July 23, 2017

1969. President Nixon's Vietnamization Program

"Vietnamizing the War"
President Nixon meets with soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division at Dĩ An in South Vietnam, July 30, 1969 (source)
From The Christian Science Monitor, December 17, 1969, p. 1:
New Nixon Formula
Expectation of military success by South Vietnam replaces the old-time optimism for U.S. victory

The United States Government has exchanged one kind of optimism for another in conducting its policy on Vietnam. It used to be very hopeful about its military prospects. But these proved delusive last year, for anything more than keeping the enemy at bay.

Now it is showing fresh optimism about the military prospects for the Army of South Vietnam, which the United States is training and equipping for self-defense. The Nixon policy for withdrawal chiefly depends on the success of that program. Success is taken for granted in the highest official circles.

Optimism seen

In the past few days, these statements have been made:

By President Nixon:

"I have a much more favorable report to give you . . . with regard to the training of South Vietnamese forces.

"Mr. Thompson's report, [made to the President by the British expert on Southeast Asia, Sir Robert Thompson], which I would describe as cautiously optimistic, is in line with the reports I have received from other observers and from our own civilian and military leaders in Vietnam."

By a White House source who cannot be quoted directly:

The President himself can be described as "cautiously optimistic."

By Defense Secretary Melvin R. Laird:

"We have had great success this year in Vietnamizing the war.

"We are very pleased . . . that this program . . . is ahead of schedule.

"We are moving forward with our program to train pilots and helicopter crews; we are turning over artillery at an ever-increasing rate . . . We have a program to turn the logistic [operations] over to the South Vietnamese, and these programs are moving forward."

Question, by Bill Downs of ABC: "What happens if this Vietnamization program of yours falls apart?"

Mr. Laird: "I can assure you that this will not happen. Our program is a reasoned program. It is based on what our military leadership feels can be done, and what the South Vietnamese [forces] can do.

"I am confident on the basis of the best military advice that I can receive, from General Abrams, from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and from the Vietnamization task force, which I meet with every day, that this program can succeed."

Rebuttal indicated

These White House and Pentagon statements were obviously made to rebut recent statements of doubt about the prospective success of the Vietnamization program. These were made by various spokesmen for the political Left, but especially by the senators who have opposed both the Johnson and Nixon policies. The division of opinion generally falls along ideological lines.

Since the White House has had a considerable success in the past two months, according to supporters and adversaries alike, in rallying support for the President's Vietnam policy, the President and his advisers have felt free to press their advantage and to argue their confidence in the Vietnamization program on which it depends.

The White House source, who may not be quoted directly, was the most restrained of the various administration spokesmen. After saying the President himself was "cautiously optimistic," the source continued: We are eager to avoid overoptimism. Any insider knows that events can upset plans.

In particular he said that if the present rate of infiltration—which is several times greater than a few months ago but still substantially short of a year ago—should continue for several months more at the present rate, it would be clear that the enemy was building his forces up and not merely replacing losses. In that event the United States would take a fresh look at the intentions of Hanoi.

But this source made it clear that Hanoi had not, as of now, taken any steps which would cause the president to interrupt the withdrawal of 50,000 more troops that he has scheduled between now and April 15. When the President warned Hanoi not to carry either the infiltration or the fighting too far, the White House source said that we are talking about a very great effort by the other side, far beyond what now exists.

This source rejected all efforts to pin the President down to a particular timetable for withdrawal, beyond April 15. We have a group constantly analyzing the situation, he said, and we will keep modifying our judgments as events develop.

Then he came as close as anyone in the administration has to moderating the prevailing optimism with a dash of realism. The problem does not depend on a hypothetical timetable, he said, but on how the policy works.