Courtesy Reuters

China, Russia and the United States

A BRITISH VIEW

CIVIL war on the mainland of Asia, in a small country with a tradition of disorder and yet with a millennial record of persistent national identity, has mushroomed into the biggest politico-military issue of the times, comparable to the Arab-Israeli conflict in outside repercussions but far exceeding it in scale of operations. Exceeding it also in complexity. In the Middle East the issues are relatively simple and plain to see. In Viet Nam they are blurred. In the South the fighting is not even recognized as civil war but viewed as insurgency aggravated by intervention from the North.

Putting aside such questions as whether the war will go away when foreign forces go away, the prospects for Vietnamese non-communists and anti- communists, the effects on the morale of the American armed forces and of those of allies, how communists might exploit American defeat, and the verdict of the future, the problem remains: how is the United States to extricate itself? Plainly not after armistice and agreed settlement. Equally not as a disorderly rout. Fighting will slow down-though from time to time with renewed eruptions-but is unlikely to stop for a long time to come. The conclusion seems inescapable that there will be an American military presence in Viet Nam for much longer than advocates of immediate and complete withdrawal are clamoring for. In prosecuting the war the United States was militarily handicapped by inability to deploy the whole range of its armory. In extricating itself from the war it is militarily handicapped by the need to leave some military elements behind.

In battle and in negotiation the objective of the North Vietnamese and of the Viet Cong is political control. Since the death of Ho Chi Minh they can afford to wait a little longer. They do not now feel the same urgency to translate Ho's vision into reality in his lifetime. Moreover, they see the political and military outlook as promising. While it is in their interest

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