Nation: Winding Up the Cambodian Hard Sell

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THE U.S. suffers these days from more than one kind of inflation. As familiar as the ballooning of wages and prices is the inflation of rhetoric, a pneumatic exercise in which the radical left and extreme right, militant blacks, the press—and, of late, the Administration of President Richard Nixon—have all indulged. Still, nothing in recent times has quite equaled the blitz of language that has been employed by the White House to certify and canonize the success of the Cambodian venture.

It all rose to a crescendo last week as the last U.S. troops swept happily back into South Viet Nam. The President took to television for an unprecedented live, hour-long foreign-policy conversation with three network anchormen. He issued a 7,000-word White Paper justifying the Cambodian operation. This came atop public and private hard sells by Vice President Spiro Agnew and other White House and Cabinet officials; among their efforts was a four-hour briefing of television executives and publishers that produced a 49-page transcript.

Despite the lavish expenditure of Administration rhetoric, the U.S. Senate pinked the President by passing the Cooper-Church amendment, which, though watered down, nonetheless served clear warning that Nixon should not feel free to embark on another Cambodia. Moreover, the news from Phnom-Penh was that the Communists were enlarging their hold on portions of the embattled country (see THE WORLD). And despite Nixon's appointment of Veteran Diplomat David K.E. Bruce to head the U.S. delegation to the Paris peace talks with Hanoi, there was little indication that North Viet Nam was willing to begin fruitful negotiations.

Cooling It. Such minuses were not allowed to mar the fact of the President's extraordinary appearance on television. To sit down with Eric Sevareid of CBS, John Chancellor of NBC and Howard K. Smith of ABC, and plumb live the intricacies of foreign policy for an hour, bespoke presidential confidence —and courage. No tape editor could erase a presidential slip that might occur on the special set at a KABC studio in Hollywood, where the temperature had been lowered on request to 59° before air time. When the red lights of the TV cameras winked on, the President was cool, collected and relaxed.

He began by announcing the Bruce appointment, then accepted questions. Had he got any signal from Hanoi that the Communists were more willing to talk? No direct signals, but third-party indications were that they wanted to see a top U.S. negotiator named. Will Bruce have anything new to offer? Well, let's review what we have already offered. Would Nixon categorically assert that he would never send U.S. troops back into Cambodia? The U.S. has no plans to send the troops back in, but he would not say that he would never do so under any circumstances.

Unfashionable Phrases. So went the parries and thrusts, the President displaying anew his ability to retain detail, his satisfaction in intercepting a debater's point, his grasp of the theorems of foreign policy discourse. Yet the conversational format seemed nonetheless ill-suited to the Nixon style and personality, which fit more easily into the brisk, orderly one-shot answer of the mass press conference.

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