THE BOMBING HALT: Johnson's Gamble for Peace

  • Share
  • Read Later

(6 of 7)

The North Vietnamese did not reject Johnson's message out of hand. Instead, Politburo Member Le Due Tho, officially described as an "adviser" at the peace talks but actually Hanoi's principal overseer, hurried home via Moscow, where he conferred with Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin. Once he reached Hanoi, he found himself embroiled in a bitter debate between North Viet Nam's pro-Chinese and pro-Soviet factions. One or more messages were apparently sent seeking more information. The Administration noted simply that no "breakthrough" response had come from Hanoi. Some U.S. officials feared that the North Vietnamese, in view of the forthcoming presidential elections in the U.S., might be holding out for a better deal.

Still, it was plain that sentiment within the Administration was overwhelmingly for a pause. From Paris, Averell Harriman was one of the first to advise that the opportunity should be grasped at once. Though nobody knew what Clifford told the President in private, studies from his staff tended to discount the value of continued bombing. "The results were so impressive," said one official, "that no one bothers to argue any more." Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul H. Nitze was said to share the antibombing predilection.

Same Pendulum. For the past year, three institutions have been principally responsible for formulating Viet Nam policy: the Tuesday Lunch Group that Abrams sat in on last week; the Thursday Group, including C.I.A. Boss Helms, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Wheeler, Nitze, and several others who meet regularly in Under Secretary of State Nicholas deB. Katzenbach's office; and the Eleven O'Clock Group, mostly lower-level officials assigned to draft the policymakers' decisions. Among all these officials, few supported the bombing of the North up to the end. The swing man, inclined first one way, then the other, was Lyndon B. Johnson.

In Saigon, Thieu found himself swinging from the same pendulum. When Bunker initially informed him of Johnson's new proposals, he was amenable. Then he reverted to a hard line. To protect himself from the even harder-line advocates within his government−and without—Thieu insisted on public acknowledgment from Hanoi of any concessions it was making in exchange for a bombing pause. He also firmly refused to countenance N.L.F. participation as an independent entity at the Paris talks. But under insistent pressure from his American allies, he began to weaken, seemed ready to accept the "two-sides" formula.

Declining Curve. Despite the agonizing uncertainty in Washington and Saigon about the wisdom of a bombing pause, one element worked relentlessly in its favor: the military, political and economic situation in the North.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7