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The Biggest Political Mistakes of the Vietnam War

FILE --Former President Richard Nixon is shown in this 1973 photo. For two decades, President Nixon's White House tapes have been preserved and protected in a cold storage vault at the National Archives. Now, technicians are slicing them up with a razor blade, because a judge ordered the archives to cut out personal, private and some political conversations from the 3,280 hours of conversations the public still hasn't heard.(AP Photo)
Former President Richard Nixon in 1973 (AP Photo)

Part 9 of 10

Nixon versus the Left and the Democrat Congress

By the time Richard Nixon took the oath of office in January 1969, peace negotiations with the North Vietnamese had droned on for eight months without progress. Nixon’s first step was to order a thorough study of past U.S., Allied, and enemy actions and the facts determining current options for U.S. withdrawal provided South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos would remain safe from future Communist aggression. As a result of this study by the Rand Corporation, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird began to implement a plan to gradually replace U.S. combat troops with well trained South Vietnamese troops. By the end of 1969, U.S. military strength in Vietnam had been reduced from a peak of 549,000 to 484,000. By May of 1972, only 69,000 U.S. troops were left in South Vietnam, and U.S. casualties had been reduced by 95 percent. In their place was a well trained and tested South Vietnamese active force of nearly one million men. They were dependent, however, on U.S. financed arms and equipment.

Nixon’s early approach to Vietnam, stated in a May 14, 1969, televised address to the nation, was to negotiate a timetable for mutual U.S. and North Vietnamese withdrawal from South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Nixon had not learned that Marxist doctrine recognizes only three reasons to negotiate: to consolidate a victory, to stave off defeat, and to open a new front. Let our current leaders be forewarned that this philosophy is very similar to the Islamic war doctrines found in the Koran and teachings and example of Muhammad. In both Marxist and Islamic doctrine, truces are used to build up strength to defeat the enemy.

Nixon’s initial 1969 approach to dealing with North Vietnamese peace negotiations was in stark contrast to Eisenhower’s dealing with North Korea shortly after his election. Eisenhower quickly recognized that the North Korean leaders and negotiators were completely disingenuous and treacherous. He sent notice to China through India that unless there was a prompt cease-fire, the U.S. would go on the offensive. North Korea quickly complied.

Nixon, however, was completely different from his immediate predecessor, Lyndon Johnson. Nixon listened attentively to his commanding generals and admirals.  He gradually came to the conclusion that the prevailing political sentiment in Washington and the news media was wrong and that his military leaders, Congressional hawks, Eisenhower’s example, and Clausewitz’s strategic principles were right.  He then proceeded to correct the Johnson-McNamara mistakes.

In the spring of 1970, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) had fourteen major bases in “neutral” Cambodia.  The largest was in easy  striking distance of the South Vietnamese capitol of Saigon. From these sanctuary bases, the NVA launched surprise military initiatives striking population centers and  South Vietnamese and U.S. troops.  Fortunately for Nixon, the NVA had abused Cambodia’s “hospitality” so severely that a new Cambodian Government finally asked the U.S. and South Vietnam to come to their rescue. Cleaning out these dangerous sanctuaries was long overdue and inflicted a logistical disaster as well as heavy casualties on the NVA.

This urgent and long-needed U.S. and South Vietnamese operation was termed “the Cambodian Incursion” by the unsympathetic U.S. media and Democrat leaders in Congress and was very unpopular on college campuses. I had been out of the Air Force for less than a year and was a graduate MBA student at Stanford at the time. I remember well the propaganda of the fanatical,  brick-headed Leftist campus organizers decrying the U.S. expansion of the war. Unfortunately, the Left, would gain enough influence and power in Congress to overturn the victories Nixon and the military would achieve in Vietnam.

Nixon eventually brought North Vietnam’s leaders to their knees with Operation Linebacker II in December 1972.  Linebacker II was a 12-day joint USAF-Navy strategic bombing attack on previously restricted key North Vietnamese military, industrial, and logistic targets. Naval aircraft also mined North Vietnam’s Haiphong Harbor serving the capitol area of Hanoi. It was essentially the original plan that Pacific Commander Admiral Grant Sharp and the JCS had recommended to Johnson and McNamara in 1965 and several times thereafter.

The devastation in North Vietnam was so great that the Communists immediately sued for peace.  A peace treaty was signed on January 27, 1973, calling for a cease-fire and return of 591 American POWs. Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger, however, were under extreme pressure by Congress to end the war on almost any terms.  The House Democratic Majority Caucus had already voted on January 2, 1973, by a vote of 154 to 75 to cut off all funds for military operations in Indochina as soon as our troops could safely withdraw and the POWs were returned.  A year before, liberal religious leaders from 46 Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish denominations displayed their foreign policy ignorance and ethical disorientation  by  demanding withdrawal from Indochina and cutoff of continued aid to the South Vietnamese and Cambodian governments.

Congressional pressure, still being stirred up by a biased media and Marxist-Left organizers, caused Nixon and Kissinger to make a serious compromise on the future security of South Vietnam.  More than 220,000 NVA troops were allowed to stay in South Vietnam, against the wishes of South Vietnamese President Thieu.  This was big mistake number 12.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR   –  Mike Scruggs, Author and Columnist

a.k.a. Leonard M. Scruggs

 Mike Scruggs is the author of two books: The Un-Civil War: Shattering the Historical Myths; and Lessons from the Vietnam War: Truths the Media Never Told You, and over 600 articles on military history, national security, intelligent design, genealogical genetics, immigration, current political affairs, Islam, and the Middle East.

He holds a BS degree from the University of Georgia and an MBA from Stanford University. A former USAF intelligence officer and Air Commando, he is a decorated combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and holds the Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, and Air Medal. He is a retired First Vice President for a major national financial services firm and former Chairman of the Board of a classical Christian school.

Click the website below to order books.




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