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 presented by the Nixon administration, both sides would have to come to an agreement. This consisted of withdrawal of all American troops in return for American prisoners of war. The agreement also allowed the NLF to remain in South Vietnam, which Thieu resented.
Thus, another President realized the hard way what the Vietnam War would entail. Knowing that the war was a lose-lose situation, Nixon like Johnson prolonged a war that should have never began.
Filed Under: History, Vietnam War
When President Richard M. Nixon took office in January 1969, the U.S. had been sending combat troops to fight in Vietnam since 1965, and some 31,000 American lives had been lost.
However, the full-scale U.S. military commitment seemingly had made little progress in defeating communist North Vietnam and its Viet Cong guerrilla allies. The enemy forces had absorbed tremendous punishment but remained determined to overthrow the U.S.-supported government of South Vietnam and reunite the country under Communist rule.
Facing intense pressure from a war-weary public and widespread Vietnam War protests, Nixon sought a way to disengage American combat forces without appearing to abandon South Vietnam to the communists. He rejected calls from the anti-war movement to order an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops and publicly expressed a desire to achieve “peace with honor” in Vietnam.
Toward this end, Nixon and his advisors—including Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird—developed a new strategy they called Vietnamization. The Vietnamization plan provided for a gradual, phased withdrawal of American combat forces, combined with an expanded effort to train and equip South Vietnam to take over military responsibility for its own defense.
The president announced his Vietnamization strategy to the American people in a nationally televised speech on November 3, 1969. He emphasized how his approach contrasted with the “Americanization” of the war that had taken place under his predecessor, President Lyndon B. Johnson.
“The defense of freedom is everybody’s business, not just America’s business. And it is particularly the responsibility of the people whose freedom is threatened,” Nixon explained in his speech. “In the previous administration, we Americanized the war in Vietnam. In this administration, we are Vietnamizing the search for peace.”
Did You Know?
Democrat Hillary Clinton (1947-) did a college internship with Melvin Laird, creator of Nixon's Vietnamization strategy. "I’ve always kidded Bill Clinton that Hillary went wrong after meeting him," Laird said in a 2008 Reader’s Digest interview. "She was a good Republican when she worked for me."