Writing my review of The Cat from Hue A Vietnam War Story made me think of this book. Wrote this review several years ago, but Laurence's book provides a similar view from the perspective of the media.
Clifford's comments about the political processes involved in making decisions at high levels of government are what make this memoir so intriguing. It gave me lots of insight into many of the decisions regarding Vietnam and the considerable policy disagreements that existed in the Cabinet and at other levels of the administration. Clifford's explanation of the Tet and Khe Sanh operations are instructive.
Khe Sanh, viewed as a great military victory for U.S. forces, represented an astonishing failure of U.S. military intelligence. The North Vietnamese were using Khe Sanh as a diversion to engage our best troops in that remote region so they could launch the Tet Offensive.
Tet's impact on the U.S. government morale was immeasurable and resulted in almost complete bureaucratic paralysis. Clifford describes everyone as being in a state of near panic. The confidence of the public in the United States and Vietnam governments was destroyed. Their faith was not abolished by the media (as right-wing revisionists would have us believe), but by the failure of government to deliver on its promises. According to Clifford, press reporting by and large reflected the official U.S viewpoint. When Johnson called Tet a complete North Vietnamese failure, Senator George Aiken of Vermont replied, "If this is a failure, I hope the VietCong never have a major success." Despite Westmoreland's optimism and his call for more troops, the Joint Chiefs were less sanguine. In a secret report they noted that pacification had been discontinued and enormous numbers of refugees would inevitably overwhelm the South. In addition, the South Vietnamese army was beginning to unravel.
Sometimes merely scheduling a presidential speech forces policy decisions. It requires the administration to clarify policies that may not otherwise be fully developed. (This might be a good reason for regular presidential addresses.)
Clifford suggests that Johnson sabotaged Humphrey's election chances by forcing the Democratic party to accept a platform destined to split the party over the war. That, in turn, led to the debacle in Chicago. More tragically, he insinuates that Johnson conspired with and helped Nixon during the campaign. Nixon was also aided by Bui Diem, the South Vietnamese ambassador, who relayed information on the peace talks to the Republicans, who in turn were suggesting to Thieu, through Anna Chennault, to maintain a firm stand. Their secret connection was discovered by American intelligence. Johnson decided not to reveal this grossly illegal interference with national security affairs and this decision, which might have embarrassed the Republicans, helped to seal Humphrey's fate.
It's a shame that to find out what really happened one always has to wait 20 years. But that's what makes history so alluring. Beats any soap opera.