No doubt the recent hints from Washington about extending the war in South Vietnam to North Vietnamese territory are just so much bluster, but even so they are ill-advised. They encourage the view that the problems in Vietnam are military, and can be solved by the application of more force, when the entire American experience in Vietnam undercuts this theory. With the most modern equipment and the most professional advisers in the world the South Vietnamese have been losing badly. What is needed is not more helicopters, bu the realization that the United States has bungled seriously in south Vietnam, and that at this point the best policy may be to cut our losses.
By the Pentagon's own admission the situation has deteriorated considerably in the last six months. By the end of January the number of incidents provoked each week by the Vietcong had risen sharply over the average for the previous half-year. The Communists control 70 per cent of the Mekong River delta; five per cent of all American weapons sent to Vietnam fall into the hands of the Vietcong. And Communist terrorism has been stepped up to the point where American G.I.s are now being killed in the streets of Saigon.
Added to these unhappy statistics is a growing political instability. The real significance of the January 30 coup is not that it dashed the hopes nurtured by the overthrow of Diem--these hopes had already disappeared--but that it points the way to more coups and more unrest. It would be ridiculous to place any great hopes in General Kanh as a Vietnamese messiah, when the success of any government appears to rest on whose troops are in Saigon at a given moment.
The combination of military failure and political instability makes it increasingly difficult for the United States to pursue a constructive policy in South Vietnam. It is difficult to urge social reform when most of the country is in the hands of the guerrillas. It is useless to plan military strategy when the morale of government troops is so low that they will not pursue an enemy who is beaten in the field.
These deficiencies are not likely to be overcome by a rash attack on North Vietnam. Such a policy would increase greatly the chance of Chinese participation, and would threaten to involve large numbers of U.S. troops in an area where they do not belong. The proper approach in Vietnam is not more war, but a cease fire.
President de Gaulle's proposals for a neutralized Vietnam deserve careful consideration in Washington. The dangers inherent in this policy are obvious: it will be difficult to gain agreement on the neutralization of all Vietnam, and the neutralization of the South alone could be a prelude to a Communist takeover. The United States need be under no illusion that neutrality by default will be a satisfactory solution, but at this date a satisfactory solution is impossible to obtain A negotiated end to the war, whether by the Vietnamese themselves or in conjunction with the major powers, will merely enable the U.S. to save some face, while averting the unpalatable alternatives of military defeat or full scade conflict
In the long run this country must realize that it cannot maintain pro-Wester governments in Southeast Asia by force of arms, that the best hope for the United States is a genuine neutralism that balances, if it does not reconcile, the conflicting interests of the great powers. A frank recognition of our failure in South Vietnam is the first step toward salvaging what we can of an independent Southeast Asia