A Voice from the Wilderness: Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War, 1964-1966.
Nixon's hawkishness on the Vietnam conflict during 1964-66 has been largely ignored by students of the war.(2) Given Nixon's role in the denouement of the war--and indeed in America's involvement in Southeast Asia during virtually the entire period from Dien Bien Phu in 1954 to the fall of Saigon in 1975--an understanding of Nixon's views during the years preceding his election seems critical to a complete understanding of Nixon's presidential decisions on Vietnam. This article will address those issues, focusing specifically on Nixon as a critic of America's Vietnam policies during the Johnson administration's escalation of the American presence in the conflict in Southeast Asia. In addition, it will examine and reaffirm the importance of domestic politics in the making and understanding of U.S. foreign policy.(3)
Rising from the Ashes
On November 7, 1962, Richard Nixon's political career appeared to be at an end. Having just been defeated by Pat Brown in the California gubernatorial election, the former vice president declared, "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore," sounding like a man who planned to fade into the footnotes of history. Yet, Nixon returned almost immediately to the public spotlight and began his long journey back into contention for the presidency. First, he relocated to New York in an effort to establish a base for his political ambitions. He then became the senior partner in an old, conservative, and respected Wall Street law firm, which enabled him to rub shoulders with domestic and international VIPs from business and politics. Nixon also began to travel extensively, making contacts with foreign dignitaries, enhancing his knowledge of foreign affairs, and honing his rhetorical and campaign skills.(4)
As a visible New York attorney, Nixon positioned himself in an ideal situation for a political comeback. He could criticize political insiders without being responsible for the consequences of his actions. His nonincumbency gave him an important advantage over Johnson in particular. He was free to state his objections to policy without having to account to Congress or the electorate. Nixon had the luxury of being forthright, unencumbered by the restraints of office.(5) As a result, he could rehabilitate his public image without running the risk of losing another election or being rebuked by an official constituency.
In Lyndon Johnson, he had a convenient and stationary target. Constrained by the demands of the presidency and preoccupied with building the Great Society and other domestic political concerns, Johnson could not afford to devote all of his personal and institutional resources to foreign policy and Vietnam--and indeed did not want to do so.(6) Nixon, on the other hand, could hammer away at the administration's indecisiveness and lack of initiative. Despite these handicaps, Johnson retained the advantages of his office. The president of the United States has the ability to set the national agenda and to focus attention away from problems--if those problems do not become too critical or pressing. He also has a massive bureaucracy to assist him in dealing with problems and keeping abreast of potential difficulties, something Nixon lacked. In addition, Nixon was still rehabilitating his image, while Johnson retained the aura of Camelot as Kennedy's legatee--a role he desperately wanted to shed but could use to his own benefit. The end result was like a political chess match between two grandmasters, each using his own strategy to project what his opponent would do, hoping to exploit an opening. In the turbulent political climate of the mid-1960s, Nixon and Johnson had ample opportunity to demonstrate their political acumen.
In the spring of 1963, Nixon embarked on a six-week tour of Europe, meeting with several world leaders in what amounted to a diplomatic circuit of international capitals. On returning to his law practice, Nixon decided that the most politically sensitive region for the United States in the coming decade would be Asia. He was particularly concerned with the Kennedy administration's commitment of sixteen thousand advisers in Vietnam and was convinced that Kennedy's decisions regarding Vietnam would "turn sour." Nixon began to educate himself on the military and political situation in Southeast Asia so that he would be prepared for future campaign discourse. Vietnam became the issue that would return Nixon to public life, most prominently as a critic of Lyndon Johnson's policies and decisions.(7)
Into the Arena
Nixon's criticism of the Johnson administration began in earnest in 1964. During a trip to Asia in March and April 1964, Nixon criticized America's policy on Vietnam for its "compromise and improvisations." In Saigon, a reporter asked Nixon whether the administration's Vietnam policies would be a campaign issue in the fall. Nixon responded, "I hope it doesn't; it will only become an issue if the policy has weaknesses worthy of criticism, if it is plagued with inconsistency, improvisation and uncertainty. That has been the case in the past."(8) Nixon later indicated that he intended to make South Vietnam an issue in the 1964 presidential election campaign, contending that Johnson's plans to defeat the Communists "may be inadequate." In reflecting on the situation he observed in Saigon, Nixon stated that what he saw on this trip "convinced me that Johnson's Vietnam policy would not succeed."(9)
Despite his pessimism toward the administration's strategy, Nixon did not believe that Vietnam was a lost cause. In an article published in Reader's Digest in August 1964, the former vice president claimed that the crisis in American policy toward Vietnam was not one of competence but rather of confidence. Nixon reproached the administration for "demonstrat[ing] that we have no real intention of winning this war. Instead, we are trying to achieve a precarious balance of not-quite-winning and not-quite-losing."(10) This was unacceptable to Nixon, who argued that the war could be won if the resources available to the military were backed by the political resolve of the administration. Indeed, in Saigon he stated that one key to victory was to "take a tougher line toward Communism in Asia" and to expand the war to" `the sources of the trouble whether in North Vietnam or Laos.'"(11) He cited a "strong body of opinion, particularly among the military," which held that a simple increase in American economic and military assistance would be insufficient to guarantee success "unless some countermeasures were taken against the North."(12) If Johnson did not exhibit a willingness to commit the resources and make the decisions necessary for success, Nixon believed, America's Vietnam policy was doomed to failure.
As a result of this crisis of confidence, American allies in Asia were losing faith in the United States. Nixon could credibly make these claims because he toured Asia frequently during this period, meeting with political and military leaders throughout the region. In this article, he referred to his discussions with a number of Asian government and opposition leaders, including a Thai colonel who disparaged the United States for backing down in Laos and for having "talked two ways on Vietnam." The officer charged that it was "hard for us to believe that you mean to win in Vietnam." As Nixon later wrote, "To our Asian friends and allies it looked as if a combination of political expediency, public apathy, distorted reporting in the media, and partisan politics was undermining America's will to fight against communism in Asia.(13)
Nixon firmly believed that "victory is entirely within our grasp." Only one obstacle stood in the way: "the will to win--and the courage to use our power--now." Nixon feared that a repetition of the errors Truman made in Korea--the "Yalu River complex"--would result in disaster for the United States. He contended that short of using nuclear weapons, America should use every means at its disposal "to win this crucial war--and win it decisively." At stake was not only the fate of the Saigon regime but the freedom of all of Asia and, even more importantly, American prestige. Nixon ridiculed suggestions made by Senator J. William Fulbright (D-Arkansas) and others that the United States withdraw its forces or push for the neutralization of South Vietnam. Either contingency would be devastating. A withdrawal of forces would lead to the loss of not only South Vietnam but potentially all of Asia for it was "the dam in the river." Nixon believed that "neutralization [was] but another name for appeasement. It is surrender on the installment plan."(14)
Shortly after Nixon's article appeared, there occurred a watershed event in the history of the American involvement in Vietnam. The attacks on American warships in the Tonkin Gulf gave the administration an opportunity to strike back at North Vietnam without explicitly widening the war.(15) Nixon supported the retaliatory strikes ordered by Johnson. He argued that the Communists were testing the United States during an election campaign, which made it "doubly important to overcompensate with firm action." Nevertheless, Nixon made sure to qualify his support for Johnson's show of force, commenting that America "should have been strong all along." Still, the air strikes stole some of Nixon's thunder and appropriated his main point of contention with Johnson for a time. Stephen Ambrose contends that the Tonkin Gulf incidents and resolution represented "the decisive moment in the 1964 election" in that Johnson "made himself invulnerable to the criticism that he was shilly-shallying on Vietnam and was too soft on Communism.... Nixon [was] very lucky he was not the nominee, as Johnson had just stolen his issue."(16)
Yet, even had Goldwater (or Nixon) criticized Johnson for failing to take more aggressive action under the resolution's mandate, it may not have mattered much to the voters. Vietnam did not resonate in the American consciousness in 1964 to the degree that it would later in the decade. Opinion polls showed that two-thirds of those surveyed paid little or no attention to the war. It did matter, however, to Johnson. The president made it very clear to his advisers that he wanted to avoid any public debate or crisis over Vietnam until after the November election. Indeed, Johnson "did everything to convey to his associates that their principal job in foreign affairs was to keep things on the back burner" and instructed his subordinates to "keep a lid on" the war to avoid "headlines about some accident." Thus, from an administration perspective, Vietnam as a campaign issue was downplayed as much as possible.(17) Even the Republicans focused on other foreign policy issues for the most part. Just prior to the election, Nixon identified Cuba as the major foreign policy issue in the campaign, with Vietnam mentioned only in passing.(18) This would change radically in 1965. From that point on, Vietnam would be America's primary foreign policy concern, and Richard Nixon would be in the vanguard of opinion pressing for a more forceful American posture.
Goldwater's humiliating defeat in the 1964 presidential election opened the door for Nixon's bid for the White House in 1968. Political observers knew early on that Goldwater would likely lose to Johnson, and Nixon later described a "sense of doom" enveloping the campaign as early as August.(19) But defeat for his party contained the seeds of future success for Nixon. If Goldwater had managed to upset Johnson, Nixon would have been shut out of the nomination until at least 1972 and perhaps permanently. Yet, Nixon had the best of both worlds in the 1964 campaign--not only could he appear moderate in comparison to Goldwater's strident conservatism, but he also campaigned diligently for the Republican ticket despite his pessimism for the ticket's chances. Nixon was a good soldier and fought loyally for the party and its chosen candidate. In retrospect, Nixon regarded his decision to campaign for Goldwater in 1964 as "the single most important step that he took on his return to power during the wilderness years."(20) As a result of his ideological positioning and the IOUs he accrued during the campaign, Nixon seemed well situated to "salve Republican wounds" and unite the conservative and moderate branches of the party.(21) What better platform to attack the administration's Vietnam policy than as the nominal leader of the Republican opposition?
The statements Nixon made and the actions he endorsed in the first half of 1964, although hawkish even in the GOP, matched what Walt Rostow privately urged Johnson to do in Vietnam and were close to what Johnson actually did in 1965. Rostow, then the head of the State Department's Policy Planning Council and later Johnson's national security adviser, had been advocating a stronger American role in Vietnam for three years. Rostow went to Vietnam with General Maxwell Taylor in 1961 and returned "full of zeal for a larger U.S. commitment," asserting that the war could be "`the last great confrontation with Communism.'"(22) Rostow's views influenced the evolution of Johnson's Vietnam policies considerably. Yet, most of Johnson's advisers were more cautious about Vietnam during 1964--due primarily to the impending elections and Johnson's domestic priorities--and the administration's policies reflected those sentiments.
Following the nadir of Goldwater's defeat, Nixon wasted no time in launching his salvos against the administration. He warned of the danger of losing the war, forfeiting the military initiative to the Communist forces and, especially, against considering premature negotiations to end the fighting in Vietnam. In a speech to the Sales Executive Club of New York on January 26,1965, Nixon cautioned that unless there was a change in strategy, "we will be thrown out in a matter of months--certainly within the year." He argued forcefully for an escalation of naval and air power in an attempt to cut off supply routes into South Vietnam and destroy Communist staging areas in Laos and North Vietnam. He also took the offensive against those who called for neutralization. "Neutrality where the Communists are concerned," he argued, "means three things: we get out; they stay in; they take over." Nixon believed that the United States "must realize that there is no easy way out. We either get out, surrender on the installment plan through neutralization, or we find a way to win."(23) Nixon's hardening rhetoric on Vietnam could not have been timed better; the attack on American forces at Pleiku would underscore his position.
Nixon and Americanization
Following the American retaliatory strikes in response to the Pleiku attack in February 1965, Johnson announced, "We have no choice now but to clear the decks and make absolutely clear our continued determination to back South Vietnam in its fight to maintain its independence."(24) Undeterred by the president's comments, Nixon wrote to Goldwater and expressed his concern that the raids
may not be an adequate follow-through. I think we must continue to urge that the United States make a command decision to use whatever air and sea power is necessary to cut off the flow of arms and men from North Viet Nam into South Viet Nam.(25)
At a party fund-raiser in Philadelphia, he demanded a "day by day and night by night" bombing campaign in the North. "Failing to do more than we are doing," he stated, "will mean loss of the war ... to imperial communism." In his mind, "the choice today is not between this war and no war, but this war and another much bigger war." The next day, Nixon implicitly reproached the Johnson administration again, arguing as he had for weeks that America should stop reacting and begin attacking communist supply lines into South Vietnam.(26)
Despite his criticisms of Johnson's policies, Nixon often seemed to be in full agreement with the president. At a press conference on April 1, for example, Nixon endorsed Johnson's policy of retaliatory raids and urged his Republican colleagues to support the administration.(27) The key, according to Nixon, was to maintain pressure on Hanoi even if the situation in Vietnam seemed to be worsening. He predicted that the continued bombing campaign would eventually force Hanoi to submit to American demands and negotiate on the basis of South Vietnamese freedom. This was vitally important because America could not afford another defeat in Asia. The United States "must find a way to stop indirect aggression ... [and] must be prepared to meet the issue squarely and to commit whatever forces are necessary. I would personally support whatever measures are made to achieve this objective."(28) Yet, even when Nixon ostensibly supported Johnson, he subtly attacked the president. Nixon never accused Johnson of doing too little; his politically motivated criticisms focused on Johnson's failure to fully commit whatever means necessary to ensure an American victory. Indeed, as Stephen Ambrose argues, "Whatever move Johnson made in the direction of escalation, Nixon was always one step ahead of him, demanding more."(29)
By the end of 1965, an increasing number of Americans--including such powerful and respected voices as Fulbright, Senator John Sherman Cooper (R-Kentucky), the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., and columnist Walter Lippmann--called for a negotiated settlement to the war involving concessions on both sides.(30) Nixon despised such sentiments. Not only did he oppose a mediated solution to the war, but because Vietnam was a test of American will, Nixon lashed out at the dissenters who undermined the unanimity that he believed should prevail.(31) As such, he contributed to the growing domestic political debate on the Vietnam War.
Nixon's attacks on America's Vietnam policy did more than pressure Johnson to escalate the war. His uncompromising rhetoric served to alienate a large segment of the population and fueled the flames of protest at home.(32) Ironically, the increased protests and violence against American involvement in Vietnam--which Nixon lobbied to escalate--provided him with one of his central themes in his 1968 presidential campaign. Indeed, Nixon's "law and order" platform helped him to win the election. Once again, we see how Nixon deserved much more "credit" for the situation he inherited in 1968 than he accepted at the time.
Nixon returned to Asia in August 1965. In Tokyo, the former vice president denounced antiwar demonstrators at home, charging, "they create grave miscalculations in North Vietnam and Communist China as to the will and unity of the United States." He went on to criticize the president's willingness to negotiate, which he labeled "a sign of weakness that has actually prolonged the war." Later, Nixon called for not just "a marginal number [of troops] in order to accomplish our objectives, but more than enough, because the more power we have concentrated, the sooner this war can be brought to a conclusion."(33)
Yet, Nixon did not believe that the conflict could be resolved quickly. He told the American Legion Convention in August that "those who predict the Vietnam war will end in a year or two are smoking opium or taking LSD." Nixon simultaneously courted the hawk vote by urging troop increases while planting suspicions among the doves by suggesting that Johnson was deceiving them in his public statements on the wax. When Nixon reached South Vietnam, he conferred with both American and South Vietnamese officials about the progress being made against the Communist forces, gathering information and ammunition to use against Johnson's policies. At a press conference in early September, Nixon suggested that 125,000 American combat troops would be sufficient and called for an expansion of the American bombing program.(34)
Of course, this assumed that the fighting would continue and the conflict would not be resolved at the conference table. As previously mentioned, Nixon stridently opposed a negotiated resolution to the war. In August, soon after the introduction of an additional fifty thousand American troops, he wrote to former Secretary of the Army Robert T. Stevens and stated, "For the United States to negotiate a peace agreement now which would in any way reward the Communists for their aggression would not only lead to the loss of Asia but would greatly increase the risk of World War III."(35) New York Times columnist Neil Sheehan wrote on September 6 that Nixon opposed any negotiations unless Hanoi was prepared to withdraw from the South and cease aggression. He quoted Nixon as stating, "I do not feel that negotiations at this time would serve any useful purpose." Nixon went on to assert, "There is only one basis for negotiations on South Vietnam and that is for Communist withdrawal of their forces and for the Communists to agree to quit infringing on the independence and territorial integrity of South Vietnam." Nixon believed that the United States "should be ready to participate for [up to four more years]. We cannot afford to leave without a victory over aggression."(36)
Nixon's opponents did not allow his polemics to go unnoticed. An editorial in the New York Times on September 8, 1965, criticized the former vice president for denouncing proposals for peace negotiations. The paper castigated Nixon's idea of unconditional surrender by North Vietnam as "an illusion that most Americans long since have abandoned. "Johnson, the editors argued, recognized that military victory was impossible for either side. The president "has accompanied military pressure with proposals that offer North Vietnam a way out of the present impasse.... Mr. Nixon's remarks can only be tragically harmful ..."(37) Despite this and other criticism, Nixon forged doggedly ahead, continuing to force the administration to confront his views and respond. In the process, he positioned himself as the leading Republican voice on foreign affairs--particularly on Vietnam and Asia--and as a viable successor to Goldwater as the GOP standard-bearer in 1968.
Nixon realized the importance of remaining in the spotlight and continuing his commentary on the inadequacy of Johnson's Vietnam policies to his presidential aspirations. Furthermore, he placed himself in a perfect situation. If the United States escalated and emerged victorious, Nixon could portray himself as the man who had all the answers. If America became bogged down, lost, or was forced to make concessions and withdraw, he could blame Johnson and the administration's policies for the failure. Either way, Nixon could shed his loser image and be well positioned for future political success as a result of his public stance on Vietnam.
Nixon appeared on Face the Nation on CBS in late November and reasserted that Johnson's conduct of the war would be a central issue in the 1968 presidential election. He accused Johnson of getting the country bogged down in a long and costly ground war and argued that American military commanders in Vietnam should be given the authority to bomb all military targets in and around Hanoi. In addition, he urged the mining of Haiphong harbor. When asked about his reaction to House Minority Leader Gerald Ford's suggestion that the United States should declare war on North Vietnam, however, Nixon stated that he was "strongly opposed." He believed that a declaration of war would cause diplomatic complications that might lead Hanoi to turn to Moscow or Peking for open intervention in the conflict.(38) Apparently there were limits--politically imposed to be sure--to Nixon's rhetorical stance on the war.
Nixon reiterated his adamant belief in unity and resolute determination to achieve a victory in Vietnam in a December 1965 article in Reader's Digest. He argued that negotiating with Hanoi before achieving military victory "would be like negotiating with Hitler before the German armies had been driven from France." He maintained that a negotiated settlement would place "our country and indeed the entire free world ... in peril." Nixon suggested that negotiation would be perceived by the North Vietnamese as a sign of weakness. "The lesson of all history warns us," Nixon wrote, "that we should negotiate only when our military superiority is so convincing that we can achieve our objective at the conference table--and deny the aggressors theirs." In other words, America should only negotiate when there was nothing to negotiate. Nixon concluded, "there can be no substitute for victory when the objective is the defeat of communist aggression."(39) Yet, even as 1965 came to a close, victory remained as elusive as ever for the United States.
Toward the Election
The new year brought further attacks by Nixon on the administration. Speaking on ABC's Issues and Answers on January 31, 1966, Nixon reproached Johnson for failing to prosecute the war vigorously enough. He also condemned Fulbright and other antiwar Democrats for taking "the appeasement line" on Vietnam. When asked how the Republicans could make an issue of Vietnam since most Republicans still supported the president's policies, Nixon replied, "I hope it will not be an issue. It will become one only if President Johnson fails to take a strong line that will preserve the peace by refusing to reward the aggressors."(40) Classic Nixonian rhetoric. Stephen Ambrose interpreted these comments in his biography of Nixon: "Nixon would not make an issue out of Vietnam if Johnson managed to win the war before the election."(41)
Throughout the first half of 1966, Nixon continued his barrage of attacks on Johnson, the administration's Vietnam policies, and those who wanted the United States to either withdraw from Vietnam or pursue a negotiated settlement to resolve the conflict. Indeed, his rhetoric continued to be as inflammatory and determined as ever. According to Nixon, Johnson had "lost the leadership of the Free World. He has lost the leadership of his own party." As a result of the lack of leadership from the White House, Johnson was losing public support for the war
not because the people oppose his policy, but because they simply do not know what that policy is. The American people are confused about Vietnam, and the indecision in the White House and deep Democratic division in the House and Senate have added to that confusion.
Nixon accused dissident Democrats of advocating a policy of appeasement and described the administration's policy as one of "endless war without appeasement. Both are half wrong and half right." What America needed, Nixon concluded, was "a policy which will end the war without appeasement."(42)
In July, Nixon again decried American antiwar critics while visiting Saigon, claiming that they were "prolonging the war, encouraging the enemy and preventing the very negotiations they say they want." To win the war, the country needed "unity of purpose" that could be achieved by electing Republicans in November. Two days later, Nixon stated that he saw no possibility of a negotiated settlement in Southeast Asia: "further discussion of a negotiated settlement delays the end of the war by simply encouraging the enemy that we are begging for peace." He called for a substantial increase of American ground forces and reiterated his desire for intensified bombing of targets in North Vietnam, asserting, "we should not be inhibited by the fiction that targets in the Hanoi area should not be hit." Nixon suggested that such a course of action would shorten the war, arguing that casualties could be reduced by increasing American troop strength by twenty-five percent to a total of five hundred thousand.(43)
Nixon went on to argue that a military conclusion to the conflict could come within two to four years if his suggestions were followed. He closed with a familiar attack on Johnson. "I'm not going to suggest that his reason for not making this kind of decision is political," he said. "I will say that no President can make this decision in a political vacuum. Unless the American people support this decision, it would be self-defeating." Nixon called for an end to the debates on American objectives in Vietnam, urging an increased concern over the administration's tactics. He believed that it was "time for the United States to be united in this struggle. Further debate as to our goal and objective ... can only delay the end of the war, can only encourage the enemy."(44) In response, the New York Times slammed Nixon again on August 14. The editors took him to task for raising precisely the issue he insisted should no longer be a subject for debate--the American objective in Vietnam. They wrote, "A commitment to endless escalation in pursuit of military victory on the Asian mainland would be a commitment to disaster."(45)
On August 23, 1966, Nixon met with a group of Republican senators at the urging of Senator Thruston Morton of Kentucky and announced his support for an all-Asian peace conference.(46) The proposed conference, which also had been supported publicly by Eisenhower and had been gaining currency during the summer, would include both China and North Vietnam. Yet, Nixon and his Republican colleagues also maintained that the war should continue to be supported. He called for America's European allies to join in an economic embargo against North Vietnam. Surprisingly, Nixon also questioned the effectiveness of bombing Hanoi and other important targets, contending that such actions could possibly widen the war.(47) On the surface, this about-face on the question of Hanoi's status as a legitimate target seems to be contradictory. But Nixon was simply hedging his bets with one eye on the prize, the 1968 nomination.
Richard Nixon was walking a tightrope during the late summer and early fall of 1966. On one hand, his attacks on Johnson continued unabated. On the other, he was positioning himself as a voice of reason in the face of an increasingly unpopular and escalating war. His willingness to support an all-Asian peace conference and the subtle foreshadowing of what would become his Vietnamization policy showed that he was leaving his options open; the election results would give Nixon the signals he needed on what road to take after November. In addition, Nixon recognized that there were political risks for him in the 1966 election. If the Republican party went down in defeat or even failed to make a reasonable comeback, the press and his political competitors within the GOP would be able to say that Nixon, the perennial loser, had once again dragged the party down to defeat, effectively killing his presidential ambitions in 1968. Yet, the potential dividends were too tempting to pass up. If a Nixon-led campaign managed to achieve a Republican resurgence in the congressional and local elections, Nixon would receive the plaudits and attention within the party that could lead to his own campaign two years later.(48) So Nixon challenged Johnson at every opportunity, cognizant of the potential pitfalls in his path, and remained aware of the direction the political winds were blowing.
An interview with U.S. News & World Report on October 3, 1966, typified the nature of the verbal barbs Nixon lobbed at Johnson. As previously noted, Nixon's attacks were formulaic; he would state his support for the president and then proceed to attack the administration for its policy shortcomings. In this instance, he pointed out that the administration's response to North Vietnamese aggression was too little and too late. He pointed out that a year and a half earlier, Republicans had urged the use of air power against strategic military targets north of the seventeenth parallel. By the time that Johnson decided to use air power, Nixon contended, the North Vietnamese had been forewarned and had dispersed many of the key targets. Nixon also rebuked the president for failing to unite the American people. In particular, Nixon focused on Johnson's failure to maintain the Democratic Party's support for the war, the first time "a President has been unable to unite his own party behind the war effort." Nixon, with characteristic hyperbole, described this as "the greatest single foreign-policy failure of any American war President in history." Nixon argued that if the American people stood undivided behind the war effort, not only would the United States win the war, but also it would enable the administration to obtain the support of its European allies.(49)
Johnson attempted to regain the initiative and garner public and international support for the administration's Vietnam policies in late September 1966. He announced that he would meet with President Nguyen Van Thieu of South Vietnam in Manila two weeks prior to the U.S. elections. Nixon quickly accused the president of playing politics with Vietnam, conveniently forgetting for the moment that he had called for a similar conference a month earlier. In his newspaper column, he questioned whether the conference was "a quest for peace or a quest for votes?"(50) The result of the conference was a joint communique that offered an American troop withdrawal from South Vietnam within six months contingent on a North Vietnamese withdrawal of forces, cessation of their support for the Viet Cong, and a reduction of violence overall. The press reaction to the statement was largely negative on both sides of the political spectrum. Reminiscent of Nixon's comments, hawks called it "surrender on the installment plan"; doves believed that the Manila statement did not go far enough to end the war.(51)
Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who consistently supported a stronger American presence in Vietnam through 1968, urged Nixon to "keep hitting!" the administration for its "hesitation, indecision, and even timidity."(52) Nixon issued a statement excoriating Johnson's agreement, stating that the conference had accomplished nothing. He warned that the United States "should never rely on communist promises--but should always insist on guaranteed deeds." The Manila communique, according to Nixon, "raised some grave policy questions which should be answered by President Johnson" prior to the upcoming elections to regain domestic support and reassure America's allies(53)Johnson responded quickly and harshly to Nixon's attack. At a press conference the day after Nixon's statement, the president labeled Nixon a "chronic campaigner ... [who] find [s] fault with his country and his government during a period of October every two years. "Johnson insisted that his Vietnamese policy would remain the same regardless of the outcome of the elections and accused Nixon of trying to "pick up a precinct or two, or a ward or two" with his comments.(54) Johnson's aides went even further. They accused Nixon of "talking out of both sides of his mouth" and suggested that the Democratic National Committee "get about five Members of Congress to take in after Nixon ... for `playing politics with our boys in Vietnam.'"(55)
The candid and biting comments Johnson made against Nixon personally backfired. Gerald Ford came to Nixon's defense, saying that Nixon had raised "legitimate questions about our foreign policy" and that the "American people should have forthright answers to all these questions from the White House."(56) For his part, Nixon accused Johnson of breaking "the bipartisan line of Vietnam policy"--a line that he had frequently fractured himself. He later asserted that Johnson had challenged "the principle of the right to disagree, the right to dissent." Nixon emerged from the fracas with an astonishing amount of support as even newspaper editors flocked to his defense.(57) On the eve of the midterm elections, Nixon suddenly found himself the beneficiary of an outburst by Johnson--precisely the opposite scenario political observers had expected--and he and his party rode the wave of good fortune into the voting booth.
Nixon and his advisers had been planning the 1966 campaign since the 1964 Goldwater debacle. Postulating that the political pendulum had swung too far toward the Democratic Party in 1964, they believed that large numbers of traditionally Republican districts lost in the Johnson landslide could return to the GOP column. They therefore concluded that Nixon should be at the vanguard of the campaign to recapture those seats to reap the benefits that would accrue to the leader of the Republican revival.(58) Thus, as he had in 1954 and 1958, Nixon campaigned relentlessly for Republican candidates across the country and predicted that his party would make significant gains in both the House and Senate. The results could not have been scripted better. The Republicans managed to gain 47 seats in the House and 3 in the Senate, capture eight governorships, and win 540 seats invarious state legislatures.(59)What had been inconceivable in 1962 had become a real possibility in the wake of the elections: a Nixon presidency.
After the election, Nixon's optimism over his prospects in 1968 was obvious. As the St. Louis Globe-Democrat noted in the aftermath of the election, the former vice president was now identified as a political winner, having finally shed the image of the sulking, defeated gubernatorial candidate of four years earlier. "Whether by design or not, the Nixon performance over the last two years ... has annihilated the argument that Nixon is a `loser,' a candidate who cannot win.... There is no question that Richard Nixon is the BigWinner in 1966." The paper went on to interpret the GOP victory and its implication for 1968: "The Republican Party pros know today Richard Nixon is the only man in their party to date who has lured Lyndon Johnson in open combat and whipped him hands down. Lyndon Johnson knows who won the first round."(60)
In addition, the administration was pursuing an increasingly precarious and unpopular position on the war. The New York Times editorialized that the election indicated "widespread dissatisfaction and uneasiness about the course and the prospects of the Vietnam War."(61) Nixon could now begin to temper his rhetoric to maximize his support in the coming presidential race. He realized that "The peace party always wins. I know my own party. If the war is still going on in 'sixty-eight, there is no power on earth can keep them from trying to outbid the Democrats for the peace vote."(62) Indeed, as Senator Stuart Symington (D-Missouri) told Rostow, "We are getting in deeper and deeper [in Vietnam] with no end in sight. In 1968 Nixon will murder us. He will become the biggest dove of all times."(63) If the Johnson administration failed to resolve the conflict by the election campaign, Nixon (if nominated) would be in a position to move to the center and portray Johnson as an extremist on the war, just as Johnson had done to Goldwater in 1964. As Nixon stated over a decade later, the 1966 election results were "a prerequisite for my own comeback."(64) This was a personal victory for Nixon, and his persistent badgering of Johnson paid off in spades. Not only did the Republican Party make impressive gains, but also he immediately became the GOP frontrunner in 1968. Nixon was back on the road to the White House. He already had the motive, his criticism of Johnson over the previous three years had provided him with the means, and now he had the opportunity to finally achieve his greatest ambition.
Nixon's running critique of Johnson's Vietnam policies between 1964 and 1966 suggests several conclusions about the war itself, the relationship between Nixon and Johnson, and the American political system in general. First, and most apparently, Nixon's condemnation of both Johnson and the doves typifies the deep divisions within America over the war that grew exponentially during this period. In 1964, Vietnam barely registered as a blip on the nation's political radar; by 1966, it had become a critical issue. Nixon represented a significant segment of opinion that still believed that the war was worth fighting and could still be won. Caught in the middle of these forces was Johnson, who yearned to be remembered for his Great Society but instead was forced to decide whether to negotiate and withdraw from Vietnam or prosecute the war more zealously to achieve a decisive victory. He chose the later, and, as a result, Vietnam became known as "LyndonJohnson's war." Yet, Johnson alone should not bear the burden of responsibility. Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, McNamara, and others stand accountable for their roles in escalating the American commitment to Saigon. Nixon and Johnson together fanned the flames in Vietnam in the mid-1960s; Johnson just happened to be president when events turned sour.(65)
Another important point to consider is the relationship between Nixon and Johnson. For all of their differences in political philosophy, Nixon and Johnson were fundamentally alike in one key sense: they were both committed cold warriors and politicians to the core. Neither Nixon nor Johnson disagreed about the importance of defending South Vietnam from the military incursions of the communist North Vietnamese or the potential consequences for American credibility if Ho Chi Minh's forces succeeded. Furthermore, both employed the images and symbols of World War II--appeasement in particular--when discussing the situation in Vietnam. The key difference lay in the fact that Nixon, especially in 1964, was more willing to expand the war; Johnson remained hesitant, fearful that his domestic agenda would be imperiled. Ironically, Johnson eventually expanded the war along the lines suggested by the former vice president at the same time that Nixon, for his own political reasons, retreated to a more moderate position on the war for the 1968 presidential election.
Nixon's hawkish rhetoric on the war raises two important questions: first, was Nixon's critique of the administration sincere or was it a product of cynicism and political tactics? Second, did Nixon's comments have a direct effect on Johnson's decision to escalate the conflict? The evidence is clear that Nixon--along with a number of national political leaders from both parties and a large segment of the American public--truly believed that the United States could win the war in Vietnam if the will to win existed. Yet, as a politician seeking the nation's highest elected office, Nixon would have criticized Johnson regardless of the president's policies. Thus, it would appear that as usual, Nixon had a combination of motives for his actions during this period.
The second question is more challenging. It would be easy to fall into the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc in assessing Nixon's statements and Johnson's actions from 1964 to 1966.(66) There is no "smoking gun" or dramatic document that explicitly states that Johnson escalated the conflict because of Nixon's (or anyone else's) comments, and other domestic and international considerations certainly factored into in those decisions. Yet, Johnson did take Nixon seriously, as did the New York Times. He realized that he needed the support of the Republican Party for his Vietnam policies to preserve the pretense of bipartisanship, particularly as support from his own party eroded and dissent became more public from Fulbright, Cooper, and others. Therefore, while Nixon did not force the administration to act or exert a direct influence on policy, Nixon's critical comments and public support made a strong impression on the president and his advisers.
Yet, it is clear that even as Nixon assaulted the administration for its lack of initiative and success in Vietnam,Johnson's advisers began thinking along similar lines. In the wake of the attack on Pleiku in February 1965, McGeorge Bundy sent Johnson an assessment of the situation in Vietnam that could have been taken directly from Nixon's critiques. Bundy stated,
There is one grave weakness in our posture in Vietnam which is within our own power to fix--and that is a widespread belief that we do not have the will and force and patience and determination to take the necessary action and stay the course.. The situation in Vietnam is deteriorating, and without a new US action defeat appears inevitable.... The international prestige of the United States, and a substantial part of our influence, are directly at risk in Vietnam.... Any negotiated US withdrawal today would mean surrender on the installment plan .(67)
The actions taken by the United States during 1965 reflected the changing priorities and strategies of the administration as it attempted to reverse the tide on the ground in Vietnam. With the election behind them and a mandate securely in hand, Johnson's foreign policy advisers began to press for changes in America's Vietnam policy. Along with McNamara and Rostow, Bundy began to push Johnson closer to what Nixon had been advocating for nearly a year. Unfortunately for Johnson, Nixon had already moved beyond his initial recommendations, staying a step ahead of the administration to allow him to continue to criticize Johnson's policies.
In all of Nixon's writings and speeches during this period, four main themes formed the foundation of his criticism and rhetoric. First, Nixon asserted that the war in Vietnam represented an opportunity to stem the tide of Communist advancement in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Second, he drew on the lessons of World War II and argued against appeasing Communists by negotiating from any position except one of overwhelming dominance.(68) Third, the former vice president hammered away at the fact that America's prestige and credibility were at stake and that any further retreat would irrevocably damage these interests. Finally, and less overtly, Nixon's overarching goal in his rhetorical attacks was to position himself for an opportunity to regain the Republican nomination for the presidency; everything he did in these years was undertaken with one eye on the White House.(69) To one degree or another, these four themes colored everything Nixon said or did, and his attacks on Johnson and American policy in Vietnam must be understood in this context.
Nixon consistently accused Johnson of doing too little to prosecute the war and talking too much about ending it by means of negotiation.(70) It was not a question of ability or competence; American will was all that was required to ensure a victory over Communism. For three years, Nixon badgered the administration to do more to escalate the war so that America could achieve victory. Yet, as Johnson escalated the war consistent with the policies Nixon advocated, it became politically advantageous for Nixon to change tactics and take up a comparatively moderate position regarding the war. Indeed, Nixon's Vietnamization program began to take shape in late 1966 as he began to focus on the 1968 election and backed away from his strident rhetorical stance.(71) In essence, he did to Johnson what Johnson had done to Goldwater--isolated him from the electorate by painting the president as an extremist while claiming the moderate middle course for himself. Nixon succeeded extraordinarily well, and this strategy contributed to his victory in November 1968.
The fact that Johnson was forced to deal with Nixon's attacks reflects the influence of domestic political forces on the making and conduct of American foreign policy. Johnson faced domestic constraints and imperatives that limited his, and by extension America's, freedom of action. In this instance, Nixon's persistent hawkish rhetoric made it virtually impossible for Johnson to take any meaningful steps toward a negotiated settlement or even withdraw from Vietnam for fear that he would face savage attacks from Nixon and his supporters. Ultimately, Johnson would follow Nixon's lead and escalate the war in Vietnam. Yet, by that point, Nixon had already begun to chart a new path, leaving Johnson to deal with the ramifications of his decisions. In the final analysis, Richard Nixon should be held accountable at least in part for the situation he faced as he took the oath of office in January 1969. His constant criticism of Johnson's Vietnam policies helped create it.
The author wishes to thank Fred Logevall and Kathryn Statler for their insightful comments on previous versions of this article, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation and Gerald R. Ford Foundation for their generous financial support, and Jennifer Baker for her research assistance.
(1.) Richard Nixon, RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon (New York: Touchstone, 1990), p. 269.
(2.) Most of Nixon's biographies treat this period in his life inadequately. The most complete account of Nixon's Vietnam views in the 1960s is Stephen Ambrose, Nix. on: The Triumph ora Politician, 1962-1972 (New York: Touchstone, 1989). Even Nixon's memoirs are superficial regarding this period; he devotes only sixty-three pages to his years as a "private citizen" from 1961 to 1967, and only a fraction of that material focuses specifically on Vietnam. See Nixon, Memoirs, pp. 231-94. In the secondary literature on the war, Nixon usually does not appear in the narrative until the 1968 presidential campaign. See, for example, Robert D. Schulzinger, A Time for War: The United States and Vietnam, 1941-1975 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997). Jeffrey Kimball's recent book, Nixon's Vietnam War (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1998), focuses primarily on Nixon's conduct of the war as president and only briefly reviews Nixon's stance on Vietnam prior to 1968. See Kimball, Chapter 2 (especially pp. 29-31).
(3.) For a survey of the effects of domestic politics on the American foreign policy process, see Melvin Small, Democracy & Diplomacy: The Impact of Domestic Politics on U.S. Foreign Policy, 1789.. 1994 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996).
(4.) Quoted in Ambrose, Nix. on: The Triumph ora Politician, p. 11. In December 1962, Time expressed the prevailing political wisdom of the day in its postmortem on Nixon's gubernatorial bid: "Barring a miracle, Nixon's public career has ended." For a discussion of Nixon's move to New York, see Ambrose, pp. 14-30.
(5.) Herbert Parmet, Richard Nixon and His America (New York: Konecky and Konecky, 1990), p. 455; Jonathan Aitken, Nixon: A Life (Washington, DC: Regnery, 1993), p. 309.
(6.) On Johnson's preference for domestic policy, see Warren I. Cohen and Nancy Bernkopf Tucker, eds., Lyndon Johnson Confronts the Worm:American Foreign Policy, 1963-1968 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994).
(7.) Aitken, Nixon: A Life, pp. 318-20.
(8.) Peter Grose, New York Times, April 2, 1964, p. 23. Nixon made almost identical comments in Manila and Taipei during the same trip, stating that success in Vietnam would only come "if contrary statements [by the administration] end." See New York Times, April 8, 1964, p. 20.
(9.) New York Times, April 4, 1964, p. 2; Nixon, Memoirs, p. 258. In the recently released White House telephone tapes, Johnson's concerns over Republican attacks on his Vietnam policies in 1964 are clearly displayed. See, for example, the transcripts of the following telephone conversations: Lyndon Johnson to John S. Knight, February 3, 1964; Johnson to John McCormack, March 7, 1964; and Johnson to Richard Russell, May 27, 1964, Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library Austin, Texas (hereafter LBJL).
(10.) Richard M. Nixon, "Needed in Vietnam: The Will to Win," Reader's Digest, August 1964, p. 37.
(11.) Telephone conversation transcript, Lyndon Johnson to McGeorge Bundy, April 14, 1964, LBJL.
(12.) New York Times, April 10, 1964, p. 16.
(13.) Nixon, "Needed in Vietnam," p. 37; Nixon, Memoirs, pp. 256-57. In his memoirs, Nixon also quoted Pakistani President Ayub Khan:
Diem's murder meant three things to many Asian leaders: That it is dangerous to be a friend of the United States; that it pays to be neutral; and that sometimes it helps to be an enemy! Trust is like a thin thread, and when it is broken it is very hard to put together again. (P. 257)
(14.) Nixon, "Needed in Vietnam," pp. 38-43. Nixon referred to the "Yalu River complex" on several occasions. See, for example, David S. Broder, New York Times, September 13, 1965, p. 10. Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield was among those in the United States who supported neutralization as a way to resolve the situation in Vietnam. See Letters, Mike Mansfield to Lyndon Johnson, December 7, 1963 (also January 6, 1964, and February 1, 1964), Memos to the President, Box 1, National Security File (NSF), LBJL. For a general discussion of neutralization, see Fredrik Logevall, "DeGaulle, Neutralization, and American Involvement in Vietnam, 1963-1964," Pacific Historical Review 61, no. 1 (1992): 62-102.
(15.) Questions persist regarding the authenticity of the attacks in the Tonkin Gulf that prompted the August resolution. For the most recent scholarship, see Edwin E. Moise, Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996).
(16). Jules Witcover, The Resurrection of Richard Nixon (New York: G. P Putnam, 1970), p. 110; Ambrose, Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, p. 55.
(17.) Transcript, Michael Forrestal Oral History Interview, November 3, 1969, by Paige E. Mulhollan, pp. 20-23, LBJL. See also Note, March 5, 1964, Files of C.V. Clifton, Box 1-3, NSF, LBJL; and telephone conversation transcripts, Lyndon Johnson to McGeorge Bundy, March 2, 1964, and March 4, 1969, LBJL. In his autobiography, former Senator Barry M. Goldwater recounts a meeting he had with Johnson in August 1964 in which he claims the two presidential candidates agreed to leave Vietnam and civil rights out of the campaign to avoid increased divisiveness in the country. See Goldwater, Goldwater, with Jack Casserly (New York: Doubleday, 1988), pp. 192-93. For a persuasive opposing view, including a review of the recent scholarship on this issue, see Jeffrey J. Matthews, "To Defeat a Maverick: The Goldwater Candidacy Revisited, 1963-1964," Presidential Studies Quarterly 27, no. 4 (1997): 670-71, 676n-77n.
(18.) Richard M. Nixon, "Cuba, Castro and John E Kennedy: Some Reflections on United States Foreign Policy," Reader's Digest, November 1964, p. 298. Nixon characterized Vietnam as "only the most recent and most shocking of a series of foreign-policy disasters that has reduced American prestige to an all time low" in Asia. See idem., p. 299. Yet, on the eve of the election, Nixon emphasized Vietnam's importance, calling it "a war that we're losing, a war in which we're going to get kicked out of..." See Transcript, Nixon speech, October 28, 1964, Office Files of Bill Moyers, Box 22, LBJL.
(19.) Nixon, Memoirs, p. 262. Nixon's "sense of doom' was well founded. Republicans not only lost the White House in a landslide but also lost thirty-seven seats in the House, two in the Senate, and more than five hundred in state legislatures in the election.
(20.) Aitken, Nixon: A Life, p. 322. Many Republicans gave lukewarm support at best to Goldwater's campaign, which led to recriminations and accusations in the months following the electoral defeat.
(21.) Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, Washington Post, November 13, 1964, p. A19. Evans and Novak did note, however, that Nixon bruised some egos in the GOP by attacking potential rivals Nelson Rockefeller and George Romney in postelection speeches, which limited his effectiveness as a "Party unifier." See also Aitken, Nixon: A Life, p. 322.
(22.) Stanley Karnow, Vietnam: A History (New York: Penguin, 1983), p. 358.
(23.) Nixon, Memoirs, p. 270; Witcover, The Resurrection of Richard Nixon, p. 109. Nixon summarized his views on neutralization, negotiation, and the war in general in Speech, March 15, 1965, Gerald R. Ford Congressional Papers, Legislative File, Box B31-3, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
(24.) Quoted in Nixon, Memoirs, p. 271.
(25.) Letter, Richard Nixon to Barry Goldwater, February 10, 1965. Quoted in Parmet, Richard Nixon and His America, p. 453. The following day, Nixon met with Johnson at the White House and pressed the president for further action on Vietnam. See also New York Times, February 8, 1965, p. 16.
(26.) William Conrad Gibbons, The U.S. Government and the Vietnam War, 4 vols. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986-1995), 3:82; AP press release, February 11, 1965, White House Central Files (WHCF), Name File, Box 120, LBJL. See also Ambrose, Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, p. 62; Witcover, The Resurrection of Richard Nixon, p. 110; and Robert J. Donovan, "Over-Nominated under-Elected, Still a Promising Candidate," New York Times Magazine, April 25, 1965, p. 92.
(27.) Later that month, Richard Berlin of Hearst Publishing told one of Johnson's advisers that Nixon "did an outstanding job particularly in praising the President and defending the President's position in Viet Nam. When he got finished someone asked him: `Dick, have you become a campaigner for Lyndon Johnson [?]'" Memorandum, Jack Valenti to Lyndon Johnson, April 28, 1965, WHCF, Name File, Box 120, LBJL. As early as 1965, Republicans such as Senator John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky began questioning America's commitments in Vietnam. See, for example, Speech, April 19, 1965, Speech series, Box 903, John Sherman Cooper Collection, Modern Political Archives, University of Kentucky (hereafter MPA/UK).
(28.) Donovan, "Over-Nominated under-Elected," p. 92; New York Times, April 2, 1965, p. 16.
(29.) Ambrose, Nixon: The Triumph ora Politician, p. 64.
(30.) For a discussion of Lippmann's views, see Ronald Steel, Walter Lippmann and the American Century (Boston: Little, Brown, 1980); and Fredrik Logevall, "First among Critics: Walter Lippmann and the Vietnam War,"Journal of American-East Asian Relations 4, no. 4 (1995): 351-75. On Fulbright, see Randall Bennett Woods, J. William Fulbright, Vietnam, and the Search for a Cold War Foreign Policy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998). On the antiwar movement in general, see Tom Wells, The War within: America's Battle over Vietnam (New York: Henry Holt, 1994); and Charles DeBenedetti, An American Ordeal: The Antiwar Movement of the Vietnam Era (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1990).
(31.) On July 10, 1965, Nixon called on Democratic critics to stop undermining Johnson. "The United States today is not speaking with one strong voice," he complained. Then, in a subtle dig at Johnson, Nixon stated, "The President owes it to the nation to repudiate the critics in his own party." See New York Times, July 11, 1965, p. 4.
(32.) Michael S. Sherry In the Shadow of War: The United States since the 1930s (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995), p. 286. One incident that displayed the growing fissures within American society over Vietnam occurred in April 1965 when Nixon attacked Professor Eugene Genovese for the latter's stand on the war. See Aitken, Nixon: A Life, pp. 323-24; Ambrose, Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, pp. 72-74; and Parmet, Richard Nixon and His America, pp. 456-61.
(33.) New York Times, August 28, 1965. Quoted in Ambrose, Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, p. 68. See also Witcover, The Resurrection of Richard Nixon, p. 155.
(34.) Ambrose, Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, p. 88; Witcover, The Resurrection of Richard Nixon, p. 156; and Neil Sheehan, New York Times, September 6, 1965, p. 1.
(35.) Letter, Richard M. Nixon to Robert T. Stevens, August 5, 1965. Quoted in Parmet, Richard Nixon and His America, p. 454. See also Nixon's speech, August 10, 1965, Speech series, Box 10, Dwight D. Eisenhower Post-Presidential Papers, 1961-1969, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library Abilene, Kansas (hereafter DDEL).
(36.) Neil Sheehan, New York Times, September 6, 1965, pp. 1-2. In a briefing in Saigon with General William Westmoreland, Nixon "expressed his concern that [Johnson] has been a little too eager to negotiate. He feels that negotiations at this time would be premature." See Meeting notes, September 4, 1965, Papers of William C. Westmoreland, Box 6, LBJL.
(37.) Editorial, New York Times, September 8, 1965, p. 46. These remarks reflect the fact that the Times took Nixon's views seriously during this period and regarded him as an important and influential voice in American foreign policy.
(38.) Raymond H. Anderson, New York Times, November 22, 1965, p. 1. In opposing a declaration of war, Nixon joined in
the Great Political Evasion of the 1960s, the refusal on the part of Democrats and Republicans alike to confront the Vietnam issue head-on, in an up-or-down vote for war.... It was contradictory or Nixon to call for victory with one breath and refuse to even consider declaring war with the next.... But Nixon was far from being alone on the question of forcing a vote for or against war on North Vietnam.
See Ambrose, Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, pp. 76-77.
(39.) Richard M. Nixon, "Why Not Negotiate in Vietnam?" Reader's Digest, December 1965, pp. 50-54. Nixon reiterated these sentiments and emphasized the important role the Republicans should play as the loyal opposition in supporting the U.S. policy in Vietnam in a speech on December 3, 1965. See Speech, December 3, 1965, Post-Eisenhower Administration series, Box 10, Fred A. Seaton Papers, DDEL.
(40.) New York Times, January 31, 1966, p. 12.
(41.) Ambrose, Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, p. 81.
(42.) New York Times, May 1, 1966, p. 7; Newspaper column, Richard M. Nixon, June 4, 1966, Special Names Series, Box 14, Dwight D. Eisenhower Post-Presidential Papers, 1961-1969, DDEL.
(43.) New York Times, August 6, 1966, p. 3; and August 8, 1966, p. 1.
(44.) New York Times, August 8, 1966, p. 9.
(45.) Editorial, New York Times, August 14, 1966, p. 10D.
(46.) Morton was supportive of the American effort in Vietnam until 1967 when he publicly denounced the administration and joined his fellow Kentuckian Cooper as a critic of the war and an advocate of a negotiated withdrawal. He defends his decision in Letter, Morton to Weathers, Jr., August 30, 1967, Legislative File, 1957-1968, Box 22, Thruston B. Morton Collection, MPA/UK.
(47.) Gibbons, The U.S. Government and the Vietnam War, 4:392-93.
(48.) Nixon, Memoirs, pp. 271-72.
(49.) "Outlook for Republicans Now," interview with Richard Nixon, U.S. News & World Report, October 3, 1966, p. 60. America's allies in Europe consistently urged the United States to pursue a negotiated settlement and withdraw from Vietnam.
(50.) Nixon, Memoirs, p. 273.
(51.) Tom Wicker, One of Us: Richard Nixon and the American Dream, rev. ed. (New York: Random House, 1995), p. 283.
(52.) Letter, Eisenhower to Nixon, October 21, 1966, Special Names Series, Box 14, Dwight D. Eisenhower Post-Presidential Papers, 1961-1969, DDEL.
(53.) Letter, Nixon to Eisenhower, October 4, 1966, Special Names Series, Box 14, Dwight D. Eisenhower Post-Presidential Papers, 1961-1969, DDEL; Newspaper column, October 16, 1966, Special Names Series, Box 14, Dwight D. Eisenhower Post-Presidential Papers, 1961-1969, DDEL; and New York Times, November 4, 1966, p. 18.
(54.) Tom Wicker, New York Times, November 5, 1966, pp. 1, 10-11.
(55.) Memorandum, George Christian to Jake Jacobsen, November 4, 1966, White House Famous Names, Box 6, LBJL; and Memorandum, James R. Jones to W. Marvin Watson, November 5, 1966, WHCF, Name File, Box 120, LBJL.
(56.) Tom Wicker, New York Times, November 5, 1966, p. 11. See also Statement, October 14, 1966, Post-Eisenhower Administration series, Box 10, Fred A. Seaton Papers, DDEL.
(57.) Tom Wicker, New York Times, November 5, 1966, p. 1; and Nixon, Memoirs, p. 276. For example, on November 4, 1966, Murray Kempton in the New York Post wrote that if Nixon "were really the reckless partisan we had thought him and not the honorable exponent of national unity he showed himself yesterday." And the Yonkers Herald Statesman editorialized, "If Mr. Nixon is a chronic campaigner, this is perhaps what the country needs most. A responsible voice of opposition, of questioning, of clarifying the big issues is essential in a democracy and Mr. Nixon is filling that role." See News Summaries, Post-Eisenhower Administration series, Box 10, Fred A. Seaton Papers, DDEL.
(58.) Aitken, Nixon: A Life, pp. 322-23; Nixon, Memoirs, p. 267.
(59.) Nixon, Memoirs, p. 277. Of the sixty-six House candidates Nixon campaigned for, forty-four won; of the eighty-six Republican candidates for all offices that he helped, fifty-nine were elected--a success rate of 68.6 percent. See Wicker, One of Us, p. 287.
(60.) Richard H. Amberg, St. Louis Globe-Democrat, December 3-4, 1966, p. 1.
(61.) Editorial, New York Times, November 13, 1966, p. 10E. Nixon considered the election as a repudiation of Johnson. This election means: (1) more support, rather than less, for the principle of no reward for aggression. [and] (2) A growing desire to increase our military, diplomatic and economic pressure on the Communists so as to end the war in Vietnam soon. See Nixon, Memoirs, p. 278.
(62.) Quoted in Herbert Y. Schandler, Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam: The Unmaking of a President (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977), p. 346.
(63.) Memorandum, Walt Rostow to Lyndon Johnson, November 28, 1966. Quoted in Robert Dallek, Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961-1973 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 386-87.
(64.) Nixon, Memoirs, p. 277.
(65.) Larry Berman places the blame for Vietnam squarely on Johnson's shoulders in Lyndon Johnson's War (New York: Norton, 1989). Interestingly, Nixon told Lodge that he opposed the plans of some Republicans in 1965 to begin referring to Vietnam as "Johnson's war." See Jack Valenti to Lyndon Johnson, June 15, 1965, WHCF, Name File, Box 120, LBJL.
(66.) Post hoc ergo propter hoc is a logical fallacy that occurs when something is assumed to be the cause of an event merely because it happened before the event.
(67.) Memorandum, McGeorge Bundy to Lyndon Johnson, February 7, 1965, Memos to the President, Box 1, NSF, LBJL (italics added).
(68.) Nixon was by no means the only politician to latch onto the "Munich analogy" to justify America's role in Vietnam. For a penetrating look into the use of history as analogy in Vietnam, see Yuen Foong Khong, Analogies at War: Korea, Munich, Dien Bien Phu and the Vietnam Decisions of 1965 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992). See also Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May, Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers (New York: Free Press, 1986).
(69.) Wicker cites a conversation with one of Nixon's business associates who stated that even in 1964, Nixon aimed to be president, regardless of the personal or family sacrifices that would be required. See Wicker, One of Us, pp. 272-73.
(70.) Wicker, One of Us, p. 282.
(71.) Parmet, Richard Nixon and His America, pp. 454-55.
Andrew L. Johns is a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). He is also an associate director of UCSB's Cold War History Group. His dissertation, "Loyal Opposition? The Republican Party and the `Democrats' War' in Vietnam, 1960-1969," will be completed in 1999.3
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|Author:||Johns, Andrew L.|
|Publication:||Presidential Studies Quarterly|
|Date:||Jun 1, 1999|
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