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The basic reasoning about diplomacy is stated clearly in the internal record. As the US position was collapsing in 1964 and calls were mounting for an attack against the North, William Bundy wrote that diplomacy could be considered "After, but only after, we have established a clear pattern of pressure hurting the DRV and leaving no doubts in South Vietnam of our resolve" (his emphasis). First force, then diplomacy -- a last resort, if we are sure that we are powerful enough to win.11
For similar reasons, opposition to negotiations and diplomacy has been a characteristic US policy stance in Latin America and the Middle East, and remains so, as documented in extensive detail elsewhere. Commentators assume as a matter of course that diplomacy is a threat to be avoided. The principle is considered uncontroversial, a truism, perhaps even more so than in the past. In January 1993, when the West alleged that Iraq was moving missiles within its territory contrary to US wishes (but in accord with UN resolutions), the United States demanded that they be removed. In response, Iraq called for negotiations on all disputed issues, "An exchange that recalls the maneuvering before the gulf war," the New York Times reported, highlighting these words. "The ultimatum and Iraq's reply today recalled the maneuvering before the Persian Gulf War, in which the allies set a firm deadline for Iraqi compliance while Baghdad sought unsuccessfully to fend off military action with diplomatic tactics," the front-page story reported. Pursuit of peaceful means as required by international law and the UN Charter is a crime that Washington must resolutely resist, keeping to the weapon of violence, in which it reigns supreme; that is unquestioned dogma.
It is natural that those who are militarily strong but politically weak will prefer the arena of violence. Apparent exceptions typically reflect the failure of force or perceived advantage. The solemn obligation to pursue peaceful means is notable by its absence in affairs of state. It is part of the responsibility of the cultural managers in every society to cloak such facts in pieties about the high ideals and nobility of leaders, and to reshape the facts for public consumption.12
States are not moral agents; those who attribute to them ideals and principles merely mislead themselves and others.
Public rhetoric reflecting the guiding policy doctrines sometimes rose to near-hysteria. In June 1956, Senator John F. Kennedy stated that:
Vietnam represents the cornerstone of the Free World in Southeast Asia, the Keystone to the arch, the finger in the dike. Burma, Thailand, India, Japan, the Philippines and, obviously, Laos and Cambodia are among those whose security would be threatened if the red tide of Communism overflowed into Vietnam... Moreover, the independence of Free Vietnam is crucial to the free world in fields other than the military. Her economy is essential to the economy of all of Southeast Asia; and her political liberty is an inspiration to those seeking to obtain or maintain their liberty in all parts of Asia -- and indeed the world. The fundamental tenets of this nation's foreign policy, in short, depend in considerable measure upon a strong and free Vietnamese nation-- which was then enjoying its "inspiring political liberty" under the Diem dictatorship, a Latin American-style terror state dedicated to the murder and torture of people committed to the Geneva settlement and other forms of "concealed aggression."13
Kennedy kept to these extremist doctrines. As he prepared to escalate the war to direct US aggression in late 1961, he warned that "we are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies primarily on covert means for expanding its sphere of influence"; if the conspiracy achieves its ends in Laos and Vietnam, "the gates will be opened wide." "The complacent, the self-indulgent, the soft societies are about to be swept away with the debris of history [and] Only the strong...can possibly survive," Kennedy railed, outraged in this case by Cuba's unconscionable defeat of the Bay of Pigs invasion. Until the end he held that we must support the GVN in its "struggle to maintain its national independence"; "for us to withdraw from that effort would mean a collapse not only of South Viet-Nam, but Southeast Asia. So we are going to stay there" (July 17, 1963). "I don't agree with those who say we should withdraw," he said in a September 2 TV interview with Walter Cronkite: "That would be a great mistake... It doesn't do us any good to say, `Well, why don't we all just go home and leave the world to those who are our enemies'... We are going to meet our responsibility." In an NBC interview a week later (September 9), Kennedy rejected withdrawal outright: "I think we should stay," he said. We should not withdraw because withdrawal "only makes it easy for the Communists," who would sweep over Southeast Asia. Three days later he made his position still clearer:
What helps to win the war, we support; what interferes with the war effort, we oppose. I have already made it clear that any action by either government which may handicap the winning of the war is inconsistent with our policy or our objectives. This is the test which I think every agency and official of the United States Government must apply to all of our actions... But we have a very simple policy in that area....: we want the war to be won, the Communists to be contained, and the Americans to go home... But we are not there to see a war lost, and we will follow the policy which I have indicated today of advancing those causes and issues which help win the war.
These September 12 remarks became "a policy guideline," Roger Hilsman noted in 1967. Hilsman cited them as such in a plan for Vietnam that he and his associates prepared, at the President's request, and sent to JFK on September 16 (see below).
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11 PP, III 526; FRUSV-64, 676. Bundy was a high Pentagon official under JFK and LBJ, then Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs.
12 See NI and DD (including 1992 "Afterword") for recent examples, review, and sources. Michael Gordon, NYT, Jan. 8, 1993.
13 JFK, "America's Stake in Vietnam," American Friends of Vietnam Symposium, 1956, cited by Chester Cooper, Lost Crusade, 168.