The drama of August combined the military success of the invasion with its utter political failure. Although foreign troops overran Czechoslovakia in less than 24 hours, military force could not defeat the reform movement. The country's legitimate political representatives, led by Dubček were sitting in Moscow; yet, the Fifth Column of "solicitors" seemed to evaporate—at least temporarily—from political life. In Prague, the traitors swore that they had not betrayed the country leaving the Soviets with no political foundation, or even facade, on which to impose their will.
Initially, the reformers—Czechs and Slovaks alike—concluded that at least some of the fundamental elements of reform could be preserved. They believed that the champions of the reform movement themselves could be saved, and that after "normalization," it would be possible to make a gradual return to the Action Program, at least in its broadest outline. (On the other side of the barricade, Polish leader Władyslaw Gomułka continued to warn that counterrevolution was possible, even in the presence of the Soviet army.) For these reasons, the reformists in the end were willing to sign the Moscow Protocol.
Forcibly detained in Moscow, Dubček had little bargaining power. The slight possibility that the Czechoslovak reformists could salvage a small part the Prague Spring depended, of course, on a dual sine qua non: the unity of the reform leaders and the unity of the Czechoslovak people in their confidence in, and support for, the reform leadership. On his return from Moscow, Josef Smrkovský, in a radio speech, made an analogy to a Czech fable about the three rods of the Moravian Prince Svatopluk (Document No. 123). As the prince demonstrated to his sons, individually the rods could be snapped. But, as long as the rods were held together, nobody could break them.
At the outset, the four principal Czechoslovak representatives—Dubček, Svoboda, Černík and Smrkovský—maintained similar positions, even under the direct duress of the Soviet authorities. Even Gustáv Husák, who had recently replaced Vasil Bil'ak as first secretary of the Slovak Communist Party (against Dubček's will), openly expressed his adherence to the reformers' approach on August 28: "So that is how the question stands," Husák intoned at the Extraordinary 14th Congress of the Slovak Party, "either to back Dubček and the others resolutely, or to express in them a vote of no confidence. There is no third way… I stand fully behind Dubček's concept. I was there when it was conceived, I will give it my full backing—either I will back him, or I will leave" (Document No. 122). At that moment there could have been no doubt about the unity and support of Czechoslovak society.
Apart from these domestic pillars of support, the position of the Western industrial powers was critical. Dubček and his associates were aware that the chances of preserving even limited reforms were predicated on the willingness of the West—notwithstanding their restraint in the face of the invasion—to now react to the use of Soviet force in Central Europe with commensurately forceful measures and apply significant political pressure on the Soviet lead