Debate, Diplomacy, Doubt 6

In February 1966, for example, Senator Wayne Morse introduced an amendment to repeal the Tonkin Gulf resolution, whose passage only he and Ernest Gruening of Alaska had opposed nineteen months earlier. Morse, a skilled parliamentarian, maneuvered to prolong Sen¬ate debate on the subject for two weeks. Several senators joined him— among them Mike Mansfield, the majority leader, and Richard Russell of Georgia, who rose to deplore the “very great grant of power” conferred by the resolution on the president. But the country was at war—or, as Mansfield said as he motioned to shelve the bill, “We are in too deep now.” As a result, only five senators backed Morse. Gruening then introduced a bill to bar draftees from Vietnam without congressional approval; he mustered only Morse’s vote besides his own.
During the seven-year span from July 1966 through July 1973, Con¬gress recorded one hundred and thirteen votes on proposals related to the war. But its first limitation on U.S. military activities in Southeast Asia was not imposed until 1969—a restriction on American troop deployments in Cambodia and Laos—and it directed its full opposition to a continued commitment in the region only in August 1973, when it voted to stop all bombing throughout Indochina. By then, the U.S. combat forces had been withdrawn and the American prisoners of war held in Hanoi had come home; the argument that “our boys” needed support had lost its validity.
Lyndon Johnson was never confronted by more than token resistance on Capitol Hill to his Vietnam policies. His own aides, though, were increasingly dismayed. In an effort to placate those among them who favored diplomatic flexibility, Johnson approved attempts to start ne¬gotiations with North Vietnam. The quest for peace stumbled through a series of secret and often ambiguous maneuvers, some of which briefly seemed to be promising. In many instances, the search for a settlement was conducted by intermediaries who took their dreams for reality in what one cynic dubbed “the race for the Nobel prize.” One of the entrants in the obstacle course was Chester Ronning, a seasoned Canadian diplomat who went to Washington injanuary 1966 with a suggestion. Having recently been named Canada’s “special representative” to both North and South Vietnam, he offered to use his “good offices” to spur discussions with the Communists. He had criticized U.S. policy, and American officials distrusted him. But William Bundy, assistant secretary of state, reluctantly encouraged him.
After several delays, Ronning met in Hanoi in March with North Vietnam’s Prime Minister Pham Van Dong, whose refrain sounded familiar: the regime refused to be bombed to the conference table and would “talk” only when the United States had “unconditionally” ceased its air strikes. The “talks,” Pham Van Dong indicated, could eventually develop into formal “negotiations” based on his earlier proposals—which included the demand that the Vietcong be accorded a political role in the south. It was unclear whether the Communists might relax some of these terms, but the American officials who studied Ronning’s account of the meeting were really uninterested in clarifying nuances. For one thing, they were not about to recommend an unequivocal halt to the bombing for the sake of vague conversa¬tions. For another they feared that any transactions with-the North Vietnamese would exacerbate the Saigon government’s troubles. The Ronning channel dried up.
Ronning’s effort was supplanted by another venture, code-named Marigold and initiated by Janusz Lewandowski, Polish delegate to the moribund international control commission. In late June 1966, Le¬wandowski saw Giovanni D’Orlandi, the urbane Italian ambassador in Saigon. He had just met with Ho Chi Minh, the Polish diplomat claimed, and he was carrying what he described as a “very specific peace offer.” The North Vietnamese were receptive to a “political compromise” and would go “quite a long way” toward such a “set¬tlement.” D’Orlandi gathered that the Poles were acting on behalf of the Soviet Union, which wanted an end to the war in order to prevent North Vietnam from edging closer to China. He passed the message on to Ambassador Lodge, who spelled out the intriguing details in a cable to Dean Rusk.
As Lewandowski explained it, the North Vietnamese had dropped their demand that South Vietnam become a neutral state, and they would even tolerate its present government—though they preferred “someone other” than the truculent Nguyen Cao Ky as its head. They had watered down their idea of what the Vietcong would do in the south, requiring only that its representatives “take part” in negotia¬tions, and their attitude toward the American presence in Vietnam had changed drastically. No longer did they insist on an immediate American withdrawal but were ready to discuss a “reasonable cal¬endar.” And they were prepared to accept a “suspension” of the U.S. air strikes against the north as a prelude to talks.
Ambassador-at-Large Averell Harriman had recently been ap¬pointed by Johnson to run the “peace shop,” as some administration insiders snidely named the search for a diplomatic settlement in Viet-nam. He and his deputy, Chester Cooper, a former CIA analyst, were tantalized by Lewandowski’s report, and they set diplomatic wheels in motion. Lodge met with Lewandowski in Saigon, and other U.S. officials contacted their counterparts elsewhere in the world. Lewan¬dowski meanwhile showed the North Vietnamese his own version of the U.S. position—including, among its points, America’s willingness to “take into account” the Vietcong’s interests in an eventual political solution to the war. At the end of November, he reported to Lodge that they had agreed to preliminary discussions with American officials in Warsaw—in what would be the first direct encounter with the enemy. Despite misgivings about Lewandowski’s formulation, the word went out from Washington to John Gronouski, American am¬bassador in Warsaw, to arrange for the sessions.

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