The Commitments Deepen 12

Lodge had never been a team player. Almost as arcane and secretive as the Vietnamese, he had relied on two or three intimate aides to assist him. Taylor, in contrast, reorganized the American establish¬ment from the moment he arrived in Saigon. He tightened the ap¬paratus around the “mission council,” whose members were the political, military, intelligence, aid and information officers. They would attend weekly meetings to discuss possible programs, and, if an idea sounded plausible, the ambassador would order it “staffed”; a committee of subordinates then prepared a detailed outline of the project, eventually sending it back to the council for a verdict—or what was called, in bureaucratic jargon, concurrence or nonconcur¬rence. But the council’s decision was not enough. A proposal approved in Saigon would be referred to Washington for further examination by other committees—a procedure that could consume weeks, during which time it might be amended over and over again. The final plan would be presented to a parallel South Vietnamese government panel, a stage of the process that was usually smooth. For as long as the United States was willing to foot the bill for any given program, the Vietnamese rarely rejected it.
The difficulty, however, was to measure results. Or, as a U.S. official in Saigon explained it to me at the time: “Say, for instance, that we hand them a plan to distribute ten thousand radios to villages so that peasants can listen to Saigon propaganda broadcasts. They respond enthusiastically, and we deliver the radios. A few months later, when we inquire, they tell us what we want to hear: peasants are being converted to the government cause, and we’re winning the war. But what has really happened? Have all the radios reached the villages, or have half of them been sold on the black market? Are peasants listening to Saigon or to Hanoi? We don’t know. We’re in the mysterious East. We report progress to Washington because Wash¬ington demands progress.”
By the middle of 1964, the United States had formed in South Vietnam the most formidable American team ever assembled abroad in “peacetime”—and it was only a hint of things to come. American experts in the provinces were teaching Vietnamese peasants to breed pigs, dig wells and build houses. There were American doctors and schoolteachers, accountants, mechanics and even„discjockeys running an American radio station in Saigon. American ordnance technicians were testing high-velocity rifles, weird needle bombs and infrared cameras to peer through camouflage. Covert American operatives were involved in a dozen secret intelligence networks, including a special detachment that spied on spies. All these and other American – activities were financed by U.S. aid, which also underwrote weapons as well as imports of medicine, milk, gasoline, fertilizer and other products, sold locally to generate the cash to pay the Saigon govern-ment and its armed forces, then expanding to six hundred thousand men. The war, in short, had become the principal pillar of the South Vietnamese economy.
As it grew, the cumbersome American complex in Vietnam was roiled by intramural squabbles among its various agencies, each striv¬ing to promote itself. The CIA, arguing that counterinsurgency was the answer, criticized the conventional tactics favored by the military advisers. State Department officials questioned the intelligence esti¬mates of CIA analysts, who moaned that their evaluations were being ignored. Civilian aid operatives resented interference in their economic and social projects by military officers, who quarreled over the relative merits of different weapons. Taylor, in chairmanlike fashion, tried to arbitrate these inevitable squabbles. But as one member of the embassy staff put it: “We criticize the Vietnamese for their rivalries, but we’re not exactly setting an example.”
But nothing troubled Taylor and his associates more than dealing with the rambunctious, unruly, intriguing South Vietnamese leaders. Westmoreland, who habitually understated his feelings, obliquely dis¬closed his perplexity when he conceded to me at the time that he found the situation “more complex than I ever visualized it would be.” Taylor was equally baffled. After his first month on the job, he de¬scribed Khanh’s regime as an “ineffective government beset by in-experienced ministers who are also jealous and suspicious of each other. ” Yet he feared that another change of authority in Saigon would be disastrous, and he clung to Khanh as America’s only hope.
Lyndon Johnson was then inaugurating the first of several secret diplomatic attempts to induce North Vietnam to halt the war in the south. His confidential emissary in the initial overture was J. Blair Seaborn, chief Canadian delegate to the International Control Com¬mission, the toothless body set up to deal with infractions of the Geneva accords, and he carried a carrot-and-stick offer: if the Com¬munists agreed to cease their assistance to the Vietcong and end the conflict, the United States would provide them with economic aid and even diplomatic recognition. If not, they could anticipate Amer¬ican air and naval attacks against North Vietnam. Prime Minister Pham Van Dong reacted predictably. No deal was conceivable, he told Seaborn, unless the Americans withdrew from Vietnam and ac¬cepted Vietcong participation in a neutral South Vietnamese coalition government. “I suffer to see the war go on, develop, intensify,” he said, “yet our people are determined to struggle.”’
The same kind of dialogue continued for another decade as the war ravaged Vietnam. But in the summer of 1964, as the Saigon regime seemed to be crumbling, a curious “incident” furnished the Johnson administration with the occasion to widen the conflict.

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