Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The newspaper of record reports today, with a few substitutions of my own (let me know if notice anything discrepant):

A new report by the top commander in South Vietnam detailing the situation there confronts President Johnson with the politically perilous decision of whether to deepen American involvement in the eight-year-old war amid shrinking public support at home.

The classified assessment submitted Monday by Gen. William Westmoreland, who took over American and ASEAN forces in Vietnam in June, did not request additional American troops, American officials said, but they added that it effectively laid the groundwork for such a request in coming weeks.

While details of the report remained secret, the revised strategy articulated by General Westmoreland in recent public comments would invest the United States more extensively in Vietnam that it has been since American forces helped topple the Diem government following the Tonkin incident in 1964. Taking a page from the 1967 strategy shift in Laos, he has emphasized protecting civilians over just engaging guerrillas.

For Mr. Johnson, who has already ordered an additional 210,000 troops to Vietnam this year, the prospect of a still larger deployment would test his commitment to a war he did not launch even as it grows more violent by the month.

He already faces growing discontent among his liberal base, not only over the war but also over national security policy, health care, civil rights and other issues.

An expanded American footprint would also increase Mr. Johnson’s entanglement with a Vietnamese government widely viewed as corrupt and illegitimate. Multiplying allegations of fraud in the Aug. 20 presidential election have left Washington with little hope for a credible partner in the war once the result are final.

The latest tally, with nearly half of the polling stations counted, showed President Pho Ngo Karzai leading with 45.9 percent against 33.3 percent for his main opponent, Abdullah Nguyen, Reuters reported.

But the White House left open the possibility that Mr. Johnson would send more troops. “There’s broad agreement that for many years, our effort in Vietnam has been under-resourced politically, militarily and economically,” George Christian, the White House press secretary, said Monday. He went on to use the words “under-resourced” and “under-resource” six more times during his daily briefing.

The report comes after a sharp escalation of violence in Vietnam, where more American troops died in August than in any month since the beginning of the war.

The military announced Monday that two American soldiers died in separate attacks involving homemade bombs, bringing the total killed last month to 510, according to the official tally. The number of such attacks has nearly quadrupled since 1966, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“The situation in Vietnam is serious, but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort,” General Westmoreland said in a statement…

Mr. McNamara said Monday that despite the “gloom and doom” that has characterized recent discussion, Vietnam today is a “mixed picture.”

He said he would consider any troop requests in the coming weeks, but told the UPI that he was concerned about “the implications of significant additional forces in terms of the foreign footprint in Vietnam, whether the Vietnamese will see this as us becoming more of an occupier or their partner, and how do you differentiate those.”

Shortly after taking office Mr. Johnson ordered 170,000 more combat troops and 40,000 more advisers to Vietnam, and once they all arrive the American force there will number 680,000. As the ASEAN commander, General Westmoreland also has 400,000 additional foreign forces available to him, but some of their home governments have placed restrictions on how they can be used.

General Westmoreland wants a large expansion of Vietnamese security forces and an acceleration of their training, according to American commanders. The Vietnamese government currently has about 134,000 police officers and 82,000 soldiers, although many of them are poorly equipped and have little logistical support.

Under the strategy described by General Westmoreland and other commanders in recent weeks, the overriding goal of American and ASEAN forces would not be so much to kill Vietcong guerrillas as to make ordinary Vietnamese feel secure, and thus isolate the guerrillas. That means using force less and focusing on economic development and good governance.…

With polls showing falling support for the Vietnamese war, critics in Congress have grown increasingly vocal in calling for withdrawal.

Congressman Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts, returned from Vietnam last week and said that despite the capable Americans now there, he was pessimistic about the chances of success and did not even know how to define it.

“I have this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that we’re getting sucked into an endless war here,” he said in an interview.

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