The Daily Mail’s Andrew Alexander is the latest:
When Vietnam was at its worst, President Nixon made the bogus claim that the Government in the South had reached the stage where it could fight the Viet Cong without outside support.
An undignified retreat then followed. Something like this can be expected for Afghanistan – just find an excuse to leave.
It was President Nixon’s goal to leave Vietnam in honor, not defeat. He said as much in his November 1969 speech, when he reached out to the “Silent Majority” for a peaceful end to the conflict. His strategy was neither irresponsible or undignified:
From a political standpoint this would have been a popular and easy course to follow. After all, we became involved in the war while my predecessor was in office. I could blame the defeat which would be the result of my action on him and come out as the peacemaker. Some put it to me quite bluntly: This was the only way to avoid allowing Johnson’s war to become Nixon’s war.
But I had a greater obligation than to think only of the years of my administration and of the next election. I had to think of the effect of my decision on the next generation and on the future of peace and freedom in America and in the world.
Let us all understand that the question before us is not whether some Americans are for peace and some Americans are against peace. The question at issue is not whether Johnson’s war becomes Nixon’s war.
Was it really bogus as Alexander purports? According to Vietnam War veteran and historian Lewis Sorley, the situation on the ground started to improve as the strategy started to be rethought in the late Sixties. Similar to the surge operations in 2007 and 2008, American forces started to concentrate on pacification efforts on the provincial and rural levels.
Rather than continue search and destroy missions, progress was made through the strategy of “secure, build, and hold.” In other words the Nixon’s administration’s plan was not to simply waste time fighting an enemy that exploited hostilities and blended into the population, but rather engage and protect the population, isolate them from insurgents, and help the Vietnamese Army attain the competence to defend from the North.
During this time, the Vietnamese government also gained greater legitimacy as an effective reformer. In 1972, President Thieu spearheaded an initiative to distribute 400,000 acres of land to farmers that lead to an increase in production and the re-opening of local markets.
The Republic was ready to stand on its own.
But in June of 1973, it was Congress — assisted by an amendment from Senators Church and Case — who decided to leave the South defenseless:
Sorley doesn’t just argue that ”clear and hold” beat the Viet Cong. He goes on to argue that the Vietnamization program in general was a success, and that by the time the last US troops left in 1973, the South Vietnamese Army was capable of defending the country. The villain, in this retelling of the war, is the US Congress, which cut off all funding for US military operations in late 1973-making it impossible for the US to provide the air support it had promised in case of an invasion by the North Vietnamese Army-and went on to cut aid to South Vietnam starting in 1975. If the US had just provided South Vietnam with a bit of military aid and air support, Sorley implies, we would have won the Vietnam War.