Aviable political settlement in South Viet Nam will reflect and give some legitimacy to the balance of political, military and social forces produced by a decade of internal conflict and five years of large-scale warfare. A successful settlement can also inaugurate a process of political accommodation through which the various elements of Vietnamese society may eventually be brought together into a functioning polity. American objectives and American expectations of what can be achieved at the conference table and on the battlefield should, correspondingly, be based on the realities of power and the opportunities for accommodation.
Much of the discussion of Viet Nam in the United States, however, has been couched in terms of stereotypes and slogans which have little relation to the political forces and social trends in Vietnamese society. Critics of the Administration often tend to glorify the Viet Cong and the National Liberation Front and to magnify the extent of their support. They see the war as a popular uprising against a military-landlord oligarchy dependent upon foreign military support. Hence they see little need for, or basis for, accommodation: if the United States withdrew, it is held, the Saigon régime would quickly collapse, and a new, broadly representative government would come to power under the leadership of the NLF but drawing support from Buddhists, workers, students and other groups.
Spokesmen for the Administration, on the other hand, have in the past underrated the strength of the Viet Cong and have ascribed to the Saigon Government a popularity which had as little basis in fact as that which the critics attributed to the NLF. They have bolstered their case with statistics on kill rates, infiltration rates, chieu hoi (defection) rates, hamlet pacification categories and voting turnouts. These figures may be reasonably accurate but they are also often irrelevant to the conclusions which they are adduced to support. At times key figures in the Administration have made statements which at least seemed to predict the imminent collapse of the Viet