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Posts Tagged ‘Richard M. Nixon’

 

V5La década de 1970 fue un periodo muy duro para el pueblo estadounidense. Divididos por una guerra lejana, los estadounidenses eligieron a un nuevo presidente, Richard M. Nixon, que prometió acabar con la participación de su país en la guerra de Vietnam y lo hizo, pero que también violó la ley y abusó de su poder, comprometiendo la imagen y la confianza del gobierno de los Estados Unidos. Tras miles de muertos y miles de millones de dólares invertidos, los últimos estadounidenses fueron expulsados de Vietnam en 1975. Esta derrota –la primera en la historia de Estados Unidos– sumió al país en un periodo de indecisión y duda. Para complicar las cosas, los gastos de la guerra, unidos al aumento en los costos de la energía, llevaron a la nación a una profunda crisis. Todo ello llevó a muchos a pensar que la decadencia del poderío y riqueza de los Estados Unidos era algo inevitable.

Nixon y Vietnam

            Al llegar a la Casa Blanca, Nixon buscó acabar la guerra ampliándola, es decir, aumentando su alcance y su intensidad para presionar a Vietnam del Norte. Pronto el Presidente entendió que eso no era lo que el pueblo estadounidense quería y cambió de estrategia, proponiéndoles a los norvietnamitas una retirada simultánea de tropas de Vietnam del Sur. Para convencer a Hanoi, Nixon ordenó el bombardeo secreto y clandestino de Camboya, un país  vecino y neutral por cuyo territorio los norvietnamitas enviaban y suministros y tropas a Vietnam del Sur.

Nixon también inició la llamada vietnamización de la guerra, es decir, el retiro gradual de tropas estadounidenses y el incremento de la participación de soldados survietnamitas en el conflicto. Esta nueva política no acalló las voces de los opositores de la guerra, que en 1969 llevaron a cabo manifestaciones masivas, como una marcha en Washington que reunió a medio millón de personas. Para complementar la ofensiva aérea en Camboya, Nixon ordenó la invasión –también secreta– de ese país. El Presidente quería destruir las rutas y bases de aprovisionamiento de los norvietnamitas, pero en el proceso lo que logró fue desestabilizar a Camboya, lo que permitirá que los Jemeres Rojos  (“Khmer Rouge”), una guerrilla maoísta, tomase el control  del gobierno camboyano. Bajo el liderado de un dictador despiadado llamado Pol Pot,  los Jemeres cometerán un terrible genocidio contra el pueblo camboyano.

En 1970, el periódico The New York Times hizo públicas las acciones encubiertas del gobierno estadounidense en Camboya, desatando una ola de indignación y rabia entre los opositores de la guerra. En varias universidades del país se llevaron a cabo huelgas y protestas. El 4 de mayo, la Guardia Nacional abrió fuego contra una muchedumbre de estudiantes en Kent State University (Cleveland), matando a cuatro personas.  El 14 de mayo dos estudiantes negros del Jackson State College en Misisipi murieron en un enfrentamiento con la policía y la Guardia Nacional. Ambos incidentes provocaron una serie de huelgas y cierres de universidades a lo largo de todo el país. Más de 450 universidades cerraron sus puertas y hubo problemas en cerca del 80% de los campus universitarios.  Curiosamente, una encuesta realizada para esta fecha reveló que a la mayoría de los estadounidenses les preocupaba más los disturbios en las universidades que la guerra en Indochina. Otra muestra del conservadurismo que imperaba en amplios sectores de la sociedad estadounidense.

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Kent State University , mayo 1970

A pesar de la apatía de la mayoría de los estadounidenses, la insatisfacción con la guerra siguió aumentando. La invasión de Camboya cayó muy mal entre algunos miembros de Congreso. En junio de 1970, el Senado votó a favor de repeler la Resolución del Golfo de Tonkín y de cortar los fondos de las operaciones militares en Camboya. Entre  los soldados también se manifestó el malestar contra la guerra, pues aumentó el número de deserciones.

Para complicarles las cosas a la administración Nixon, en 1971 salieron a las luz pública las atrocidades cometidas por un grupo de soldados dirigidos por el Teniente William L. Calley.  Aparentemente siguiendo órdenes de sus superiores, Calley  y los soldados bajo sus órdenes asesinaron, en marzo de 1968,  a 350 civiles vietnamitas en la villa de My Lai.  Gracias al trabajo investigativo del periodista Seymour Hersh, la historia de la masare de My Lai fue publicada por el New York Times en noviembre de 1969.  Calley fue acusado de asesinato y  sometido a una corte marcial en 1971, que le encontró culpable y le condenó a cadena perpetua. Considerado por unos como un héroe y por otros como un criminal de guerra, Calley sólo cumplió tres años de arresto domiciliario.

My_Lai_massacre

Masacre de My Lai

Tras los incidentes de mayo de 1970, las protestas contra la guerra comenzaron a perder fuerza por varias razones. El movimiento sufrió divisiones internas que le debilitaron. Agencias federales como el FBI y la CIA infiltraron y desactivaron los grupos más radicales de la lucha contra la guerra. El programa de vietnamización redujo de forma dramática el número de soldados estadounidenses en Vietnam. De igual forma, Nixon prometió acabar con el reclutamiento forzoso para el 1973 y convertir así al ejército en una fuerza de voluntarios, lo que le quito un importante argumento a los opositores de la guerra, debilitando aún más al movimiento en las universidades.

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Protesta estudiantes de la Universidad de Columbia. Crédito: Patrick A. Burns/The New York Times

Mientras se protestaba en los Estados Unidos, el Secretario de Estado Henry Kissinger llevaba a cabo negociaciones con representantes de Vietnam del Norte. En 1972, estadounidenses y norvietnamitas firmaron un tratado que permitió la retirada de los Estados Unidos del conflicto vietnamita. Nixon había  cumplido su promesa de poner fin a la guerra de Vietnam. Sin embargo, la salida estadounidense no acabó con el conflicto entre Vietnam del Norte y del Sur. En 1975, Vietnam del Sur terminó siendo derrotado y con ello finalizaron más de treinta años de guerra en esa parte de la península indochina.

El legado de la guerra de Vietnam

            El conflicto vietnamita es, después de Afganistán, la guerra más larga en la historia de  los Estados Unidos. Entre 1961 y 1973, millones de estadounidenses pelearon en las selvas indochinas para frenar lo que sus líderes vieron como una agresión comunista. Unos 58,000 estadounidenses murieron y otros 300,000 resultaron heridos. Aún aquellos que regresaron sin heridas físicas sufrieron severos traumas psiquiátricos y psicológicos.

Para los veteranos de Vietnam no hubo paradas ni recibimientos de héroes, sino rechazo por haber participado en la guerra más impopular en la historia estadounidense. Víctimas del estrés postraumático, su reinserción social fue muy dura. Los veteranos enfrentaron problemas con las drogas y el alcohol, problemas familiares (divorcios) y problemas económicos (desempleo). Muchos de ellos recurrieron al suicidio como salida.

Dong Xoai June 1965

Civiles vietnamitas, Dong Xoai, junio de 1965

Para los indochinos, la guerra fue una gran tragedia. Se calcula que 1.5 millones de vietnamitas murieron. La infraestructura física y económica de la región fue devastada por la guerra. Países vecinos como Laos y Camboya también sufrieron las terribles consecuencias del conflicto. El caso camboyano es particularmente trágico porque allí los Jemeres Rojos mataron, entre 1975 y 1979, a 2 millones de sus compatriotas en una campaña genocida. Además, la guerra produjo unos 10 millones de refugiados y una buena parte de ellos emigraron a los Estados Unidos.

V3La derrota en Vietnam afectó la visión que tenían los Estados Unidos de sí mismos, pues les obligó a reconocer los límites de su poder. El país entró en lo que ha sido denominado como el síndrome de Vietnam, es decir, una menor propensión hacia las intervenciones militares en segundos y terceros países. En 1973, fue aprobada la Ley de Poderes de Guerra, obligando al Presidente a informarle al Congreso cualquier uso de la fuerza en las primeras cuarenta y ocho horas de haber ocurrido. De no haber una declaración de guerra, las hostilidades sólo pueden durar sesenta días.

La guerra afectó duramente a la economía estadounidense. Con un costo total de $150 mil millones; el conflicto consumió importantes recursos económicos que pudieron haber sido usados para enfrentar los problemas domésticos de la nación. La gran víctima de la guerra fueron los programas sociales de la Gran Sociedad del Presidente Johnson, cuyos fondos fueron severamente afectados por los gastos militares asociados al conflicto. Además, la guerra aumentó el déficit del gobierno federal y la inflación.

A nivel político, la guerra acabó con el consenso liberal desarrollado en la posguerra. Millones de estadounidenses cuestionaron la política exterior de su país y los discursos a favor de la guerra fría. Una de las grandes víctimas de la guerra de Vietnam fue la confianza que tenían millones de estadounidenses en su gobierno.  Las mentiras, las manipulaciones y los escándalos asociados a la guerra produjeron la desconfianza entre millones de ellos.  El cinismo creció y el descrédito de los liberales fortaleció a los conservadores.

Norberto Barreto Velázquez

Lima, 7 de octubre de 2019

 

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Saturday Night Massacre

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The Most Dangerous Man in America” 
The Fall of Richard Nixon
By Tim Weiner

TomDisptach.com   July 14, 2015

[This essay has been adapted from chapters 1 and 22 of Tim Weiner’s new book, One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon, with the kind permission of Henry Holt and Company.]

Richard Nixon saw himself as a great statesman, a giant for the ages, a general who could command the globe, a master of war, not merely the leader of the free world but “the world leader.” Yet he was addicted to the gutter politics that ruined him. He was — as an English earl once said of the warlord Oliver Cromwell — “a great, bad man.”

In Nixon’s first State of the Union speech, he said that he was possessed by “an indefinable spirit — the lift of a driving dream which has made America, from its beginning, the hope of the world.” He promised the American people “the best chance since World War II to enjoy a generation of uninterrupted peace.”

But Richard Nixon was never at peace. A darker spirit animated him — malevolent and violent, driven by anger and an insatiable appetite for revenge. At his worst he stood on the brink of madness. He thought the world was against him. He saw enemies everywhere. His greatness became an arrogant grandeur.

By experience deeply suspicious, by instinct incurably deceptive, he was branded by an indelible epithet: Tricky Dick. No less a man than Martin Luther King Jr. saw a glimpse of the monster beneath the veneer the first time they met, when King was the rising leader of the civil rights movement. “Nixon has a genius for convincing one that he is sincere,” King wrote in 1958. “If Richard Nixon is not sincere, he is the most dangerous man in America.”

Unscrambling the Whole Omelet

That spring was a dark season for Richard Nixon. Each week brought deluges of bad news. The downpours turned to floods, and the rising torrents slowly eroded the stone wall surrounding the White House. The wars of Watergate consumed every waking moment.

Vietnam had found its successor,” Nixon wrote, underscoring every word.

Friday, April 13, 1973: The president’s legal counsel John Dean relayed inside information from federal prosecutors to the White House, and his news was dismal, befitting the day. Dean had served as a kind of human switchboard in the cover-up, conferring with every central participant. Now he was using his lawyers to winkle information out of federal investigators, even as he dangled a promise of becoming a witness for the prosecutors.

Watergate burglary overseer Howard Hunt was set to appear Monday afternoon before the Watergate grand jury; he had blackmailed the White House by threatening to reveal “seamy stories,” and he knew several. Up next was deputy director of the Committee for the Re-Election of the President Jeb Stuart Magruder, whose will to continue committing perjury was weakening. If Magruder testified truthfully, he could incriminate John Mitchell — the “Big Enchilada,” as adviser John Ehrlichman called him, the nation’s chief law enforcement officer from 1969 to 1972, and of late the president’s raiser of hush money. And if Mitchell were indicted, “that’s the ball game,” Nixon said.

Saturday, April 14: Nixon spent seven hours strategizing with key advisers H.R. Haldeman and Ehrlichman, talking until midnight. They started by speculating about what Hunt might say to the prosecutors. “Question: Is Hunt prepared to talk on other activities he engaged in?” Nixon asked. These included breaking into Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office, forging diplomatic cables implicating JFK in the assassination of South Vietnam’s president, and being paid for his silence at trial. The demands for money in exchange for silence had not ceased; Nixon, Haldeman, and Ehrlichman discussed how to smuggle more than $300,000 in cash out of the White House and into the hands of the convicted burglars.

“Hunt’s testimony on hush money,” Nixon said, could lead prosecutors to the president’s doorstep. They wrestled with the implications of Magruder’s testimony. Ehrlichman composed an imaginary magazine story: “The White House’s main effort to cover up finally collapsed last week when the grand jury indicted John Mitchell and Jeb Magruder… The White House press secretary, Ron Ziegler, said the White House would have no comment.” The president moaned like a wounded man.

Magruder had just pointed a dagger close to the heart of the White House. “I’m going to plead guilty” and testify for the prosecution, he told Haldeman, who taped their telephone conversation. Magruder had implicated John Mitchell that day in an informal conversation with federal investigators. “I am in a terrible position because I committed perjury so many times” in the Watergate case and the cover-up. He couldn’t take it anymore, he said, and he had to seek absolution. Nixon, Haldeman, and Ehrlichman had arrived at a moment of truth — or falsehood. The Watergate break-in was one problem. The greater danger was the cover-up and the peril it posed to the president if it began coming apart.

“There were eight or ten people around here who knew about this,” Ehrlichman said. “Bob knew. I knew.”

Then Nixon said — as if unconscious of his rolling tapes — “Well, I knew.” He was acutely aware that he was doomed if Dean testified about the cancer on his presidency and the million-dollar cure.

Haldeman: “If Dean testifies, it’s going to unscramble the whole omelet.”

Ehrlichman: “Dean seems to think that everybody in the place is going to get indicted” — referring to himself as well as Mitchell, Haldeman, Colson, and 10 more prominent presidential appointees — on charges including “paying the defendants for the purposes of keeping them, quote, on the reservation, unquote.”

Nixon: “They could try to tie you and Bob into a conspiracy to obstruct justice.”

As night fell, Dean returned from the Justice Department to deliver more startling news to the White House: that afternoon, Haldeman and Ehrlichman had become targets of the federal grand jury. Now no one could predict how far up the chain of command the criminal case could climb.

Ehrlichman, who recently had started taping his own telephone conversations, called Mitchell’s successor, Attorney General Richard Kleindienst. He began by saying he had spent the day with the president and had made some phone calls on his behalf.

“Ehrlichman: The first one I talked to was your predecessor. Then I talked to Magruder… He has decided to come clean.

Kleindienst: No kidding?… Inconsistent with his testimony before the grand jury?

Ehrlichman: Dramatically inconsistent.

Kleindienst: Holy shit!

Ehrlichman: And he implicates everybody in all directions up and down the Committee to Re-Elect.

Kleindienst: Mitchell?

Ehrlichman: Yep, cold turkey.”

“John,” the attorney general said, giving truly gratuitous legal advice, “it seems to me that you are going to have to be very careful.”

“He Reveled in It, He Groveled in It” 

The mercurial Al Haig, promoted from colonel to four-star general by Nixon, was the new Haldeman and Ehrlichman — the president’s chief of staff and palace guard. He was the only man Nixon could depend upon in his time of crisis. The Senate Watergate Hearings were set to begin in 17 days — and the president had no counsel, no one in official command at the FBI or the Justice Department, and only Haig to trust.

Then another general — Vernon Walters, the president’s handpicked deputy director of central intelligence, a man of impeccable discretion who had worked with Nixon since 1958 — delivered a set of documents to Haig. Copies would soon be in the hands of senators and Watergate investigators.

These scrupulously maintained memoranda of conversations, memcons for short, detailed the meetings among Walters, Haldeman, and Ehrlichman during the days immediately after the Watergate break-in. They described the orders from the White House to use the CIA to turn off the FBI’s investigation with a spurious assertion of national security.

May 11th became judgment day at the White House. First Haig read the memcons. They were devastating. One passage said: “It was the President’s wish that Walters call on Acting FBI Director Gray and… suggest that the investigation not be pushed further.”

Haig immediately called Nixon at Camp David. “It will be very embarrassing,” Nixon said. “It’ll indicate that we tried to cover up with the CIA.” In a second telephone call, the president put it more bluntly: “If you read the cold print it looks terrible… I just don’t want him to go in and say look, they called us in and tried to fix the case and we wouldn’t do it.” Nixon wrote in his memoirs: “One of the things that made the memcons so troublesome was that Walters was one of my old friends; he would not have contrived them to hurt me. In addition, his photographic memory was renowned, and he was universally respected as a scrupulous and honest man.”

That same morning, page-one stories described the White House wiretaps Nixon and Kissinger had placed on presidential aides and prominent reporters starting in 1969. Kissinger, who was expecting to be appointed secretary of state, brazenly denied that he had chosen the wiretap targets among his NSC staff and national security reporters; he implied he was only following orders. Nixon shouted: “Henry ordered the whole goddamn thing… He read every one of those taps… he reveled in it, he groveled it, he wallowed in it.

That same day’s newspapers reported that the federal judge presiding over the espionage trial of Daniel Ellsberg in the Pentagon Papers case had dismissed the charges on grounds of government misconduct. Belatedly, the Justice Department, as required under law, had disclosed the misconduct — a warrantless White House wiretap recording Ellsberg, and the Plumbers’ break-in at Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office.

The Pentagon Papers case was a total loss for the president: Ellsberg went free and the New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize. Nixon was embittered.

“Doesn’t the president of the United States have the responsibility to conduct an investigation with regard to leaks in the goddamn place?” Nixon argued to Haig on May 11th, regarding the wiretaps. “I got to go to the court to ask them? Screw the court.” The court begged to differ.

John Mitchell publicly denied signing the wiretap authorizations. Nixon had a one-word response to that: “Bullshit.” He was right about that. But that same afternoon, FBI agents had wrung a modicum of truth from Mitchell.

He confessed that the taps were part of “a dangerous game we were playing.” He also told them where transcripts of the wiretaps might be found: in the White House safe of John Ehrlichman. The acting FBI director William Ruckelshaus recalled: “An FBI agent, sent by me to the White House to guard those records and others in Ehrlichman’s office, was badly shaken when the president of the United States seized his lapels and asked him what he was doing there.” He was upholding the law of the land — and helping to make a case against the president of the United States.

Nixon saw no alternative but to fight to keep these documents secret. “Good god, if we were going to stonewall executive privilege and a lot of other things we can sure as hell stonewall this,” he told Haig on May 12th.

How they were going to stonewall the Huston Plan was another question. Nixon had endorsed every kind of government spying on Americans — opening their mail, bugging their phones, breaking into their homes and offices — until J. Edgar Hoover himself killed the program. John Dean had placed a copy of the incendiary plan in a safe-deposit box and given the key to Judge Sirica. He intended to turn the copy over to the Senate Watergate Committee.

Nixon’s constant refrain had been contempt for court rulings on wiretapping, break-ins, any aspect of “the national security thing.” Nixon insisted: “I’m going to defend the bugging. I’m going to defend the Plumbers [and] fight right through to the finish on the son of a bitch.” But when he thought about people actually reading the patently illegal Huston Plan, he changed his tune. “The bad thing is that the president approved burglaries,” Nixon said on May 17th; he could be perceived as “a repressive fascist.”

The tension at the White House was unbearable. With the Watergate hearings days away, Nixon screamed at his underlings as he schemed to save his presidency. Ziegler cautioned him to stay calm: “If we allow ourselves to be consumed by this — ”

“– We’ll destroy ourselves,” the president said.

Tim Weiner is the author of five books. Legacy of Ashes, his history of the CIA, won the National Book Award. His journalism on secret government programs received the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting. He directs the Carey Institute’s nonfiction residency program and teaches as an Anschutz Distinguished Fellow in American Studies at Princeton. This essay is adapted from his new book, One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon (Henry Holt and Company). 

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Nixon, Kissinger, and the Madman Strategy during Vietnam War

By William Burr and Jeffrey P. Kimball

National Security Archives  May 29, 2015

book-cover-346-2Washington, D.C., May 29, 2015 – President Richard Nixon and his national security adviser Henry Kissinger believed they could compel “the other side” to back down during crises in the Middle East and Vietnam by “push[ing] so many chips into the pot” that Nixon would seem ‘crazy’ enough to “go much further,” according to newly declassified documents published today by the National Security Archive (www.nsarchive.gwu.edu).

The documents include a 1972 Kissinger memorandum of conversation published today for the first time in which Kissinger explains to Defense Department official Gardner Tucker that Nixon’s strategy was to make “the other side … think we might be ‘crazy’ and might really go much further” – Nixon’s Madman Theory notion of intimidating adversaries such as North Vietnam and the Soviet Union to bend them to Washington’s will in diplomatic negotiations

Nixon’s and Kissinger’s Madman strategy during the Vietnam War included veiled nuclear threats intended to intimidate Hanoi and its patrons in Moscow. The story is recounted in a new book, Nixon’s Nuclear Specter: The Secret Alert of 1969, Madman Diplomacy, and the Vietnam War, co-authored by Jeffrey Kimball, Miami University professor emeritus, and William Burr, who directs the Archive’s Nuclear History Documentation Project. Research for the book, which uncovers the inside story of White House Vietnam policymaking during Nixon’s first year in office, drew on hundreds of formerly top secret and secret records obtained by the authors as well as interviews with former government officials.

With Madman diplomacy, Nixon and Kissinger strove to end the Vietnam War on the most favorable terms possible in the shortest period of time practicable, an effort that culminated in a secret global nuclear alert in October of that year. Nixon’s Nuclear Specter provides the most comprehensive account to date of the origins, inception, policy context, and execution of “JCS Readiness Test” – the equivalent of a worldwide nuclear alert that was intended to signal Washington’s anger at Moscow’s support of North Vietnam and to jar the Soviet leadership into using their leverage to induce Hanoi to make diplomatic concessions. Carried out between 13 and 30 October 1969, it involved military operations around the world, the continental United States, Western Europe, the Middle East, the Atlantic, Pacific, and the Sea of Japan. The operations included strategic bombers, tactical air, and a variety of naval operations, from movements of aircraft carriers and ballistic missile submarines to the shadowing of Soviet merchant ships heading toward Haiphong.

To unravel the intricate story of the October alert, the authors place it in the context of nuclear threat making and coercive diplomacy during the Cold War from 1945 to 1973, the culture of the Bomb, bureaucratic infighting, intra-governmental dissent, international diplomacy, domestic politics, the antiwar movement, the “nuclear taboo,” Vietnamese and Soviet actions and policies, and assessments of the war’s ending. The authors also recount secret military operations that were part of the lead-up to the global alert, including a top secret mining readiness test that took place during the spring and summer of 1969. This mining readiness test was a ruse intended to signal Hanoi that the US was preparing to mine Haiphong harbor and the coast of North Vietnam. It is revealed for the first time in this book.

Another revelation has to do with the fabled DUCK HOOK operation, a plan for which was initially drafted in July 1969 as a mining-only operation. It soon evolved into a mining-and-bombing, shock-and-awe plan scheduled to be launched in early November, but which Nixon aborted in October, substituting the global nuclear alert in its place. The failure of Nixon’s and Kissinger’s 1969 Madman diplomacy marked a turning point in their initial exit strategy of winning a favorable armistice agreement by the end of the year 1969. Subsequently, they would follow a so-called long-route strategy of withdrawing U.S. troops while attempting to strengthen South Vietnam’s armed forces, although not necessarily counting on Saigon’s long-term survival.

In researching Nixon’s Nuclear Specter, the authors filed mandatory and Freedom of Information requests with the Defense Department and other government agencies and examined documents in diverse U.S. government archives as well as international sources. Today’s posting highlights some of the U.S. documents, many published for the first time:

    • A March 1969 memorandum from Nixon to Kissinger about the need to make the Soviets see risks in not helping Washington in the Vietnam negotiations: “we must worry the Soviets about the possibility that we are losing our patience and may get out of control.”
    • The Navy’s plan in April 1969 for a mine readiness test designed to create a “state of indecision” among the North Vietnam leadership whether Washington intended to launch mining operations.
    • Kissinger’s statement to Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin in May 1969 that Nixon was so flexible about the Vietnam War outcome that he was “was prepared to accept any political system in South Vietnam, provided there is a fairly reasonable interval between conclusion of an agreement and [the establishment of] such a system.”
    • The top secret warning to the North Vietnamese leadership that Nixon sent through an intermediary Jean Sainteny: If a diplomatic solution to the war is not reached by 1 November, Nixon would “regretfully find himself obliged to have recourse to measures of great consequence and force. . . . He will resort to any means necessary.”
    • The Navy’s plan for mining Haiphong Harbor, code-named DUCK HOOK, prepared secretly for Nixon and Kissinger in July 1969.
duck-hook-cover-346

The cover page to the Navy’s Duck Hook plan for mining Haiphong Harbor, developed in July 1969 at the request of President Nixon and national security adviser Kissinger.

    • A telegram from the U.S. Embassy in Manila reporting on the discovery of the mining readiness test by two Senate investigators, including former (and future) Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus. After learning about aircraft carrier mining drills in Subic Bay (the Philippines), the investigators worried about a possible escalation recalling that Nixon had made such threats during the 1968 campaign.
    • A report from September 1969 on prospective military operations against North Vietnam (referred to unofficially within the White House as DUCK HOOK) included two options to use tactical nuclear weapons: one for “the clean nuclear interdiction of three NVN-Laos passes”-the use of small yield, low fall-out weapons to disrupt traffic on the Ho Chi Minh trail. The other was for the “nuclear interdiction of two NVN-CPR [Chinese People’s Republic] railroads”-presumably using nuclear weapons to destroy railroad tracks linking North Vietnam and China.
    • A Kissinger telephone conversation transcript, in which Nixon worried that with the 1 November deadline approaching and major anti-Vietnam war demonstrations scheduled for 15 October and 15 November, escalating the war might produce “horrible results” by the buildup of “a massive adverse reaction” among demonstrators.
    • As part of the White House plan for special military measures to get Moscow’s attention, an October 1969 memorandum from the Joint Staff based on a request from Kissinger for an “integrated plan of military actions to demonstrate convincingly to the Soviet Union that the United States is getting ready for any eventuality on or about 1 November 1969.” .
    • A Department of Defense plan for readiness actions that included measures to “enhance SIOP [Single Integrated Operational Plan] Naval Forces” in the Pacific and for the Strategic Air Command to fly nuclear-armed airborne alert flights over the Arctic Circle.
    • Navy messages on the 7th Fleet’s secret shadowing of Soviet merchant ships heading toward Haiphong Harbor

The thematic focus of Nixon’s Nuclear Specter is Madman Theory threat making, which culminated in the secret, global nuclear alert. But as the Kissinger statement to Dobrynin cited above suggested, a core element in Nixon’s and Kissinger’s overall Vietnam War strategy and diplomacy was the concept of a “decent interval” between the withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Vietnam and the possible collapse or defeat of the Saigon regime. In private conversations Kissinger routinely used phrases such as “decent interval,” “healthy interval,” “reasonable interval,” and “suitable interval” as code for a war-exiting scenario by which the period of time would be sufficiently long that when the fall of Saigon came-if it came-it would serve to mask the role that U.S. policy had played in South Vietnam’s collapse.

In 1969, the Nixon’s administrations long-term goal was to provide President Nguyen Van Thieus government in Saigon with a decent chance of surviving for a reasonable interval of two to five years following the sought-after mutual exit of US and North Vietnamese forces from South Vietnam. They would have preferred that President Thieu and South Vietnam survive indefinitely, and they would do what they could to maintain South Vietnam as a separate political entity. But they were realistic enough to appreciate that such a goal was unlikely and beyond their power to achieve by a military victory on the ground or from the air in Vietnam.

Giving Thieu a decent chance to survive, even for just a decent interval, however, rested primarily on persuading Hanoi to withdraw its troops from the South or, if that failed, prolonging the war in order to give time for Vietnamization to take hold in order to enable Thieu to fight the war on his own for a reasonable period of time after the US exited Indochina. In 1969, Nixon and Kissinger hoped that their Madman threat strategy, coupled with linkage diplomacy, could persuade Hanoi to agree to mutual withdrawal at the negotiating table or lever Moscows cooperation in persuading Hanoi to do so. In this respect, Nixon’s Nuclear Specter is an attempt to contribute to better understanding of Nixon and Kissinger’s Vietnam diplomacy as a whole.

William is Senior Analyst at the National Security Archive, where he directs the Archives nuclear history documentation project. See the Archives Nuclear Vault resources page;
Jeffrey is professor emeritus, Miami University, and author of Nixon’s Vietnam War and The Vietnam War Files.

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