The Bomb Will Backfire on Iran
Tehran Will Go Nuclear—and Regret It
It seems more and more likely that the logic of the situation in Viet Nam will, within the next several months, push the United States into an invasion of North Viet Nam. The vast increase in both American manpower and firepower since 1965 has resulted in heavy casualties for the communist side, but neither the Viet Cong nor the North Vietnamese are about to collapse. On the contrary, as their recent offensive against the cities so dramatically demonstrated, they have the capacity to strike back almost anywhere, provided they have time for the necessary preparations. There is no convincing evidence that the recent offensive was a "desperate last gasp" or that the Viet Cong and North Viet Nam could not continue to take the present rate of casualties for years.
The bombing of North Viet Nam and the infiltration routes has not prevented the enemy from increasing both the tempo of the war and the level of violence. The pressures on Washington to do more about this, by authorizing "hot pursuit" raids into Laos, Cambodia and across the DMZ, are already almost overwhelming. Such raids, however, will in all probability also fail to prevent still further increases. If so, the United States will discover that communism cannot be destroyed as a political force in South Viet Nam, which is the present American objective, without also destroying communism in North Viet Nam. The United States must then either modify its objectives or invade the North, and of the two an invasion seems more likely.
But it is doubtful that an invasion will work. There are 400,000 troops in reserve in North Viet Nam, and Hanoi, certainly, will fight to the end. The terrain is no more favorable, and the wider theater will magnify the logistical problems. In addition, the probability of a Chinese intervention will be high, and, if the circumstances develop in certain ways, the Soviets might also intervene. If the Pueblo incident demonstrates nothing else, it indicates that the North Koreans might be willing to take advantage of a situation that leaves the Korean flank overexposed.
On the other hand, there is, I believe, an honorable alternative to invasion and its risks-an alternative that will neither abandon our true commitments nor damage American prestige.
The fundamental reason for pessimism about the possibility of winning inside South Viet Nam with the present level of forces is not about the American effort, but the Vietnamese. The logistics problem has been solved, for which General Westmorland should be given the greatest credit, and the American and allied soldiers have fought superbly. But as one high American official in Viet Nam said last fall, "The improvement here is real, but it is 100 percent due to the American effort, and not one-tenth of 1 percent due to the Vietnamese effort."
The overall effectiveness of the South Vietnamese army, the ARVN, is very poor. American journalists who are permanently stationed in Viet Nam are in a better position to give an assessment of ARVN performance than anyone else except General Westmorland's headquarters itself, which is naturally reluctant to make its judgment public. And the testimony of this group of experienced reporters is gloomy:
"-although the total of South Vietnamese forces is greater, American losses have been running higher, exposing the lack of ARVN aggressiveness."
"-nearly all of the American losses are taken on offensive operations, but only one-third of ARVN losses."
"-although the ARVN has doubled in size since 1962, its casualties remain the same. Many ARVN operations take place where the enemy is known not to be."
"-nowhere in the country can the ARVN be said to have made real gains against the enemy; what progress there has been is due solely to the allied and American forces."
Why? The Vietnamese are a brave and able people; the Viet Cong, after all, are Vietnamese. Probably no one knows all the answers, but two are obvious. One is the present Government's practice of appointing officers for their political loyalty rather than military ability. The second is the overwhelming presence of the Americans. As one of the old-time correspondents puts it: "Since the Americans seem to want to take over the war, the Vietnamese tendency is to let them-to sit back and let the Americans do the job."
Another reason for pessimism is the "pacification" program. Despite real progress in the organization of the American effort and the energy put into it, the results in the field even before the recent communist offensive were not encouraging. In many South Vietnamese villages counted as secure, where Vietnamese and American troops were present and things had been done for the people, the villagers were still hanging back from committing themselves to the Government side. There was really no convincing evidence that the "pacification" program had begun to win the positive allegiance of the people. And the recent offensive has obviously set the program back many months. No matter what the communists intended to accomplish with their offensive, it demonstrated that no place in Viet Nam is really secure- including the first floor of the American Embassy-and creating a feeling of security is the first and foremost principle of a successful "pacification" program.
Improvements in the "pacification" program are still possible. One is to eliminate corruption, which riddles the whole nation. Another is to reform the police, which is still the same kind of political police that plagued Viet Nam in the days of President Diem; it is designed more to protect the régime from its political rivals than to protect the people from the Viet Cong. The people in the villages know that the Viet Cong agents, the communist infrastructure, are still present even though the main-force units have been driven off, and even those who are sympathetic to the Government side feel that their lives would be in danger if they openly supported it.
Many observers believe that these reforms would bring important improvements. But others have doubts-of two kinds. The first is whether the Vietnamese can ever be either persuaded or forced to adopt measures of this sort. What we call corruption is in part a set of arrangements that underpin the whole structure of traditional Vietnamese life. Changing these traditional arrangements would involve a social revolution as fundamental and violent as that being conducted by the communists. The same may be said of the failure over so many years to bring about a change in the nature of the police.
The second doubt is whether these measures would really result in any decisive improvement after all. Some observers feel that it is really too late. In their view, the emphasis on military measures may have so alienated segments of the peasantry that the positive appeals of the "revolutionary development" program-land reform, schools, agricultural aid and so on-are not enough to overcome the accumulated bitterness.
"Interdiction" bombing and shelling of suspected Viet Cong huts and hamlets and of the movement of people suspected to be Viet Cong have certainly caused many civilian deaths. The latest estimates are that the civilian casualties for 1967 were about 24,000 killed and 76,000 wounded, while the combined total of American and South Vietnamese military deaths was about 19,000. Not all the relatives of civilians killed or wounded by American and South Vietnamese bombing and shelling turn against the Government. Some stoically decide only that war is hell. Some may even blame the Viet Cong for bringing on the attack. But there can be no doubt that many are embittered.
Then there is the problem of the refugees. Very large areas in South Viet Nam have been declared "free-fire" zones, where anything that moves is shot. In these zones, the population that could be reached has been forced to evacuate to refugee camps in secure areas and the villages have then been razed. The combined result of establishing these zones, of the voluntary flight of people to escape combat areas, and of Viet Cong terrorism has been to fill the refugee camps with two million people and to swell the city slums with an estimated two million more. Just how much bitterness there is and how deeply it runs no one knows, but as the hearings before Senator Edward M. Kennedy's Subcommittee on Refugees have shown, life in the camps is miserable. Sanitary conditions are deplorable, medical care is grossly deficient and the lack of opportunity for work has been demoralizing.
The main pessimism about the "pacification" effort, however, has the same source as pessimism about the ARVN-the lack of Vietnamese effort. Too many Vietnamese remain devoted not to the nation, but to the selfish interests of class, sect and region. Corruption continues, and so does apathy. There are many able and dedicated South Vietnamese who are convinced of the need for the kind of peaceful revolution of Vietnamese society envisioned by the theory behind the "pacification" program, but there seem to be too few of them too far from the positions of power. I visited one province of 160 hamlets, for example, that had been cleared of main-force Viet Cong units by American troops at considerable cost. But instead of 160 revolutionary development teams, there were only four. And these four could rarely be persuaded to spend the night in the villages assigned to them. Americans can help in giving the villagers physical protection, but they cannot win the villagers' allegiance to the South Vietnamese Government. That task can be done only by Vietnamese, and there is little evidence that enough Vietnamese are sufficiently dedicated and willing to make the necessary sacrifices.
All these pessimistic views are reinforced by a look at the political situation. Viet Nam is in the throes of two revolutions, not one. The first is the communist-led guerrilla war. The second is a social and nationalistic revolution in which the French-educated mandarin class, the new nationalists, the Buddhists, the youth and the "young Turks" in the army all struggle over both power and purpose. The Johnson Administration saw much hope in the recent elections in Viet Nam, while critics of the Administration have charged that the elections were nothing but a fraud. Both sides are probably wrong. For an underdeveloped country in the midst of a guerrilla insurgency, the elections were fairer than anyone had a right to expect. But the hope that the elections would provide a legitimate government that could enlist the forces of nationalism was misplaced. For this purpose, the elections may have been an important first step for the long run, but for the short run the best that can probably be said is that they were largely irrelevant.
A conversation I had with a group of student leaders illustrates the political malaise. "Most Vietnamese students," one said, summing up, "no longer think of what North Viet Nam offers as an appealing alternative, and neither do the peasants. But they don't think the Saigon Government is either. So both the students and the peasants will sit on one side-if they can."
What all this adds up to is that, in spite of the increases since 1965 in both the military and "pacification" efforts, the progress is not enough to produce real confidence that the war can be brought to a successful conclusion in the reasonable future.
This judgment is reinforced by a study of the effects of the bombing of North Viet Nam and the evidence we have of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong intentions.
When the bombing was begun in 1965, there was some hope that it would break Hanoi's will and force it to come to the negotiating table. The evidence today is that over 36 months of bombing has made the war effort more costly for the North Vietnamese in lives, in treasure and in effort, but that it has only stiffened their determination to resist.
The fact that the bombing has not broken Hanoi's will is not surprising. North Viet Nam is an underdeveloped country. Most of the people live in a village culture, subsisting on what they grow themselves. The industrial portion of the economy is very small, and its total destruction would not radically alter the lives of most of the people. The worker whose factory is bombed moves back to his home village. The people do without, or repair and make do with what they have. Much of the industry of North Viet Nam does not contribute to the war effort at all; most of the war matériel is imported from China, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. What war matériel is produced in North Viet Nam comes from small, rather primitive workshops that have long ago been dispersed and put underground.
If the United States removed the present limitations on its bombing program, it would not make much difference. Of the target systems that have not yet been bombed, the one that contributes most to the North Vietnamese war effort is the dike and irrigation system. An attack on that system would seriously affect the food supply of the North; it would also, it is said, bring large-scale flooding and loss of life. For humanitarian reasons alone, the United States is reluctant to embark on such an attack. If it did, the revulsion and political outcry around the world would be severe. In any case, it is doubtful that bombing the dikes would have a decisive long-term effect. The communist world would provide the necessary rice to make up the loss. Most knowledgeable observers also reach the same conclusion about the proposals to end the war by attacking the North Vietnamese civilian population. The cities have already been evacuated of all but essential personnel. The whole population is dug in, with individual foxholes and an efficient civil defense.
Secretary of Defense McNamara, testifying before the Senate Committee on Armed Services in August 1967, summed up the case against further escalation of the bombing: "As to breaking their will, I have seen no evidence in any of the many intelligence reports that would lead me to believe that a less selective bombing campaign would change the resolve of the North Vietnamese leaders or deprive them of the support of the North Vietnamese people."
There seems to be no reason to believe, in sum, that a continuation of the war at its present level or even an increase in the bombing would accomplish the United States objective of destroying communism as a political force in South Viet Nam. Hanoi and the Front seem to have no interest at all in ending the war on terms acceptable to the Administration and very little interest in deescalating it. Washington is undoubtedly correct in its judgment that the communist side is unwilling to negotiate an end to the war at the present time. But it has failed to draw the equally obvious conclusion-that neither the North Vietnamese nor the Viet Cong are likely to collapse or lose their resolve no matter how long the war continues at its present level of violence.
This is admittedly a judgment, and there are reasonable and intelligent men outside the Administration as well as in it who believe otherwise-who believe that only one or two more rungs up the ladder of escalation will see the end. But the evidence for this optimism is thin and unpersuasive. And the optimism itself is one of the more dangerous pressures toward further escalation. If the hope of early success proves unfounded, the frustrations will mount even higher and so will the demand for measures large enough to be considered unquestionably decisive.
If it is true that the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong will not give in to the present level of violence, the United States will have to make a fateful choice. One possibility is to take over command of the entire effort in Viet Nam and to increase that effort substantially-increase it enough to carry on both the "seek-and-destroy" strategy and the "clear-and- hold" strategy simultaneously and to do so with both efficiency and dispatch. An outside observer does not have the detailed information to offer a precise estimate of the number of American troops needed to do both jobs simultaneously, but it seems unlikely that fewer than one million Americans would be required.
If we took this course of increasing the American forces and progressively taking over more and more of the struggle from the Vietnamese, the real trouble is that even a "military victory" would leave the United States with equally unpleasant alternatives. The first would be to continue the occupation of Viet Nam for one or two generations-not providing a mere presence of American forces for deterrence as in Korea, but occupying Viet Nam for the purpose of sustaining a government that is not truly representative of the Vietnamese people. The second alternative would be to withdraw after a military victory, as President Johnson has promised. But this would clearly lead very quickly to a communist take-over-and all the casualties would have been in vain.
Doubling the number of Americans and taking over command of the entire effort would have other disadvantages that are more immediate and politically telling. It would mean mobilization, calling up the reserves and stepping up the draft. The frustrations so many in Congress and the military already feel would mount, and so would the pressures on the Administration for measures that seemed more decisive. For even a massive effort in the South would seem to be missing the real target. Only an invasion of the North, it would be argued, will strike at the source of the aggression, and only an invasion will offer any hope of a quick and decisive end.
The arguments against an invasion are obvious. In the first place, there is no reason to believe that fighting in North Viet Nam would be any better than fighting in the South. Expanding the war to North Viet Nam and Laos does not get us out of a quagmire; it only gets us into a bigger quagmire. Second, there is no reason to believe that the Chinese would accept the destruction of North Viet Nam. If the coming invasion of North Viet Nam were limited-confined, say, to Vinh and the third of North Viet Nam lying to the south of Vinh-it is not entirely certain that the Chinese would engage the American forces directly. They might confine their response to mobilizing their forces and concentrating them along the Laotian and North Vietnamese borders. But it is very doubtful that such a precarious situation could long continue. In the third place, we cannot reasonably expect that the Soviets would remain aloof if the United States and China were locked in a struggle brought about as a result of American escalation.
"If China goes mad and starts a war with the United States," one high Soviet official said in Moscow, "we would have no trouble staying out. But if a war comes about as a result of American escalation in Viet Nam, the Soviet Union would have the terrible choice between supporting China-which would eventually mean with nuclear weapons-and giving up the whole idea of a communist world." And another Soviet official put it this way: "We can accept a defeat of the communist side within South Viet Nam, brought about, for example, by a political shift within South Viet Nam. What we cannot accept is a defeat brought about by the military destruction of North Viet Nam."
But all these arguments against invasion will be set aside by the Administration-however reluctantly-if it continues to hold to the present objective of destroying communism as a political force in South Viet Nam. For it is increasingly clear that that objective cannot be achieved without either increasing our effort and our losses to levels that are unacceptable or by running risks of a larger war that are equally unacceptable-or both. One of the most acute of U.S. government analysts, recently returned from Viet Nam, sums it up as follows: "There are three things worse than a bad settlement of Viet Nam right now. The first is an invasion of the North and a confrontation with China. The second is the same bad settlement two or three years from now with all the additional casualties-which is about the best we can expect. And the third alternative worse than a bad settlement now is a good settlement, achieving all the Administration's demands, four or five years from now. For four or five years of that level of risk, even if we avoid a war with the Chinese, will wreck all our other objectives around the world and tear our own society here at home into shreds."
We cannot, however, get even a "bad settlement" at the present time. Hanoi is not ready for even that level of compromise. What the United States needs is an interim strategy that is realistic politically-one that will reduce risks and that can be sustained. It should be one that will moderate pressures toward escalation and stimulate pressures on the other side to settle. The present debate over Viet Nam between those who want a grand escalation and those who seek a total withdrawal, for example, is not realistic in this sense-for either course would have repercussions that would be both dangerous and difficult to control. What we need is a strategy that will open up new options rather than close them down, that will loosen the coupling now binding U.S. prestige so tightly to events in Viet Nam and create a climate that will permit a wider range of choice. And the strategy must be independent of Hanoi-it must not depend on a favorable response from the North.
Such a strategy has three aspects: first, damping down and deëscalating the military side of the struggle and emphasizing the political; second, progressively "de-Americanizing" the war; and, third, broadening the South Vietnamese Government.
Damping down and deëscalating the war means, first, a shift from the "seek- and-destroy" strategy to a "clear-and-hold" strategy. Among the American military leaders in Viet Nam there are a number who advocate this shift. They point out that since the main-force Viet Cong units and the North Vietnamese regular divisions have largely now been driven into mountain and jungle areas, attempts to go in after them will result in high casualties for relatively small gains. The terrain is highly favorable to the enemy, and since most of the population in these areas has fled, there would be no meaning in gaining control of the territory even if we could-which seems doubtful. On the other hand, since the rice and the majority of the recruits for the Viet Cong come from the villages in the populated areas, they argue, protecting these people and winning their allegiance would accomplish more than seeing how many of the enemy we can kill. If the main- force units choose to come down out of their base areas and launch more offensives against the most populated areas, we would at least be better prepared for them. Under a clear-and-hold strategy, such an offensive would not get as far as the one in February, and the communist casualties would be even greater. In the meantime, the main-force units can be harassed in their base area by both shelling and bombing.
The second step is to stop the bombing of North Viet Nam-unilaterally, and without any expectation of negotiations or an immediate military quid pro quo.
The question of how an end to the bombing would affect the military situation, and whether it would result in an increase of American casualties is, of course, foremost in any such decision. The evidence is that, although the bombing hurts the North Viet-Namese and makes the war more costly for them, it does not prevent them from carrying on the war at the present level nor would it prevent them from increasing their effort when and if they chose.
The evidence can be found in both Washington and Saigon. Secretary McNamara has testified that North Viet Nam's total imports, of all kinds, are only 5,800 tons per day, while the total capacity of ports, rail and roads is more than 14,000 tons per day. Even if the limitations on bombing the docks and piers at Haiphong and Hongay were lifted and the ports and ships in them were totally destroyed, North Viet Nam would still be able to import 8,400 tons per day over the road and rail network from China. And what makes these figures even more telling is the estimate by intelligence sources that, of the total of 5,800 tons per day imported into North Viet Nam, only 550 tons are military supplies. The conclusion seems inescapable that no bombing program, no matter how effective, could prevent enough military supplies from reaching the North Vietnamese to permit them to continue the war at the present or even higher levels.
In talking to officials in Saigon and examining McNainara's testimony, one reaches the same conclusion about the flow of men and supplies from North Viet Nam down the infiltration routes to the Viet Cong in the South. Even the figures most favorable to the case for bombing show that the flow of men over the infiltration routes increased from a maximum of 12,400 in the years before the bombing to 26,000 in 1965, the year the bombing began, and to 54,800 in 1966. No one knows the total of supplies that is infiltrated over these routes, but Secretary McNamara has testified that the total of arms and ammunition required in the South to sustain the communist war effort at its present level is only 15 tons per day. The total of all supplies required from the North is only 85 tons a day.
Translating that tonnage into the number of vehicles required to move the supplies, one finds that any of the following could do the job each day:
1 small steel-hulled coastal trawler (several have been sunk or captured)
4 or 5 junks
14 army-type 6 x 6 trucks
340 reinforced bicycles
1,135 men with packs
The impossibility of interdicting 14 trucks or 340 bicycles, scattered and traveling mainly at night over a random choice of small roads and hidden trails in an area the size of Connecticut, is painfully obvious.
Asked what the North Vietnamese would do if we stopped the bombing, Secretary McNamara said, "Undoubtedly they would take advantage of the reduction to move materiel with a lesser cost to them in terms of numbers of people engaged, and this would be an advantage to them. Whether it would result in the movement of more men and materiel to the South I think is questionable. I don't know the answer." Some observers in South Viet Nam are willing to go farther. They believe that the number of men and supplies going over the trails is determined not by North Viet Nam's overall capability, which is far from being reached with or without the bombing, but by the strategic considerations: by the capacity of the people in the South to receive, store and utilize the supplies effectively and, perhaps more importantly, by the communist view that it would be wasteful and inefficient to supply more units than the strategy calls for. Even today, most of the communist units in the South are in combat only one day in every thirty.
True, some 500,000 North Vietnamese are tied down by the bombing-manning anti-aircraft guns and repairing roads and bridges. But neutral diplomats who have visited North Viet Nam doubt if they have even begun to reach the bottom of their manpower barrel. And if you ask the professional China watchers in Hong Kong about this, they seem impatient that you even bothered. "China already has 50,000 technicians in North Viet Nam," one pointed out, "and if Hanoi ever begins to feel the pressure of a manpower shortage, the Chinese will supply all they need to relieve Vietnamese for combat duty."
From all this evidence, it seems probable that if we stopped the bombing, it would neither harm our position in the South nor increase the number of American and South Vietnamese casualties. It might, in fact, decrease them. With Soviet aid, the North Vietnamese have set up the most formidable anti- aircraft screen the world has ever known. The fact that there are so few targets in this underdeveloped country and that most targets of military significance can be easily repaired means that our planes must attack the same few targets over and over. Thus, the North Vietnamese can concentrate their anti-aircraft fire and make the flak through which our men must fly a murderous corridor. As one of our discouraged pilots said bitterly, "The hell of it is that we fly through all that flak for what? To attack a two- bit bridge that we've already knocked down five or six times. The damned center spans are now made of wood, and they put them up again in hours."
Bombing the North has already cost the United States almost 1,000 men killed and captured and the loss of over 800 aircraft. In monetary terms, the cost of the bombing program as of several months ago was reported as being $6 billion, while the dollar value of the facilities destroyed in the North is estimated to be $340 million. On this basis some experts argue that an end to the bombing might actually result in a military gain rather than a loss.
In political terms, stopping the bombing certainly would be pure gain. There is a growing uneasiness among our European allies about the course we are following in Viet Nam. Only in Korea, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand is there anything resembling wholehearted support. Among the neutrals there is mainly dismay.
Paradoxically, in the present circumstances the North Vietnamese themselves may feel that, on balance, they now gain a little more from the bombing than they lose. The damage to their industry has by and large already been done. At the same time, they reap immense political advantages. The bombing brings them public sympathy throughout the world-including, as we all know, from within the United States itself.
On both military and political grounds, then, the bombing of the North no longer seems to be worth the cost. Increasingly, American losses exceed the damage inflicted, while the political gains in stopping the bombing will be large. Even more important, the international political pressures toward deëscalation, negotiation and so on would then shift from Washington to Hanoi.
As a second element of a new strategy, the United States should gradually but progressively turn back responsibility to the Vietnamese. The present situation, in which the American role and responsibility are so overwhelming, tends to alienate the population and to encourage their tendency to hang back while we take over. Yet it seems obvious that the only possibility of achieving a politically viable result in Viet Nam requires effort by the Vietnamese themselves.
With a shift to a clear-and-hold strategy, the ARVN could concentrate on clearing the populated areas of guerrilla irregulars, and the American troops could be used as a reserve to reinforce ARVN units or individual villages attacked by superior forces, and as a screen to protect the "pacification" effort from large-scale attacks by main-force units.
Second, responsibility for carrying out the "pacification" effort must be given to the Vietnamese-even if it is done less efficiently than the Americans would like. The job of winning the allegiance of the peasant to his government can be done only by Vietnamese, and it is only by doing that the Vietnamese will improve their performance. The Americans can run the supply effort, and if necessary can manipulate supplies to reward the honest and successful and punish the venal and incompetent, but the rest must be done by Vietnamese. Americans engaged directly in implementing the program should be withdrawn.
The same principle must be observed all across the board. Today, Americans are conspicuous in every aspect of government activity, especially the effort to manage the economy. Progressively, but increasingly, this responsibility must be turned back to the Vietnamese.
It would be foolish to offer any assurance that the South Vietnamese will rise to the challenge of regaining responsibility for their country and its fate. But there is in truth no choice but to give them an opportunity, for a "victory" achieved principally by American efforts would last only so long as the Americans remained in occupation. Even a compromise solution, if it is to have any hope of stability, will require a greater commitment to the struggle than the South Vietnamese are now showing.
The third step in a new strategy would be either to broaden the Vietnamese Government or to work for a more reformist, responsive (even though paternalistic) government with greater strength-or, more realistically, both.
Significant elements of Vietnamese society remain outside the present Government or have only token representation in it. These include some of the important religious sects, several of the old political parties, youth, labor and the "young Turks" of the army. Even if all of these cannot be brought in as a practical matter, the Government can bring in some and adopt policies that will appeal to these groups even if their leaders remain uncoöperative.
A government that feels threatened rarely broadens its base, and the military junta will resist pressures in this direction. American leverage, furthermore, is not so great as some imagine, but it does exist and, paradoxically, it would increase if steps were taken to de-Americanize the struggle. So long as the Americans are willing to do the job, the junta has little incentive to broaden the Government or to become reformist and responsive. But if responsibility is turned back to the Vietnamese, the junta is more likely to realize that Viet Nam can survive only if wider segments of the population become committed to the struggle and to the Government.
There is, of course, risk in broadening the Government. Many of those now excluded, though good nationalists and not procommunist, are neutralist and often unsophisticated. A broader government might well enter into talks with the Viet Cong almost immediately and might fall into some traps. But the risk in no way changes the elemental fact that a more responsive and responsible Vietnamese Government is the only conceivable route toward a political outcome that does not lead directly to a communist take-over as soon as the Americans have withdrawn. And if an agreement with the Viet Cong could be worked out in a way acceptable to broad elements of the South Vietnamese, nothing would be more in the interests of the United States.
A major point of this strategy is that it can be sustained politically and militarily without being dependent on a favorable response from Hanoi. Whether there is a response may depend crucially on the Soviets, who appear to have an interest, if not in ending the war, at least in seeing it damped down. The Soviet leverage on Hanoi is small, but it does exist; it is Russian aid, for example, that makes the North Vietnamese anti-aircraft screen so effective. Also, the Soviets probably understand that, if an American policy of deëscalation brought no results, the domestic pressures for drastic solutions would become greater than ever. This is a risk, but if the Soviets are genuinely interested in deëscalating the struggle, as they say they are, they might well be willing to explain the elemental political truths of American politics to the North Vietnamese. As a concrete step, for example, the Soviets might suggest that the North Vietnamese pull back their regular divisions from the South-for if the bombing of the North is the principal American action that makes the war international, it is the presence of these regular units in the South that also makes the war international.
A North Vietnamese representative to a neutral country, when asked what Hanoi would do if the United States stopped the bombing and the Soviets suggested that it respond by withdrawing its regular divisions, said, "We in the North are convinced that the 14 million people of South Viet Nam, who support the National Liberation Front, would be able to carry the struggle to a successful conclusion without our direct military help."
This statement should be taken with a grain of salt. Even if the Soviets did exercise their full leverage on Hanoi, not much should be expected. It seems very doubtful that Hanoi would withdraw its divisions; the most that probably could be expected is that the divisions would retire to positions along the Laotian border, in a communist version of General Gavin's "enclaves"-to protect their supply lines and to wait and see what happened next. There might be "talks," but it is unlikely that there would be the "meaningful negotiations" that President Johnson has demanded.
Nevertheless, the threefold strategy of deescalating the struggle, de- Americanizing it, and broadening the Vietnamese Government and making it more responsible, would reduce the level of violence, lower the casualties and create a political situation which would increasingly favor the United States. The political pressures for deëscalating and negotiations would be transferred from Washington to Hanoi. If, on the other hand, Hanoi chose a vast escalation of the struggle-introducing additional North Vietnamese divisions-an appropriate response from the United States would then be more acceptable politically, both at home and abroad.
Barring this possibility, the likelihood of events spiraling out of control would be greatly lessened. The pressures for an invasion of North Viet Nam would be eased; we would be off an escalation track and onto a deëscalation track. The conditions number of different capitals to explore calmly the next steps in would be created in which serious efforts could be made in a damping down the war and moving toward meaningful negotiations.
Deëscalation of the war would permit concentration in the South on the task of protecting the people and winning their allegiance, which historically has been the only successful strategy in dealing with guerrilla insurgency. A broader and more reformist South Vietnamese Government would not only engage wider segments of the population in the fate of their country, but would open up still another dialogue-between the non-communist, neutralist elements in South Viet Nam and the Viet Cong.
Most important, finally, is the de-Americanization of the struggle, the progressive turning back of responsibility to the South Vietnamese. The result, when the Vietnamese know they are responsible for their own fate and the Government is changed in character, may be surprising. But even if the Vietnamese refuse to accept responsibility or if they fail in exercising it, then at the very least the United States would be in a position to consider withdrawing from Viet Nam without fateful consequences to our true commitments to our allies-which are to protect them from direct military aggression and not from their political failures inside their own countries-and without fateful consequences to the overall American position in Asia.