The War: Future Indicative

Administration officials, long convinced that there is no realistic hope of peace negotiations until after the 1968 elections—if then—were admitting last week that they may have been too pessimistic. Their hopes, admittedly, were pinned on a nuance, but nuances are the language of diplomacy. The nuance in this case was conscious and coordinated: it was a simple change of grammatical mood in a statement from Hanoi. No longer does the Red regime in Hanoi say talks "could" start if the U.S. stops bombing North Viet Nam; now it says talks "will" start.

The question that nagged Washington was whether the...