The Generals Fall Out
ARNOLD BEICHMAN writes from Saigon: Just before last week's crisis the new Ameri- can Ambassador here, General Taylor, was involved in a minor—thus far—feud with General Nguyen Khanh, the thirty-six-year-old Premier, who is demanding to go north. America's actions in the Bay of Tongking must have appeased Khanh temporarily, but his de- mands may break out again at any time—much to the embarrassment of the White House. The Administration's pacifist intentions at the moment might satisfy even the most intransigent Alder- maston marcher. The difficulty is that American embassy decisions can no longer be related entirely to the military potential of the Viet- Cong. They must also consider the political potential of Senator Goldwater. Just before last week's crisis the new Ameri- can Ambassador here, General Taylor, was involved in a minor—thus far—feud with General Nguyen Khanh, the thirty-six-year-old Premier, who is demanding to go north. America's actions in the Bay of Tongking must have appeased Khanh temporarily, but his de- mands may break out again at any time—much to the embarrassment of the White House. The Administration's pacifist intentions at the moment might satisfy even the most intransigent Alder- maston marcher. The difficulty is that American embassy decisions can no longer be related entirely to the military potential of the Viet- Cong. They must also consider the political potential of Senator Goldwater.
Thus senior American diplomats here, an- nouncing that US military aid would be sharply increased, refused to specify how many more US Special Forces would be sent here and over what period of time. Questions as to whether the new arrivals would be in the hundreds or thousands were parried smilingly with the com- ment that reporters seem to have 'a fatal fascina- tion' with numbers. There were, at the end of July, more than 16,000 American military per- sonnel in South Vietnam. How many more will be added, no one in authority will say.
The reason for this reticence is obvious. The Republicans are attacking the Administration's handling of the war and the natural riposte is to announce that more counter-insurgency forces will be sent here to avoid what now seems in- evitable, a protracted conflict. Yet to document this new programme with statistics might cause national apprehension that a brush-fire campaign was being transformed into a major war.
Mr. Taylor is sixty-three. It is a tribute to his patriotism that he undertook an assignment of such magnitude when he had every justifica- tion to stand aside. After all, others had offered their services following the Cabot Lodge resigna- tion, men like Secretary Rusk, Secretary 'McNamara and Attorney-General Robert Ken- nedy, but upon Mr. Taylor fell 'the terrible choice.' Or as he told some friends recently, the reason was-1 am expendable.'
• Unfortunately, the war in South Vietnam is not. Last week's events made it finally clear that the entire continent is involved. Such is the view of American diplomats here who regard the Viet- Cong insurrection as the testing ground of Premier Khrushchev's doctrine of 'just wars of national liberation.' American failure here would offer en- couragement to the Castros and Sukarnos.
The overriding problem is not Hanoi with what seems to be its ever-increasing strength. It is Saigon and the sheer ineptitude of the govern- ment, now almost seven months old. I was told by a long-time diplomatic observer that 'the cor- ruption here today is greater than it has been at any time in recent years.' But then, he added, it was much worse in Thailand. 'What is bugging us,' an American told me, 'is not the corruption; after all, it's war and that's the biggest corruption. It's having all this thieving and no real victories to show for it, nothing.'
And since the war goes badly, relations be- tween General Khanh and ex-General Taylor are not going well. The Vietnamese Premier re- cently described a conversation with the Ameri- can ambassador, who taxed him about his 'go north' public pronouncements. According to General Khanh, the ambassador asked, 'Are you trying to bring pressure upon the American Government?' General Khanh replied : 'Not at all, Mr. Ambassador, but sometimes I think the American Government is bringing pressure upon the Vietnamese Government.'
And the Premier exploded with fury when an unnamed American military spokesman pooh- poohed Vietnamese reports of large-scale inva- sion of soldiers from North Vietnam. He let it be known through an emissary that if the Ameri- can military ever again ridiculed his officers, 'I will counter-attack.'
To get an idea of what this war is like, let me describe a single day's aerial operation. It ran from 9 p.m. July 26 to 5.10 a.m. July 27, during a V iet-Cong assault against a government out- post in the Mekong delta. During those eight hours, 309 magnesium parachute flares were dropped over the vague battlefield by two C-132s and two C-47s in sequence—almost forty flares an hour. Fighter-planes joined in with bombs and 20 mm. cannon against the Viet-Cong. Despite all this aerial display, the VC were able to do battle for eight gruelling hours.
To add another dimension to this description, there is the report of the 'search-clear-and-hold' operation in a single valley community, about ninety square miles, in the northern province of Quang Tin. The Phuoc Chau valley, long a VC stronghold, was made a major assault target by the government. The struggle for this valley lasted from February 28 until a climactic eighteen-hour battle, March 16-17. It was finally wrested from the VC, but this is not a formal war in which battles ever end. So Phuoc Chau must still be guarded by regular troops, plus local para-military units. There are thousands of such valleys in the north, most of them in Com- munist hands. Of forty-three South Vietnamese provinces, no more than eight can be said to be truly 'pacified.'
It is no reflection on the new Ambassador's abilities to suggest that thus far matters have gone badly. The rivalry between General Khanh and Major-General Duong Van Minh, whom the former ousted in the second coup last February and who is now a restive Chief of State, is near- ing a showdown. Similarly, there is the growing disaffection of the civilians in the government, including Cabinet Ministers, at their lack of power in their own departments. Clearly, domes- tic American politics will play an increasingly embarrassing role here as, quite naturally, Saigon politicians seek to exploit the American Presi- dential race for their own purposes.
Mr. Taylor, it should be remembered, is not merely ambassador to South Vietnam, but by prestige and service the American proconsu to all of South East Asia. More so than most American ambassadors, he has a blank cheque. But while there is still time to turn the tide without escalation, the question remains—how? If there is a way, Mr. Taylor has not yet found it.