Nation: Squeeze on Viet Nam

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If Nixon's ABM announcement dashed hopes that he would drastically cut back military spending, his restrained response—or non-response—to the Communist offensive in Viet Nam unsettled some of his more hawkish supporters. Some of his critics attacked on both fronts. South Dakota's George McGovern, one of the Senate's most steadfast antiwar spokesmen, called the ABM decision, "a blunder comparable to the decision to escalate the war in Viet Nam in 1965." In a speech planned for delivery this week, McGovern aimed one of the bitterest attacks on the war heard since the 1968 election: "We hear that the war is going well; the enemy is tiring; if only we persist in the present course, there will be victory." Continued McGovern: "The new Commander in Chief must grasp what his predecessor learned to his sorrow—that in any continuance of the war in Viet Nam lies the seed of national tragedy and the certainty of personal political disaster."

Double Casualties. Nixon thus finds himself in a two-way squeeze of renewed criticism at home and military pressure from the enemy in Viet Nam. Not long after the Communist spring offensive began, he declared: "We will not tolerate attacks that result in heavier casualties to our men at a time when we are honestly trying to seek peace at the conference table in Paris. An appropriate response to these attacks will be made if they continue." The attacks have gone on, and while the U.S. combat toll fell off from 453 in the first week of the offensive to 336 in the second, casualties are still running more than double the level earlier this year. From Saigon, Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker has urged that Nixon resume bombing North Viet Nam as a boost to South Vietnamese morale, but the President has rejected that course for the present.

Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird returned last week from a four-day tour of Viet Nam, and it became known that he was considering pulling out as many as 50,000 troops before the end of the year. Nixon obviously would like to do so, but, for the immediate future, at least, he quashed that notion. "In view of the current offensive on the part of the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong," he said at his press conference, "there is no prospect for a reduction of American forces in the foreseeable future." He was still more abrupt when he invoked his "appropriate response" dictum. "It will be my policy as President to issue a warning only once," he said, "and I will not repeat it now." If the Communists continue their present offensive, Nixon may well have to follow up his warning with concrete action.