The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington

FLOUNDERING is the only word to describe the Administration record in the Indochina debacle. Following the fall of Dienbienphu and the siege of Hanoi, a somewhat more understandable American policy began to emerge to save the remainder of Southeast Asia from Communist absorption. This was not, however, until the Western alliance had been put to severe strain and the Administration’s talk of “ regained initiative" had been shown up as hollow. Although Secretary Dulles rejected the charge that he had suffered a diplomatic defeat at Geneva, unquestionably a split with Britain did develop.

To understand the difficult ies and the subsequent attempts at patchwork, it is necessary to go back to the Berlin Conference. At that meeting in January, Dulles exhibited great diplomatic skill. He kept the Western Allies together and he threw bare the unwillingness of the Soviet Union to do anything substantive respecting a settlement in Furope. As a concession to French Foreign Minister Bidault, Dulles agreed to a discussion of the Indochina war at Geneva. He made very clear that the presence of Communist China was not to be construed as American recognition. But the mere arrangement to appear at the same meeting with Red China got him in trouble with the Formosa bloc in Congress.

Immediately Senator Knowland jumped in to denounce the meeting as appeasement. Forgotten was Dulles’s diplomatic triumph in Berlin. A steady drumfire of criticism kept up before the Geneva Conference. Any discussion with Red China was stigmatized, somewhat inaccurately, as “another Munich.”It was in this atmosphere that Dulles had to prepare for the conference. On the one hand was the French insistence on exploring every means lo obtain a decent cease-fire. On the other was the equally vehement insistence by members of Congress that there could be no concessions.

Thus Dulles went to Geneva with his hands tied. He could not negotiate: he could only demand. Whether or not the offer of eventual recognition and the seating of Communist China in the United Nations would have done any good, Dulles was not even empowered to mention such inducements. All he could do was talk tough in terms of massive retaliation against Chinese intervention in Indochina and attempt to enlist support for a Southeast Asia version of NATO.

Intervention before diplomacy

On his Hying trip to London and Paris on the eve of the Geneva Conference, Dulles obtained an agreement from British Foreign Minister Eden to consider a military alliance in Southeast Asia. Dulles, however, apparently thought the commitment was far more definite than Fden believed it to be.

Just before the opening of the Geneva meeting, French Foreign Minister Bidault made an urgent plea for active military help to save Dienbienphu. Dulles approached the British with a request to join in active intervention if Congress would approve American participation. Dulles reportedly already had discussed the matter with certain members of Congress, and a formal request for intervention powers was set for April 26. D Day

for the intervention of American carrier planes had actually been scheduled for April 28.

At this point the British drew back. Intervention before diplomacy at Geneva had had a chance was more than they had bargained for. Prime Minister Churchill, with a political problem of his own in the revolt of the left-wing Laborites, disavowed active intervention in a speech in the House of Commons.

Thus Dulles, unable to negotiate and with his plans for military intervention shattered, could only put in a nominal appearance at Geneva. The Communists were able to coordinate the capture of Dienbienphu with the presentation of their demands at Geneva. Of minor importance strategically, the fortress became a great psychological symbol because of the huge stress laid on it in the United States.

The loss of Dienbienphu completed the American disillusionment with the Navarre Flan devised by the French commandant for the military defense of Indochina. Originally the idea had been to make a stand at the fortress as a means of luring the Communist - dominated Vietminh into an open fight. But Dienbienphu was too close to Communist supply lines, and too far from French strength, for the stratagem to work. The Vietminh massed in division force, and its artillery and ammunition supplies far exceeded French estimates. Supplies from Communist China, however, could hardly be considered the deciding factor. Alter the Korean armistice, supplies sent by China increased from an estimated 300 tons a month to some 2500 tons. unquestionablv there are Chinese technicians in Indochina, and according to one intelligence report there even arc three Russian generals and seven colonels with the Vietminh.

The of American aid

But the volume of Communist, assistance to the Vietminh has in no way equaled the American assistance to the French and native forces. Aid by way of military supplies has been running at no loss than 30,000 tons a month at a cost of nearly a billion dollars a year. Indeed, one thing that has worried Administration policy makers is the possibility that formidable amounts of American equipment would fall into Communist hands. American weapons originally sent to Chiang Kai-shek and captured by the Chinese Communists, as well as equipment captured in Korea, have played a large part in arming the Vietminh.

Understandably, American efforts to bolster the French a re regarded by many of the neutralist countries of South Asia as support for colonialism. Realizing this, Foreign Minister Eden sought to enlist the aid of Asian nations for any settlement he could work out through diplomacy at Geneva. It is here that the sharpest difference arose between Britain and the United States. Eden sought to exhaust diplomacy before resorting to military measures. Dulles talked in terms of a military answer to a problem that, in the judgment of many experts, was not susoeplible of a wholly military solution.

before the breach could be repaired it was necessary for the Administration to do some backtracking in public on its strategic assumptions about Southeast Asia. Official after official-including the President, Vice President, Admiral Radford, and Secretary Dulles himself— had pro claimed or implied that the fall of Indochina to the Communists would mean the ultimate loss of the remainder of the area. Bv way of patchwork Dulles had to acknowledge that this was not necessarily true and that prudent collective measures might protect other countries despite the influence of the Vietminhese kind of internal subversion.

Meanwhile there has been remarkably little partisan criticism in Congress of the muddling by the Administration. Part of the forbearance derives, no doubt, from a realization of the truly Atlas-like burden under which Secretary Dulles has been struggling. There also is the knowledge among Democrats that it was a Democratic Administration which began many of the policies that have proved unworkable in Indochina. It was the Truman Administration that recognized the French puppet Bao Dai as the “sovereign" in Vietnam, in company with the British, and doled out aid uncritically without considering the issue of real independence.

St. Lawrence seaway

Approval of the St. Lawrence seaway was a curious anticlimax in view of the rising Canadian sentiment for an all-Canadian project. The able and affable Canadian Ambassador,

Arnold D. P. Heeney, found himself congratulated smugly by members of Congress, at the signing ceremony, on a measure in which Canada had lost at least some of its interest.

Because of the thirty-year wait on the seaway, few Canadians expected the United States actually to join in the project. Since the war, Canada has taken another look and found that an all-Canadian series of canals would be not only financially feasible but in some ways preferable from the Canadian point of view. Plans were tinder way for Canada to proceed on her own; and the $105 million which the United States will now contribute still leaves Canada with the ma jor part of the task. Officially, however, Canada continues to welcome American participation, and there is little doubt that a suitable treaty can be worked out to start, the International Rapids canal.

The Congressional vote ilself (5133 in the Senate and 241-158 in the House) showed some interesting changes of position. Democratic Senator Kennedy of Massachusetts, for example, departed from his Republican colleague, Senator Saltonstall, to vote for the bill, with the statement that the national interest takes precedence over regional interests. Both Senators from Maine, both Senators from Rhode Island, voted for the bill, as did Senator Lehman of Now York.

Mam of the representatives of eastern port states against it, however, and opposition continued to the end from a lobby organized by the eastern railroads. What undoubtedly influenced the final passage more than any other consideration was the sure knowledge that this was the last chance for the United States to participate in an international waterway and help set the tolls its own shipping would pay.

Mood of the Capital

No one in Washington has known precisely how to gauge the business recession. Many Democrats, abetted by labor leaders, have been talking gloom; but the gradual spring upturn in employment offset some of the fears in the Administration. In the words of Chairman Arthur Burns of the Council of Economic Advisers, this is the mildest recession the country has ever had.”

Burns, whose own view tends toward optimism, adds that if there were either a sharp downturn or a marked improvement he would know immediately what to advise. As it is, the Administration can only watch carefully and be prepared to step in with new stimulus if necessarv. It has relied on selective and indirect measures, such as the billion-dollar Federal highway aid program, to promote expansion of the economy.

Burns strongly opposed Senator George s plan to increase income tax exemptions. Tax relief, Burns believes, ought to be granted through lower rates when necessary; but he emphasizes that everyone ought to pay some tax as a matter of principle.

He was fearful that the exclusion of many low-income taxpayers would bring the cry of “poor man’s tax” if it subsequently should bo found necessary to reduce the exemptions.