Friday, January 05, 2007

Ford's veto?

Yesterday's post of mine was linked at Dean Esmay, and my old friend mikeca wrote a critique in the comments section there.

I've already debated mikeca's viewpoint about whether or not the South Vietnamese ARVN might have held off against the North if our support had continued, here, so there's no need to take that question up again. But I was intrigued by his assertion that Ford did not veto the late-1974 bill that pulled the financial plug on the ARVN.

It's an interesting question, although not an especially important one, because I'm actually in agreement with mikeca's contention that it was not only the Democrats who were for abandoning Vietnam; some Republican members of Congress were in favor of it, as well. Ford, only a few months into his unelected Presidency, most definitely didn't have the stomach necessary for the fight, either. He saw his mission as a healing, uniting one, although he himself would have preferred the funding continue.

I went to the links mikeca gives on the subject, as well as doing a number of new searches of my own, and it's still not clear what actually happened. There's no question the funding was cut substantially, and that what was appropriated was woefully inadequate, and that this led to the unraveling of the morale and the fighting ability of the ARVN, as well as the opposite for the North--a conviction, quite correct, that they would now be able to achieve their goal of conquering the South, which occurred in short order.

But the rest of the details are murky. I got my original information that Ford had vetoed the bill from Wikipedia (see under the heading "South Vietnam Stand Alone, 1974-1975"), but no source was given there, nor could I find one.

Vietnam timelines state that the fund cuttoff occurred in Congress in September of 1974, which would have been a month after Nixon's Watergate-inspired resignation. And yet Ford's signing statement for the bill, which mikeca links to, occurred on December 30, 1974.

If I were more familiar with how long it ordinarily takes bills to go from passage to signing, I'd be more able to analyze what the four-month delay might have meant. One possibility, however, is that the bill was indeed initially vetoed by Ford and then overridden, and that he signed it after the override. That's mere speculation, however; I could find nothing else on the subject other than assertions such as that in Wikipedia that there had been a veto, without citations or sources.

We do have the evidence of what Ford thought about the cutoff, however, in his words in the signing statement:

In South Vietnam, we have consistently sought to assure the right of the Vietnamese people to determine their own futures free from enemy interference. It would be tragic indeed if we endangered, or even lost, the progress we have achieved by failing to provide the relatively modest but crucial aid which is so badly needed there. Our objective is to help South Vietnam to develop a viable, self-sufficient economy and the climate of security which will make that development possible. To this end, the economic aid requested represented the amount needed to support crucial capital development and agricultural productivity efforts. The lower amount finally approved makes less likely the achievement of our objectives and will significantly prolong the period needed for essential development.

The understatement of the century.

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