Nixon and The Vietnam War
Entering the executive office in 1969,
Richard Milhaus Nixon would have to “pick up the slack” of his predecessor
Lyndon Johnson who had left office while the Vietnam War was still waging
on. Expected to be the “peaceful-president”, Nixon was visualized
by many Americans as being the one who would put an end to the war in Southeast
Asia and bring American troops home. With Henry A. Kissinger as his
most trusted foreign policy adviser, Nixon redefined the American role
in the world, suggesting limits to U.S. resources and commitments. Therefore,
Nixon and Kissinger set out to end the war “honorably”, whereby this meant
that total withdrawal from Vietnam could not, in Nixon’s eyes, be an immediate
option. Nixon felt that this would be a total abandonment of the
South Vietnamese who had “counted” on American aid in defending the South.
Yet certain questions arise that in what affect would immediate withdrawal
really have on the south? Also Nixon and Kissinger had their eyes
on Moscow and China. According to Herring, they felt that they must
extricate the United States from the war in a manner that would uphold
US credibility with friends and foes alike. Nixon would try a number
of different strategies during his term in attempting to end the war”honorably”. Today one can see that Richard Nixon only prolonged what could
have been ended earlier.
Nixon’s first policy was sending the message
to Hanoi that he meant business. With his “madman” campaign of escalated
strategic bombings near the border of Cambodia, he hoped to get the
North Vietnamese to believe that he was capable of doing anything to achieve
victory. What Nixon did was what Johnson had been skeptical of doing,
expand the war into Cambodia. The bombings were to be kept secret
from the American public. Here we can see the beginning of Nixon’s
downfall as being a president of immense secrecy and deception.
The bombing in Cambodia evidently did nothing
in the overall Vietnam War but devastate a neutral country. Public
opinion of President Nixon began to decline. Though he had ordered
the withdrawal of a number of US forces from Vietnam, his peace-talks were
going nowhere and the public was becoming furious of the time allotment.
Yet Nixon would remain strong to the point that Vietnam was an area which
the US had an important role in. But what role was this? Was
keeping Communism out of South Vietnam top priority? Kissinger expressed
his stand as: ” I refuse to believe that a little fourth-rate power like
North Vietnam does not have a breaking point.” He and Nixon would
remain determined to keep South Vietnam from being defeated.
Nixon hoping to save face and mobilize
American opinion behind him, initiated Johnson’s previous policy of
“Vietnamization”. The belief was that if the US backed South Vietnam
through economic aid as well as militarily ( in this case meaning the training
of South Vietnamese soldiers), the Saigon government in time would be able
to resist a Communist takeover from the North. Nixon sent the message
to the American public that this would ultimately reduce American casualties
and help the South Vietnamese government establish a self-sustained military.
The plan to the North Vietnamese, according to Marilyn Young, was to create
a South Vietnam whose real nature is pro-America.
One of Nixon’s most controversial moves
was the decision to invade Cambodia on April 30, 1970. This had come
after Nixon had announced that an additional 150,000 troops would be returning
home. Now he felt that damaging the NLF and North Vietnamese in Cambodia
would further help US troops in South Vietnam. According to Herring
this action may have bought time for Vietnamization in South Vietnam but
at a time when the United States was trying to scale down it’s role in
Vietnam it was diverting precious resources and troops to Cambodia.
Further on Nixon would order troops into
Laos expanding the war even more. Now Nixon was facing criticism
from every angle. Those who had hoped that Nixon was to be the “peace
president” now perceived him as a madman. Demonstrations escalated
leading to horrible domestic incidences including Kent State. Nixon’s
peace negotiations were deadlocked and no one seemed to be excepting any
compromise Nixon and Kissinger continued their policy of continuing the
war. More and more bombs were dropped and more and more demonstrations
erupted. Feeling the pressure from both political officials as well
as the overall public, Nixon pushed for some sort of deal to be made.
Although Thieu was totally against the compromise