(4 of 5)
In the U.S., many expressed reservations about Nixon's move. John Stennis, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a charter hawk, doubted that "South Vietnamese forces will be able to rapidly assume this burden of fighting and be effective." Senator George McGovern spoke for many critics of the war: "I don't see that as anything more than token action." Yet there was also a sense of relief. In Manhattan, Hubert Humphrey declared the prospects for political settlement to be "brighter now than they have been for a long time." John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky, one of the Senate's most respected doves, found the announcement "a step forward and a very hopeful sign." He added that the U.S. should continue with step-by-step withdrawal of all its troops. "We have done enough," he said.
Some Democrats, among them National Committee Chairman Fred Harris, complained that Nixon could continue buying time with the U.S. public almost indefinitely by a series of small withdrawals—which is a possibility implicit in Nixon's approach. Averell Harnman, chief negotiator at Paris in the Johnson Administration, had a more trenchant criticism. "This is a replacement, not a withdrawal," said he. "The first order of business is the reduction of violence. We still have orders for all-out pressure on the enemy. How can we expect the enemy to end their fighting if we don't? We should be taking a more defensive position and at the same time demand that the other side respond. I believe they will."
A Necessary Reversal
Whether or not the other side responds, the U.S. will probably decide in August to bring out a second batch of servicemen before the end of 1969. After that, predictions become murkier, since the rate of removal will depend on the level of fighting, the progress of Saigon's army and developments at the Paris talks. Whatever happens, there will almost certainly be U.S. troops in Viet Nam for at least a few years to come. Before Midway, the talk in Saigon was of reducing American forces by about 50,000 every six months; even at that accelerated rate, it would be more than five years before the last U.S. soldier embarked for home. One well-informed U.S. official in Saigon believes that there will be 200,000 American troops left in South Viet Nam by mid-1971.
What progress will have been made by that time toward reaching a political settlement is another matter entirely. While some at the White House insist that Hanoi is already emitting signals that it wants to talk seriously about President Nixon's political proposals of last month, the suspicion grows among the U.S. delegation in Pans that the Communists may not be interested at all in negotiating a settlement now. According to this theory, they will simply wait it out until U.S. public opinion forces Nixon to accept peace on their terms. If the Communists accepted free elections, the U.S. estimates, they would win from 15% to 30% of the vote. But if they can hold out for a bargained coalition, the Communists might well be able to claim a larger share in the government.