Antiwar protesters, January 1965. Wikimedia Commons

The uneasy public quiet on Vietnam which the President achieved with his speech last November 3 was shattered by the large-scale U.S. military intervention in eastern Cambodia. Once more U.S. policy in Southeast Asia became the subject of major controversy. In this situation there is some danger that we shall become so caught up in the immediate issues that we neglect more fundamental questions with respect to current American strategy. The new actions are a product of a basic fault in the structure of U.S. policy but do not, by themselves, define that fault.

In his November 3 speech the President offered a strategy based upon the twin approach of negotiations and Vietnamization of the war, accompanied by withdrawals of American forces. He was pessimistic about the outlook for negotiations but told us that Vietnamization would permit the United States to disengage from the war even if negotiations failed. In the period since, the United States has further downgraded negotiations as an essential part of any solution. The only subsequent hint that the government might not consider the Vietnamization strategy sufficient by itself was provided by the President's speech on April 20 announcing future troop withdrawals, in which both the volume and tone of his discussion of negotiations implied a recognition that they were important. He stated explicitly that negotiations at least provide "a better, shorter path to peace." But there was no evidence following that speech of a change in the U.S. position in the Paris negotiations, and the President's action in Cambodia 10 days later clearly gave priority to Vietnamization. This priority was reflected in the renewed emphasis upon the use of military means to end the war and in the justification of the Cambodian intervention on the grounds that it was needed to protect American lives and to "guarantee the continued success of our withdrawal and Vietnamization program."

The basic question therefore remains: Has the President been right in de- coupling Vietnamization and American troop withdrawals from negotiations

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