Nixon: Diplomatic Genius Or Mad Bomber?

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  • Created by: Tom
  • Created on: 07-04-14 10:31

Vice President and Cold-Warrior

  • Eisenhower's VP - exceptional apprenticeship in foreign affairs
  •  wanted to help French @ Dienbienphu with airstrikes - willing to use small nukes
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Republican foreign policy expert

  • defeated in 1960 presidential election - held no political office for 8 years afterward & stayed in news with foreign policy announcements
  •  said victory in Vietnam essential to survival of freedom - ironic
  •  leader of Republican opposition to foreign policy - Nixon spurred Democrat Johnson in to greater involvement - whatever Johnson did Nixon urged more
  • approved the sending of American ground troops
  • "The United States cannot afford another defeat in Asia"
  • called for victory and nothing less - victory = two independent Vietnamese states, one not Communist
  • 1964 onward Nixon aimed at being the 1968 Republican presidential candidate
  • as a Republican he naturally accused the Democrat Johnson of getting everything wrong
  • criticised Johnson for lacking new ideas, but had none himself.
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Republican pres. candidate(67-8) - 1967

  • Nixon seemed the last man likely to advocate withdrawal from Vietnam
  • criticised the anti-war protestors as a traitorous minority
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Republican pres. candidate(67-8) - Tet/Vietnamisat


  • 1967 - Nixon seemed last man likely to advocate withdrawal
  •  criticized anti-war protesters as traitors
  •  early 1968 Tet shocked Nixon - large turning point
  •  started to call for increase use of S.V soldiers - became known as Vietnamisation
  •  US forces withdrawn while AVRN strenghtened - stopped talking about escalation
  • no more talk of a 'victorious peace', only 'honourable peace'
  • "I pledge to you, new leadership will end the war and win the peace in the Pacific"
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Republican pres. candidate(67-8) - Thieu

Could Thieu survive without US forces?

  • He probably genuinely believed that Thieu could survive with the help of a change of emphasis in American aid and radical change of diplomatic direction
  • America needed to diversify its methods in Vietnam - i.e using diplomatic leverage with the S.U
  • emphasised that world Communism had changed - no longer a monolithic Communist bloc, therefore next President should replace the era of confrontation with era of negotiation
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Republican pres. candidate(67-8) - peace talks

Johnson and peace talks in 1968

  • final months of Johnson presidency were dominated by Paris Peace Talks
  • Doves suggested a bombing halt - would lead Hanoi to negotiate a coalition gov.
  • Nixon couldn't allow this, as his 'peace with honour' necessitated the continuation of Thieu's Saigon regime
  • October 1968 - possibility of a breakthrough in Paris Peace Talks - Hanoi offered Thieu an opportunity to remain in power with a coalition government
  • Nixon disliked idea of a coalition and feared that successful talks would ruin his chance of beating Hubert Humphrey, the Democrat presidential candidate - if Democrats bought end to the war their approval would skyrocket, and Johnson already said not re-electing himself
  • privately, Nixon encouraged Thieu not to attend
  • Thieu totally rejected the idea of a coalition containing Communists and so did Nixon  - sabotage of the PPT?
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did Nixon change? Opportunist

  • Nixon changed position on Cold War, but was still a political opportunist
  • when he advised Thieu against compromised at PPT, he had tried to ensure that it was not Johnson who won 'peace with honour' in Vietnam
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did Nixon change? Tet

  • proved war was not going well
  • America needed to withdraw as soon as possible, leaving SV to fight its own war
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did Nixon change? - Sino-Soviet split

Sino Soviet Split*

  • Cold War world changed
  •  Sino-Soviet split shattered threat of monolithic Comm. bloc
  •  Nixon decided US could play off the two rival Comm. giants by improving US relations with both sides and then press Hanoi to 'peace with honour' in Vietnam.
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did Nixon change? - Peacemaker


  • being a world peacemaker appealed to Nixon - foreign policy success could help his re-elction
  • improving relations with S.U + China would reinvigorate America and ensure his place in the history books.
  • being seen as a world peacemaker would improve his chances of being re-elected in 1972 - purely self gain
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Nixon + Kissinger and the Vietnam problem - The Ni

Nixon + Kissinger and the Vietnam problem - The Nixon-Kissinger relationship*

  • Kissinger became very influential over time
  •  Kissinger always respected by media - Nixon wasn't
  •  American foreign policy became moral-less in its emphasis on the survival and strength of US power
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Nixon + Kissinger and the Vietnam problem - Vietna

Nixon + Kissinger and the Vietnam problem - Vietnam: the problems and solutions*

  • Vietnam = Nixon's greatest issue
  •  sought peace settlement that would allow Thieu to remain in power in independent S.V - hoped to achieve through Vietnamisation and through pressure on S.U/China - Nixon tempt S.U with promises of arms agreements and trade, China with normalisation of diplomatic relations
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Kissinger and Diplomacy

  • Kissinger believer in personal and secret diplomacy
  •  distrusted bureaucrats
  • treated his staff as mushrooms: kept in the dark, stepped on, and frequently covered in manure
  •  felt foreign policy too complex 'for the ordinary guy' - Nixon felt the same
  •  Nixon/Kissinger didn't always explain their policy - lost public support for policy - both thought in terms of American national interest little regard for moral considerations - Realpolitik
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Kissinger's desire for power

  • tried, but failed, to attach himself to the Kennedy family
  • until late 1968 Kissinger hated Nixon - considered him an anti-communist fanatic
  • Kissinger's desire for power caused him to compromise
  • "the secret of my success" "is to forget my old friends"
  • "what interests me is what you can do with power"
  • "power is the ultimate aphrodisiac"
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Kissinger & Sec. State, Rogers

  • Kissinger + Nixon had exceptional knowledge of foreign affairs
  • Rogers knew little about foreign policy/affairs but Nixon told Kissinger that this was an advantage as it would ensure White House control
  • Nixon later wrote - "Rogers felt that Kissinger was Machiavellian, deceitful, egotistical, arrogant, and insulting. Kissinger felt that Rogers was vain, uninformed, unable to keep a secret, and hopelessly dominated by the State Department bureaucracy"
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Vietnam: the problems and solutions

  • "I'm not going to end up like LBJ...I'm going to stop that war. Fast!" - Nixon
  • His aim was clear: peace.
  • could not invade North Vietnam or destroy the PAVN
  • straightforward American withdrawal? no.
  • Honour required that Thieu remained in power
  • hoped for a Korean-style settlement
  • 1953 Eisenhower had obtained the Korean armistice through pressure on the USSR and China. Tempt the Soviets with promises of arms agreements and trade and the Chinese with a normalisation of diplomatic relations.
  • another ploy = the Madman Theory - convince N.V he was insane and may use nukes at any time
  • "the greatest honour history can bestow is the title of peacemaker" - he had to bring peace to America and to Vietnam
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Military pressure 69-71 - Military situation 1969

  • Nixon attempted 3 solutions to 1969 military problem - bombing HCm trail in Cambodia 'madman' ploy and Vietnamisation
  •  Feb 1969 - Comms. launched another attack on S.V
  •  Rolling Thunder + 66-68 ground offensives clearly hadn't worked
  •  March '69 tried secret aggressive bombing vs HCM trail in Cambodia - hoped to sever supply route to encourage Hanoi to accept peace agreement
  • also hoped to destroy Vietnamese Communist Headquarters in Cambodia(COSVN)
  • March - Nixon secretly ordered bombing of Cambodia sanctuaries - failed to destroy COSVN or slow trail, so April escalated bombing
  • advocated blocking Haiphong and invading N.V - deliberately leaked to press to emphasises his Madman ploy
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Military pressure 69-71 - Military situation 1970

  • Spring 1970 - Nixon announced withdrawal of 150,000 US troops from S.E Asia
  • nevertheless Nixon appeared to be extending the war to Laos and Cambodia - escalating again?
  • believed demonstrations of US power would counter Saigon's pessimism about US troops withdrawals, protect remaining Americans in Vietnam, intimidate Hanoi and gain better peace terms
  • January 1970 - air offensive escalated to HCM trail in Laos and Cambodia, and N.V AA bases
  • 12th february N.V launched huge offensive in Laos
  • congress was considering cutting off Nixon's money - Nixon needed to get acceptable peace, quickly.
  • 30,000 US and ARVN forces moved in to S.W Cambodia - encountered no resistance and didn't find COSVN
  • pressure from US anti-war protesters now forces Nixon to make a speedy withdrawal from Cambodia
  • offensive captured vast quantities of Comm. war material and made it nearly 2 years before Hanoi could launch another offensive - gave ARVN time to grow stronger
  • unexpected result of Cambodian invasion was it forced Comms. further inland, where they destabilised Cambodian gov. and US bombing increased popularity of Cambodian Communists.
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diplomatic pressure 1969-71 - Diplomacy, 1969

  • April 1969 Nixon suggest Washington+Hanoi should have secret negotiations - Hanoi always favored as excluded Saigon
  •  secret talks in May - Nixon offered new peace terms - instistent Thieu remain in power but dropped Johnson demand US troops would only withdraw 6 months after ARVN handover - offered simultaneous handover - N.V delegation unimpressed
  • Nixon told Kissinger to tell N.V delegation that they must withdraw troops and accept result of S.V elections, else Nixon would do something dramatic - gave 1st November deadline - N.V said they had no troops in South, and that Thieu must be replaced with coalition gov.
  •  making slow progress with Hanoi Nixon turned to Moscow - put pressure on SU Oct 1969 promised detente for help in ending war - linkage(concessions to S.U and China for their assistance in ending Vietnam war)
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diplomatic pressure 1969-71 - Diplomacy, 1970

  • Nixon made no real progress
  • He wanted to be out of Vietnam before the presidential election November 1972, leaving pro-Moscow governments in South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos
  • also wanted Hanoi to release US POW's
  • his only means of persuasion were 'Mad Bomber' performances and linkage
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home front problem - keeping home front quiet

  • Nixon used several tactics to keep homefront quiet - series of troop withdrawals from Vietnam(announcements timed to diffuse public opposition)
  • september 1969 - anti-war activists + congressmen planning large protest - Nixon announced withdrawal 60,000 men
  •  heart of opposition = male college students threatened with draft - adjusted draft so older students less likely to be picked - approval rating rose to 71%
  •  Nixon very secretive with actions(i.e 1969 Cambodia bombing)
  •  regularly used speeches to keep home front quiet - 3rd November 1969 delivered speech asking for time to end war - huge success approval shot up to 68% - "North Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans can do that."
  • America's first defeat in its 190 year existence would be a national disgrace
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home front problem - Protests in 1969

  • speeches, troop withdrawals, adjustements to the draft and secrecy were insufficient to halt the protests
  • October 1969 - largest anti-war protest in US history. Millions protestors took to streets in every major city. Made Nixon drop the 1st November ultimatum to Hanoi
  • 14-16th November, 250,000 peaceful protestors took over Washington
  • news of The My Lai Massacre surfaced - many thought that if the price of war was making murderers out of American youths, then it was too high.
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home front problem - Protests in 1970

  • when Sec State Bill Rogers heard about planned Cambodia invasion he said "this will make the students puke"
  • April 1970 - Nixon told he dare not attend his daughter Julie's graduation, as students chanted "**** Julie!".
  • 5 May 1970 - 4 students shot dead by National Guard at Kent State university
  • student protests escalated
  • Californian colleges shut down by state governor
  • Nixon backed down and declared he would get US troops out of Cambodia by June 1970
  • government policy was once again dictated in the streets.
  • Cambodian intervention divided US: 50% approved Cambodian offensive, 39% dissaproved.
  • escalation of the war solely by the president - aggravated relations between Nixon and Congress
  • 1970-72 Senate supported bills to stop Nixon waging war in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam
  • Nixon could not get re-elected unless he removed US from Vietnam - he would not be able to save Thieu, honour, or peace if he just withdrew
  • wanted a face saving formula that would enable US withdrawal and leave Thieu in power
  • "I will not be the first President of the United States to lose a war"
  • Vietnamisation and linkage with Russia and China took time, and that was exactly what Nixon lacked.
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home front problem - congressional doubt 1971

  • 1971 Nixon's approval rating dropped to 31%
  • Congress questioned Nixon about his undemocratic ally, Thieu
  • a constitution for Saigon that had decreed a presidential election for October 1971. Thieu held it, but the only candidate was himself.
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Getting Re-elected - problems in early 1972

  • January 1972 - Nixon's military + diplomatic pressure still unsuccessful
  • bombing offensive angered many Americans
  • US pilots shot down during air attacks - increasing number of POWs
  • congressmen willing to abandon S.V in exchange for POWs - but Nixon used them as a reason to continue war
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Problems in early 1972 - Hanoi spring offensive

  • S.U+China pressuring Hanoi to settle - Hanoi didn't want to face superbly equipped ARVN supplied by US
  • March - PAVN began offensive against S.V
  •  ARVN crumbled - Nixon vietnamisation discredited in presidential election year
  • Nixon was furious with N.V - believed they used negotiations as a smokescreen for the offensive
  • also angry with USSR for providing the tanks and artillery
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Problems in early 1972 - bombing the north

  • B-52s used first time since 1968
  • PAVN still advanced
  • Laird feared Soviet AA bases, congressional reaction and the loss of a planned summit with Soviets - Nixon went ahead anyway
  • bombed oil depots around Hanoi and Haiphong
  • Nixon divided Hanoi and Moscow by threatening to cancel the summit
  • April 16th - US bombers hit 4 USSR merchant ships in Haiphong, but Soviets didn't respond as were keen to have the summit. linkage clearly working.
  • Kissinger began to prioritise detente, and hinters to S.U that US may consider a coalition gov without N.V withdrawal
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Autumn 1972 - running out of time+money

  • second half 1972 Nixon running out of time + money
  • Troop[ withdrawals meant Congress could no longer be shamed into granting funds to 'help our boys in the field'
  • Pools showed 55% support for continued heavy bombing of N.V, 64% for mining Haiphong, 74% felt important S.V shouldn't fall to Communism
  • Kissinger - "tell those sons of ******* that the President is a madman and you don't know ho to deal with him. Once re-elected i'll be a mad bomber"
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Autumn 1972 - both sides agree to compromise

  • Seemed Hanoi would let Thieu stay in power while US would let PAVN stay in S.V and not insist upon a caesefire in Cambodia + Laos
  • Hanoi insisted upon a voice in Saigon gov. - no chance of Thieu accepting that
  • Kissinger rejected the idea of a coalition but offered Committee of National Reconciliation( one third S.V, one third Communist, one third neutral) to oversee the constitution and elections
  • Kissinger thereby agreed Comms. were legitimate political force - thieu had always denied
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Autumn 1972 - 'peace is at hand'

  • October - Kissinger had an agreement:
    • US would withdraw armed forces, continue to supply ARVN
    • National Council of Reconciliation with Communist representation
    • US POW's released
    • Thieu remain in power
    • PAVN remain in S.V
    • US help economic reconstruction of N.V as humanitarian gesture
  • Nixon got cold feet and reject the terms for following reasons:
    • worried accusation that peace at this time was an electoral ploy
    • appear he had given in to people like Jane Fonda who travelled to Hanoi to shame her country's deeds
    • advisers feared if peace came before the election, people might vote Democrat as the Democrats were supposedly better at peace time governing
    • US right wing opposed the National Council
    • Thieu rejected the settlement and Nixon shared his doubts
    • Nixon not sure this constituted peace with honour
    • Thieu wanted PAVN out of S.V and loathed National Council
    • Thie had to make some concessions, was threatened with Withdrawl of US sopport
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Autumn 1972 - persuading Thieu

  • November 1972 - Nixon re-elected, new Democrat COngress unwilling to carry on the war
  • the only way forward was to force Thieu to accept the unacceptable
  • Nixon gave Thieu his 'absolute assurance' that if Hanoi broke the peace, he would take 'swift and severe retaliatory action'
  • Some of Kissinger's staff even suggests assassinating Thieu
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Autumn 1972 - Christmas bombing

  • 18th December Nixon bombed and mined Haiphong again
  • no public explanation
  • caused worldwide uproar - hadn't Kissinger promised peace before 1972 election?
  • 1000 died in Hanoi - 15 B-2's shot down with 93 US airmen
  • Kissinger was cracking - leaked to US press he opposed Christmas bombing - a lie.
  • was Nixon trying to reassure Thieu of US strength and support? - weaken Hanoi so it couldn't rapidly take S.V after peace declared? - disguise US retreats and compromises? - had he lost control?
  • several congressmen and influential newspapers questioned Nixon's sanity and accused him of waging 'war by tantrum' 
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