senior advisers lost faith in the war has been sufficiently told, though the task of distilling its lessons has hardly begun and not only Acheson but even Clifford have been drawn to some extent into Nixon’s camp.1 The debacle and the belated awakening were only the latest variant in the old fairy tale about the Emperor’s clothes. Is it inevitable in any bureaucracy that few men will be found willing to risk advancement or influence by speaking the truth until the disaster has reached such proportions it can no longer be ignored even by the cowardly and self-serving? How do you design a system for courage? What levers can be substituted for the pull of careerism?

Even now the more important part of the story, because it continues under the Nixon administration, is that “these prodigious efforts,” as Hoopes writes, “did not really change President Johnson’s mind about the Vietnam war.” In retrospect the period between March 31, 1968, when Johnson deescalated the bombing of the North, to November 3, 1969, when Nixon threatened to re-escalate the war, appears as a rearguard action to appease anti-war sentiment at home while hoping for victory, military or political, abroad.

The Joint Chiefs may not know what they’re talking about, but virtually the same Chiefs remained at Johnson’s elbow and at Nixon’s. General Wheeler, who also wanted 206,000 troops sent to South Vietnam, is still Chairman and the only change is hardly for the better—Westmoreland is now Army Chief of Staff, a post to which he was promoted by Johnson. There is no sign that the quality or the tenor of their advice has changed. The civilian rebels have left the government, their job half-done, but the same military bureaucrats are in power, still hoping to snatch a political victory from a military stalemate, or even to escalate the conflict again if they cannot get it. The prestige and future of our huge military establishment is at stake, and its managers may prefer to gamble on a wider war rather than admit that the biggest military machine in human history couldn’t win a third-rate war against ill-armed guerrillas with no air force or napalm.

The whole story of Johnson’s limited bombing halt has yet to be told. In retrospect, Hoopes notes, it appears that the hardliners “assumed that Hanoi would give a negative response” since it had always insisted on a total halt as a condition for talks. Hoopes does not say so but a rejection of the Johnson offer could have been made a new excuse for wider bombing. Hanoi surprised Washington by agreeing to talk on the basis of the limited bombing halt, though insisting the talks could only be to arrange a full cessation.

Maxwell Taylor, with the support of Rostow and the Joint Chiefs, began to bombard the President with memoranda on how serious were the military consequences of the limited bombing halt, while Clifford, Harriman, and Vance pressed for a total halt in the bombing of the North since the other side refused to negotiate until it ended. The controversy was bedevilled by the fiction that the bombing halt increased casualties, though as Hoopes wrote in a letter to Clifford, “Present US casualty levels are a function of the US ground strategy in the South; they are only distantly related to the bombing.”

Johnson delayed the start of negotiations more than a month by a ludicrous squabble over where to meet, though he had often said he was ready to “meet anywhere, at any time.” By autumn, Hoopes reveals, Johnson was telling Clifford “that his primary purpose was now to leave his successor with ‘the best possible military posture in Vietnam”‘! This was not the remark of a President who took negotiations seriously or had stopped listening to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“Clifford argued,” Hoopes discloses, “that, for the sake of the President’s ultimate standing before the bar of history, he ought to want something much broader and more positive, namely, to leave his successor, ‘an ongoing, substantial negotiation, firmly committed to ending the war and reducing the American involvement in Vietnam.”‘ Though Johnson finally ordered a total halt in bombing the North in October, it was followed by a sharp stepup in the bombing of Laos and the South, and in offensive operations on the ground to extend the areas under Saigon’s control.

Hoopes says that as the Johnson Administration left office, ambivalence was at the heart of its Vietnam policy. “Were we in Paris,” he asks, “to negotiate a political compromise on the clearly accepted premise that military victory was infeasible? Or were we there to stone-wall Hanoi in the belief that, given enough time, we could grind out something resembling a military victory in South Vietnam and thus avoid the dangers, and the further affronts to our prestige, that would attend a compromise political settlement?” The ambivalence has developed into something worse with Nixon’s November 3 speech. Clearly the second alternative is his aim. He still seeks a political victory, and says he is willing to re-escalate if necessary to get it.

The strategy of victory through de-escalation began to be formulated many months before the Têt debacle. As far back as November, 1966, Westmoreland in Saigon told Tom Braden, then editor of the Oceanside, California, Blade-Tribune, that war weariness at home might be dealt with by reducing US combat operations to 100 a week, or about the level—the General added charmingly—of the annual toll from auto accidents. An unnamed General I now believe to have been Westmoreland told an off-the-record briefing of correspondents here in Washington more than a year ago that the fighting would be reduced to a level the American public would tolerate for a long pull.

A secret scenario by Herman Kahn for appeasing the peaceniks while holding out for victory began to circulate in the capital last year. Its main outlines were indicated by his article “If Negotiations Fail” in Foreign Affairs for July, 1968. There he proposed to “reduce US forces in the next two or three years to between two and three hundred thousand men,” while building up the capacity of the ARVN forces to counter hostilities “with air, artillery and logistic support” by the United States. “To deter a resumption of major hostilities,” Kahn also proposed, “the US stations one or two divisions in South Vietnam for a considerable period.” That sounds like a preview of Laird’s “residual force” and Nixon’s “Vietnamization.”

In retrospect there appears to be a clear continuity between the Johnson and Nixon Administrations. The theme of “Vietnamization” appeared in Johnson’s “abdication” address of March 31, 1968, though little noticed at the time. “We shall accelerate the re-equipment of South Vietnam’s armed forces,” Johnson said, “—in order to meet the enemy’s increased firepower. This will enable them progressively to undertake a larger share of combat operations against the Communist invaders.” Johnson’s warning that we would not accept “a fake solution” foreshadowed Nixon’s insistence that a political settlement must include acceptance of the Thieu-Ky regime.

Even the new Agnew-Nixon campaign against dissenters can be traced back to Johnson. It recalls his ferocious attack before the National Farmers Union in Minneapolis on March 18, 1968, on those who would “cut and run” and “tuck our tail and violate our commitments.” In that speech, like Agnew and Nixon more recently, Johnson pictured a plot to divide America and obtain by treachery here what the enemy could not win on the battlefield. So long as the enemy, Johnson said, “feels that he can win something by propaganda in the country—that he can undermine the leadership—that he can bring down the government—that he can get something in the Capital that he can’t get from our men out there—he is going to keep on trying. But I point out to you that the time has come when we ought to unite, when we ought to stand up and be counted….” This is the same nonsense Nixon elaborated when he said, “Let us be united for peace. Let us be united against defeat. Because let us understand; North Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans can do that.”

This is a new stab in the back myth to absolve the Joint Chiefs and the military bureaucracy for their military and political incompetence. From this common Johnson-Nixon premise, it is a step to Agnew’s call at Harrisburg, Pa., October 30, for the polarization of the country and for separating these insidious traitors “from our society—with no more regret than we should feel over discarding rotten apples in a barrel.” Even the so-called Guam Doctrine may be traced to Johnson. Less than a month after his “abdication” he was telling General Park of South Korea at their meeting in Honolulu (April 17, 1968), “We wish to see Asia—like Europe—take an increasing responsibility for shaping its own destiny. And we intend and we mean to help it do so.”

The Hoopes book shows how isolated Johnson had become, and how hard it was for contrary opinion to get past the Rostow barrier. Nixon is similarly situated, and the hawks are at his ear and elbow, too. William S. White is a credible witness on this point, for he is himself a hawk. In a recent column (Washington Post, October 4) he said word had passed to Senate hawks like Tower and Goldwater “that if remorselessly driven to it by final enemy refusal to talk reason and by unbroken dove assault upon the present American posture of marked conciliation, the President has a clear option.” This, White went on, “would be not only to halt the process of troop withdrawal but also to order American offensive action on a scale far heavier than is currently seen.” A month later just such a threat appeared in the November 3 speech when Nixon said, “If the level of infiltration or our own casualties increase…I shall not hesitate to take strong and effective measures to deal with that situation.” If this means anything at all, it is a threat to re-escalate.2

White was skeptical about re-escalation but felt there were “certain objective and undeniable realities that point in this direction.” The first and greatest of these, White wrote, is the fact that “those members of the White House palace guard who are openly hawkish are far closer to his [Nixon’s] elbow every time the hard outlines of this dilemma are put down on the table for discussion than are those more or less dovish members of his entourage.” “To be specific,” White said, “the big men on foreign crisis” are never Secretary of State Rogers or Under Secretary Richardson. “Always they are, instead, such as Henry Kissinger…and a man not much connected with foreign affairs, Attorney General John Mitchell.” If the Nixon policy creates more dissent, Mitchell is the man to deal with it and the men he has gathered around him in the Justice Department do not seem likely to let the First Amendment stand in his way.

While Rostow kept telling Johnson he was just like Lincoln, somebody—probably Kissinger—has been suggesting to Nixon that he is Woodrow Wilson. The November 3 speech escalated the rhetoric of the war. It is now another war to end war, with Ho Chi Minh cast as the Kaiser. The Nixon dramaturgy recalls Marx’s famous remark in the 18th Brumaire that history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce. But it may be a costly farce, if Nixon is not forced to cool it.

His November 3 speech began by distorting the origins of the Vietnamese war and ended by distorting the significance of Ho Chi Minh’s final private letter to him. Any unwary listener would be led to believe that the Vietnamese war began fifteen years ago with a Communist aggression to which Eisenhower replied with the first US commitment of aid. The fact is that fifteen years ago Nixon was doing his best to keep peace from breaking out in Indochina. This has been Nixon’s pet war for a long time. In the fall of 1953 he went to Indochina and tried to persuade the French not to negotiate. Fifteen years ago, just before the Geneva conference opened, Nixon told the American Society of Newspaper Editors—in a famous “not for attribution” speech that leaked—that we ought to “put our boys” into Indochina if necessary to prevent a peace settlement from being made.

The interventionist plans of Nixon, Admiral Radford, and John Foster Dulles were vetoed by Eisenhower, after an astringent report from General Ridgway. “Having avoided one total war with Red China the year before in Korea when he had United Nations support,” Sherman Adams comments in his memoirs, “he [Eisenhower] was in no mood to provoke another one in Indochina.” It was a measure of Nixon’s fanaticism, or cynicism, or both that he was asking Eisenhower to plunge into a second Asian land war only a year after Ike had been elected—and kept his pledge—to end another. Nixon showed himself no man to wait for majorities, silent or otherwise. An Indochina war on the heels of Korea would have torn this country apart.

Nixon’s speech was as deceitful in discussing the letter he sent to Ho Chi Minh last summer and the letter with which Ho replied a few days before his death. Nixon read his letter but not Ho’s on TV, saying that Ho “flatly rejected my initiative.” But there was no initiative in Nixon’s letter and no flat rejection in Ho’s.

The latter, as Muskie pointed out in a little noticed Senate speech November 7, was couched in conciliatory language and embodied distinct negotiating concessions. It referred to the ten points of the NLF as a “logical and reasonable basis” for settlement rather than as the “only correct basis” as many earlier statements from Hanoi had done. It referred to “the right of the population of the South [our italics] and of the Vietnamese nation to dispose of themselves without foreign influence.” This was not too different, Muskie pointed out, from Nixon’s insistence that “the people of South Vietnam” have “an opportunity to choose their own future.” Ho’s concluding sentence—“with good will on both sides, we might arrive at common efforts in view of finding a correct solution to the Vietnam problem”—was as Muskie said “probably as forthcoming a generality as the old revolutionary had ever addressed to a western leader at any time in his long lifetime.”

Muskie also gave Nixon low marks for discretion. “I cannot see how the goal of a negotiated peace,” he told an almost empty Senate chamber, “is promoted by the publication of private diplomatic exchanges. I cannot see how Ambassador Lodge’s task of getting meaningful private discussions under way is served by revealing the eleven times he has been able to meet with the Communist representatives to date.”

One can only conclude that Nixon does not want successful negotiations, for these would involve political compromise. Hoopes spelled out the course Nixon is trying to avoid. In a memorandum to Clifford shortly after the latter took office, Hoopes proposed “a cessation of the bombing to get talks started, as soon as we have regained our military poise [i.e., after Têt]; a shift of our forces to the primary task of protecting the population centers; willingness to talk to the NLF and to accept a coalition government; organization of the international community, including especially the Soviet Union, to guarantee the military neutralization of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia; and ultimately the phased withdrawal of US forces.”

To focus solely on a piecemeal and suspiciously indefinite withdrawal, as Nixon does, is to dodge the hard issues of negotiation and lull the US public into believing that peace is on the way. “Vietnamization” means handing over the future of South Vietnam not to its people but to a discredited military junta, one that jails or brushes aside those very elements that are ready to negotiate with the NLF.3 It is not a new policy, a thoughtful reaction to America’s military and political defeat, but an effort to retreat to earlier policies, though these have already proved a failure. It was because a decade of “Vietnamization” under Diem and his successors failed to work that we finally took over the combat operations from which we would now like to disengage.

It is to Hoopes’s credit that unlike Clifford he argues that there is no real alternative to complete withdrawal, not only of combat troops but also of the 200,000 or more support and air forces Clifford would leave in indefinitely. Hoopes sees partial withdrawal as “a prescription for an interminable war; partially disguised by the declining level of US participation.” He concludes by warning that it would “in fact require our country to sustain a continuing burden of war casualties and heavy dollar costs that would become explicitly open-ended as we levelled off our forces at 100,000 men or thereabouts.”

Sooner or later, he says,

The American people would reawaken to the fact that they were still committed to the endless support of a group of men in Saigon who represented nobody but themselves, preferred war to the risks of a political settlement, and could not remain in power more than a few months without our large-scale presence.

These are lessons Nixon still refuses to learn.

  1. 1

    In a disturbing speech (Washington Star, October 15) Clifford attacked the Goodell resolution for withdrawal of all troops, combat and support, by the end of 1970 as “unrealistic and impractical,” said it would lead to a “bloodbath” in South Vietnam, and declared the country had “a moral obligation” to support Vietnamization of the war. The speech, in a local Washington school, was meant to be off the record but was reported by a Washington Star reporter who happened to be present. One result of the speech seems to have been that it torpedoed Fulbright’s plan for hearings on the Goodell resolution with Clifford, Harriman, and Cyrus Vance as the first witnesses. The hearings were called off after it became clear that Clifford would oppose the resolution. 

  2. 2

    A glimpse of what the Nixon Administration may be planning can be read in a curious recent Gallup poll (Washington Post, October 19). This tested public reaction to a proposal which had not hitherto been broached publicly: “The U S would keep aircraft carriers off the coast of Vietnam, to help insure that North Vietnam does not send troops or war material into. South Vietnam.” Where did Gallup get this ominous idea? It was presented as part three of a new three-part peace plan (internationally supervised elections and withdrawal of “troops”—combat only?—within twelve months were the other two provisions). The plan won 54 percent approval. Equally tantalizing and perhaps related are certain brief items in the news recently about US aircraft carriers steaming out of various ports here and abroad so rapidly that part of their crews were left ashore. 

  3. 3

    A substantial non-Communist pro-peace grouping seems to have made its appearance in Saigon and among the exiles in Paris under the leadership of General “Big” Minh and Senator Tran Van Don, the General who led the overthrow of Diem and won a larger vote than any other candidate in the Senate elections. He is head of a Front of National Preservation which could form the basis of an alternative government. In Paris, where the peace forces can speak more freely, its tenor was indicated by a manifesto issued on November 1, South Vietnam’s National Day, which celebrates the overthrow of Diem. “It is only by a broad union of forces,” the manifesto said, “that we can clearly show the government of the United States that for patriotic Vietnamese the card of anti-Communism has long lost its power in the face of the suffering of the South Vietnamese population under American bombardment.” (Le Monde, November 1).