Nation: Winding Up the Cambodian Hard Sell

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Forced to give longer, expository answers, the President appeared at times to be uncertain, contradictory and defensive. He managed to discuss foreign policy for an hour without offering one original or fresh formulation of U.S. aims. Instead, he fell back on the cold war rhetoric of domino theories and the desire to check Communist expansion—phrases that even he conceded are no longer fashionable. He seemed petty in his attack on a foreign policy critic, former Under Secretary of State George Ball, claiming that Ball had not opposed U.S. involvement in Viet Nam in the Kennedy Administration. Actually, Ball strongly counseled Kennedy against sending even U.S. advisers there. In an effort to show his mastery, Nixon never once admitted that perhaps there were no ready answers to some of the hard world questions—an admission that would have added a grace note of credibility to his performance.

The President also claimed that if the U.S. were to leave Viet Nam "in a way that we are humiliated or defeated," it would be "ominously encouraging to the leaders of Communist China and the Soviet Union, especially in their expansionist policies in other areas." He implied that the survival of the non-Communist Lon Nol government in Cambodia is now an important, though limited aim of U.S. foreign policy.

When asked why he did not consult the Congress on his controversial Cambodia decision, Nixon cited the need to move swiftly, invoking President Kennedy's handling of the Cuban missile crisis. Few analogies could be less apt. The whole sluggish war in Indochina is a military world apart from a nuclear showdown. A likelier explanation for the President's unwillingness to consult Congress was the near certainty that the legislators would not buy the idea.

Convincing Claims. The President was more effective in his White Paper, which listed the accomplishments of the Cambodia operation. He claimed convincingly that U.S. and South Vietnamese troops had 1) conducted an effective military operation, 2) captured or destroyed a substantial amount of enemy supplies, 3) diminished any immediate threat of a major enemy assault on the Saigon area from sanctuaries in Cambodia and 4) complicated Hanoi's problem of resupplying its troops. All this was done with fewer U.S. casualties than expected and with the most impressive show of competence yet demonstrated by the South Vietnamese forces.

These were no small achievements, although they hardly justified Nixon's overblown comparisons of the Cambodian invasion with D-day or Stalingrad. The President also claimed, with far less credibility, that the operation had shortened the war, guaranteed U.S. adherence to his announced troop-withdrawal schedules, proved the viability of the Vietnamization program and speeded the work of pacification in South Viet Nam. Those achievements cannot yet be substantiated. Moreover, until the U.S. opened its drive last April 30, officials had not portrayed either Vietnamization or the withdrawal schedules as severely threatened by Communist troops in Cambodia.

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