American Involvement in Vietnam War
The frustration of Nixon was clearly building with the failure despite all sorts of efforts. A futile invasion of Cambodia, continued but ineffective Vietnamization policy, no cooperation from PRC, and an attempt to cripple the North into negotiations through bombing; nothing seemed to be working. This incapability to find a solution further led the Nixon administration to continue bombing on the North, with a wrong perception that raw control on the battle will gain them advantage.
After this series of failures, Nixon came up with a ‘decent interval’ strategy. The plan was to withdraw about 150,000 troops from Vietnam in multiple phases to avoid the potentially huge protests that were likely to happen following spring. The domestic dissent was brewing faster. The Cambodian invasion was not welcomed by the majority of American public and in certain events, anti-war protestors were killed in clashes with the National Guard and the police. This led students across US to aggressively participate in demonstrations and strikes with the disbelief that they could actually be killed for practicing their freedom of speech.
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It was not just the communist allies that were resisting American interests in the South. The local people were increasingly frustrated with the idea that America had to ‘take over the burden of their fight’. They actually had suffered far more losses of lives and livelihoods then Americans did. Thieu also look at Vietnamization policy as the American abandonment of the mess it created.
While Nixon administration intermittently carried on the efforts with NLF, DRV, and RVN in Paris seeking a bilateral withdrawal of militaries of North Vietnam and America, the North were adamant and demanded America to withdraw unilaterally along with a forced termination of Thieu’s regime. As this period of no apparent solutions continued, Secretary of State Kissinger now approached China with stacks of documents which included satellite images and other intelligence reports about the USSR military information. In exchange, the PRC Premier Elai assured Chinese support to bring the Vietnam War to its termination. Along with providing the documents, Nixon administration made it clear to the Chinese that America was no longer interested in modernization of South Vietnam. It just wanted to get out as soon as it could.
Le Duc Tho, a major politician of the North Vietnam, explained the situation to Kissinger that United States can surely carry on its effort to strengthen the military of the South Vietnam and leave as many ‘advisors’. Tho wondered if these puppet troops could actually be able to fight as a versatile army within a feasible time period. Kissinger was missing the point that these steps were only prolonging the war, which the North Vietnamese had been fighting for generations and there was no way for US to counter the natives who were willing to sacrifice everything.
When Zhou Enlai and Le Duc Tho had a meeting to talk about the war, Tho trusted Enlai’s advice without being aware of the secret exchanges between Nixon administration and Enlai. Basically Enlai successfully convinced Tho that he should grant Nixon, Kissinger, and Thieu their wish and recognize the power of Theiu. Enlai effectively argued that this would actually help the North Vietnamese in their cause too. It would be much easier for the North Vietnam to gain victory once American military was out from the south. This Enlai-Tho meeting was critical because Nixon and Kissinger were prepared for that period of ‘decent interval’.
In applying this decent interval strategy, Nixon administration wanted a period significant enough between the US withdrawal and the inevitable fall of South Vietnam to communism that would divert the blame from America’s abandonment to failure of the South Vietnam to defend itself.
In 1973, the United States, South Vietnam, North Vietnam, and the Provisional Revolutionary Government (of NLF) agreed in a meeting in Paris to bring an end to this era of atrocity. It was decided that there will be interim government with equal powers to PRG, GVN, and the DRV, which was practically an invitation for communist takeover of South Vietnam. Nixon announced his retirement after the Watergate scandal in 1973 which further curbed his public rating. Congress approved, for one last time, a fund of $300 million to retrieve the Americans back.
As Ho Chi Minh exclaimed in 1966, If by ‘final victory’ you mean the departure of the Americans, then we will fight to final victory. Everything depends on the Americans. If they want to make war for twenty years then we shall make war for twenty years. If they want to make peace, we shall make peace and invite them to tea afterwards.