Appealing to the great silent majority of Americans," President Nixonlast night reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the people of South Vietnam.
The President claimed to have a reasonable and workable plan to end the war. The plan calls for "the complete withdrawal of all U.S. ground combat forces and their replacements by the South Vietnamese forces on an orderly scheduled timetable."
He refused, however, to specify the timetable in detail or to announce a time limit to U.S. presence in Vietnam. Nor did he announce any further troop cutbacks for the immediate future.
"We must retain the flexibility to base each withdrawal decision on the situation as it is at that time rather than on estimates that are no longer valid." he said.
The Administration had already announced plans to "Vietnamize the war" earlier in the year. The address delivered last night strongly resembled Nixon's first Vietnam policy speech in May. At that time, the President ruled out one-sided withdrawal or "disguised American defeat."
More noticeable last night, however, was the President's increased despair over Hanoi's unwillingness to bargain. By putting greater emphasis on "Vietnamization," the President hopes to "bring the war to an end regardless of what happens on the negotiating front."
Vietnamization is Nixon's answer to the major problem his Administration now faces: how to convince a war-weary public that it is disengaging and yet convince Hanoi that it is not.
The commander-in-chief noted the decline in military pressure from Hanoi but sternly warned that if the level of fighting rises. "I shall not hesitate to take strong and effective measures to deal with that situation."
The President reviewed the choice of tactics open to him, essentially the same that faced him when he, took office in January. He repeated his arguments against precipitate withdrawal. They included the need to protect Vietnamese minorities, especially the Catholics, from enemy atrocities and to avoid a "collapse of confidence" in U.S. leader ship. Speedy withdrawal, the President said, would "promote recklessness in the councils of those great powers who have not yet abandoned their roles of world conquest."
The only surprise in the President's speech was his disclosure of a letter he had written directly to Ho Chi Minh on July 15.
Reaction at Harvard to the President's address was skeptical. A spokesman for the Harvard Vietnam Moratorium Committee said the speech would do nothing to dampen anti-war sentiment. "What Nixon has tried to show is that there is a silent majority behind him. We know better."