By: Bernard Firestone  | 

Humphrey Hints at Disagreements Over Tactical Strategy in Vietnam (Vol. 34, Issue 2)

Although Vice-President Hubert Humphrey’s popularity among college students is not overwhelming, Mr. Humphrey has obviously not given up on the Yeshiva College community as evidenced by a recent, comprehensive letter to The Commentator from the Vice-President in response to questions posed, to him several weeks ago. 

Mr. Humphrey outlined his views on Vietnam, Congressional dissent, turmoil in the cities and the Middle East crisis. Although the basic tone of the replies was characteristically “political,” the answers did cast some light on the Vice-President’s conception of government and his blueprints for coping with major domestic and international issues.

On Vietnam, Mr. Humphrey once again stressed the correctness of the Johnson policy and asserted that as a Senator he would have probably supported that same policy. But in accordance with his offer to conditionally stop bombing over the North, the Vice-President pointed out that as a Senator (and obviously as a Presidential candidate) he might have disagreed with certain tactical moves made by the present administration.

In his analysis of policymaking, Vice-President Humphrey defined the limitations of the executive and legislative branches of government, but condemned Congress for overemphasizing Vietnam at the expense of other important issues. The Congressman must question and publicly discuss, while the President and Vice-President, who are responsible for ultimate decisions, cannot betray their emotions and doubts, lest confidence in that policy and in the executive office be diminished. 

Mr. Humphrey introduced the term “order and justice” into a campaign bedeviled with “law and order,” and pointed out that the Negro revolt was a natural outgrowth of the civil rights legislation which had granted the black man “first class citizenship.” The Vice-President devoted most of his letter to the Middle East situation. He called upon the government of the United States to exercise the full diplomatic power to effect a political settlement but specified that until peace is achieved Israel’s military strength must be bolstered by aid from the United States.

The following are excerpts from the Humphrey interview: 

1. Had you been a Senator rather than Vice President during the 1965-68 period of intensive Vietnam escalation, do you belicve that your change in vantage point would have altered your perspective and your views on the war? Do you think that you would have been a dove had you remained in the Senate? 

Answer: I have frequently wondered about this. I do believe that being Vice President gives one a different perspective on foreign affairs. The Vice President is a member of the Executive Branch which must weigh alternatives, make final policy decisions and implement them. A Senator's responsibility, as I see it, is to advocate a point of view fully and rationally so that it can be publicly tested against the views of his colleagues. A Senator does not, however, have the discipline of having to make the final decision on matters affecting security. 

I doubt if my view on the importance of our engagement in Vietnam would have been different had I remained in the Senate, but it is quite, possible that I would have seen some of our tactical moves differently from that vantage point. 

2. Do you think that it is just for Congress to criticize the war when they are not privy to the same comprehensive information which is available to the President? If so, then why does the President constantly imply that he knows more about Vietnam than anyone else, even if he does? If not, then what good is Congressional dissent? 

Answer: The appropriate committees in Congress do have a great deal of information on foreign policy — certainly plenty to justify speaking out on foreign policy issues. Congress does not, however, have access on as immediate a basis as the President to some sources of information, and therefore cannot respond as quickly. The function of Congressional dissent —- and this goes back-to my previous answer — is to test all the alternatives rationally, to inform the public, and to advise the Administration on broad policy outlines. While Congress ‘has a perfect right to advise, criticize and dissent on specific tactical issues such as the bombing of North Vietnam, it should devote at least equal time and energy to such broader policy issues as the future of our relations with China and Japan, and our role in Asia during the next decade. I feel that Congressional debate on Vietnam has become too simplified and polarized between pro-Administration and anti-Administration positions, and that some other important foreign policy views have been given short shrift.

3. You constantly refer to law and order as being a corequisite to justice. How do you plan to concretize these words? Hasn't legislation already failed as a stimulant to justice? If not, why is there so much turmoil in the Negro community?

Answer: My premise is that you cannot have justice without the rule of law, and that enforcement of the rule of law is what we mean by law and order. I prefer the term “order and justice” to “law and order.” 

I believe legislation — and specifically civil rights legislation — has been the greatest stimulus to justice in the last 15 years. Admittedly, the results have been imperfect, and this is part of the reason for the turmoil in the black community; but a much more fundamental reason is that where

progress has been made, there is hope where there once was no hope, and aspirations are racing ahead of our ability to respond to them. It is precisely because people have been guaranteed first-class citizenship that they now rightly demand decent education, adequate housing, job training, employment — a chance to exercise their new citizenship in daily life as well as in the courts.

It is not that we are failing in our efforts to provide justice. We are succeeding — but not fast enough in view of all the horrible injustices of the past.

4. What is your position on bringing peace to the Middle East? Should Israel withdraw behind the pre-June 1967 borders? Is recognition of Israel by the UAR enough insurance for Israel’s demilitarization? 

Answer: Ever since the creation of the State of Israel, which I enthusiastically supported —. both

on moral and political grounds — I have felt that a stable peace in the Middle East is a must. There are six necessary elements for a permanent peace in the Middle East:

1. The existence of the State of Israel must be accepted by all of its neighbors;

2. The fragile, often-violated truce lines must be transformed into agreed and secure boundaries;

3. The state of Israel must have free navigational rights in all international. waters, including the Suez Canal and. the Gulf of Aqaba; 

4. The arms race, which breeds insecurity as it feeds on hostility, must be finally terminated;

5. The international community must assist the countries immediately concerned in solving the human tragedy posed by Arab refugees; 

6. The resources of the Middle East countries must be used primarily for human and economic development, rather than war and destruction. 

I favor, active U.S. diplomatic efforts to convince Israel’s neighbors —many of whom have been friends of this country for many years — to pursue now a general settlement. 

The cause of peace will not be served by the pursuit of military preponderance by Arab States through arms deliveries from the Soviet Union. Until permanent peace is achieved and the arms race ended, I believe continued U.S. military assistance, including jet planes, to Israel is justified and desirable. I favor it. But, the real answer lies in agreed disarmament.