I have a new article up at War on the Rocks.com, solicited by the editors, on the history behind the Nixon Doctrine and its implications for today. For those not familiar with WotR, if you like defense, foreign policy, national security and intelligence community topics, it is a great site to read. Most of the articles are by active duty or retired members of the armed services or various national security agencies with a mix of academic specialists, journalists, former officials and bloggers making up the remainder of the authors. You get a nice cross-section of views of the broad defense and national security communities and the opinions are usually strong.
Cross-posted from zenpundit.com
I have a new piece up at the excellent War on the Rocks site that is oriented towards both history and contemporary policy Some Excerpts:
A New Nixon Doctrine: Strategy for a Polycentric World
….Asia was only the starting point; the Nixon doctrine continued to evolve in subsequent years into a paradigm for the administration to globally leverage American power, one that, as Chad Pillai explained in his recent War on the Rocks article, still remains very relevant today. Avoiding future Vietnams remained the first priority when President Nixon elaborated on the Nixon Doctrine to the American public in a televised address about the war the following October, but the Nixon Doctrine was rooted in Nixon’s assumptions about larger, fundamental, geopolitical shifts underway that he had begun to explore in print and private talks before running for president. In a secret speech at Bohemian Grove in 1967 that greatly bolstered his presidential prospects, Nixon warned America’s political and business elite that the postwar world as they knew it was irrevocably coming to an end [….]
….China was a strategic lodestone for Richard Nixon’s vision of a reordered world under American leadership, which culminated in Nixon’s historic visit to Peking and toasts with Mao ZeDong and Zhou En-lai. In the aftermath of this diplomatic triumph, a town hall meeting on national security policy was sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute that featured the Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird squaring off with future Nobel-laureate, strategist and administration critic Thomas Schelling over the Nixon Doctrine and the meaning of “polycentrism” in American foreign policy. Laird was concerned with enunciating the implications of the Nixon doctrine as an operative principle for American foreign policy, taking advantage of the glow of a major success for the administration. Schelling, by contrast, was eager to turn the discussion away from China to the unresolved problem of the Vietnam war, even when he elucidated on the Nixon doctrine’s strategic importance. [….]
….What lessons can we draw from the rise of the Nixon Doctrine?
First, as in Nixon’s time, America is again painfully extricating itself from badly managed wars that neither the public nor the leaders in two administrations who are responsible for our defeat are keen to admit were lost. Nixon accepted defeat strategically, but continued to try to conceal it politically (“Vietnamization,” “Peace with Honor,” etc). What happened in Indochina in 1975 with the fall of Saigon is being repeated in Iraq right now, after a fashion. It will also be repeated in Afghanistan, and there it might be worse than present-day Iraq. [….]
Read the article in its entirety here.
11 thoughts on “War on the Rocks: A New Nixon Doctrine – Strategy for a Polycentric World”
One thing that I almost never see is a discussion of what George Bush’s options were after 9/11. Bill Clinton left him with a situation in the Middle East that resembles what Obama will leave the next president. Clinton ignored the 1993 WTC attack, the Philippine airline bomber , the embassy bombings and the Cole.
Bush got the blame because he was president when it happened. The next attack might even come on the next president’s watch.
The decision process goes back to the first Gulf attack on Kuwait. Fight that war ? Was it ended too soon ? I think some of this is the fault of Schwartzkopf who did not wait for State Department input before signing an armistice that Saddam manipulated and evaded.
I agree that nation building was a mistake as it was in Vietnam. Afghanistan was being handled fairly well until Democrats decided to use it to accuse Bush of fighting “the wrong war.” That will end in disaster and I worry a lot about how we get out of there.
The Oil for Food Scandal has been long forgotten by our ahistorical population who don’t know who was our opponent in the Revolutionary War.
>>Bush got the blame because he was president when it happened.
Bush got the blame because the Leftist media are DNC operatives with bylines. They wanted to cover for Clinton and blame the Republican. It almost worked. There is no crime or malfeasance so large the Leftist media will not attempt to cover up or cast blame elsewhere. There is no innocent person they will not smear or even destroy in pursuit of that goal. Do not believe them on any subject. Like Jay Carney and Baghdad Bob, they are (highly) paid liars.
This is absolutely spot on, and I agree with every word.
But it is also incomplete, and I am not willing absolve Bush of events that took place on his watch.
When I voted for him I thought I was voting for an end to the insane political correctness and general idiocy of the Clinton era.
But no, didn’t happen. Federal law enforcement had possession of Zacharias Moussoui’s laptop for weeks before the attack, but never opened it for fear of being accused of profiling. What they would have found on it may have prevented the it. Later, somehow Jamie Gorelick ended up on the 9/11 commission, despite her role in causing the attack by erecting the infamous “Gorelick wall,” intended to prevent the FBI and CIA from sharing info that would have revealed Clinton’s illegal money trail from China. Of course, it also prevented those agencies from sharing info about terrorism.
It seems to me that Bush both could and should have taken direct measures to change these two unhappy occurrences. I believe that if Bush, President and head of the executive branch, had more forcefully expressed his opposition to profiling the FBI agents involved may have been willing look at that laptop a little more closely than not at all. Plus, it was idiotic for Bush to accept the presence of Gorelick on the 9/11 commission, considering her role in causing it. Bush should have said so, plainly, openly, perhaps in a presidential speech, but in any case forcefully enough that the public would know and understand better just how the attacks were able to happen, naming names of who failed, especially Gorelick.
But no, didn’t happen- and the left was allowed to get away with their incompetence and treason, as well as learning that could easily roll Bush without consequence. Later, they accomplished this with great success during Iraq and Katrina, alas.
The buck stopped with Bush, and that political failure is his legacy.
Anyway, about the topic at hand, I just find it rather stunning to read about Nixon deliberately tossing the Republic of Vietnam under the bus, for the supposed strategic prize of China.
I find it despicable, as well. Millions of people friendly to the United States were abandoned, soon to be murdered. And this happened after the South had successfully defeated a Northern invasion- the so-called Eastertide offensive- indicating that the fall of Saigon and all that followed was not inevitable. Not only that, but since the USSR was a threat to China as well as the US I see no reason why China wouldn’t have been willing to accept the continued existence of South Vietnam, much like they accept the existence of South Korea.
And as long as I’m talking about South Korea, I note that for a long time it a basket case run by a dictatorship. No more. I suppose if Nixon had been president in 1953 he would have tossed them under the bus, too. Thing is, if you make a habit of screwing over your friends you’ll soon have none. And if the other nations on the planet notice that the united States is a completely unreliable ally, willing to abandon them for any reason or no reason at all, then we won’t find any of those new polycentric centers of gravity willing to align with us at all, not even dysfunctional welfare cases.
If you put lipstick on a pig it still squeals. If you rationalize defeat you’ve still lost. Nixon was yet another failure as president who- much like George Bush- presided over disasters, foreign and domestic.
It took the election of Ronald Reagan to put us on the right path- “My vision of the Cold War? We win, and they lose,”- and we eagerly await the emergence of someone who will lead the nation to success once again.
Looking to Nixon as a guide for US policy- uhm, I just don’t think that’s right way to go.
“Plus, it was idiotic for Bush to accept the presence of Gorelick on the 9/11 commission, considering her role in causing it.”
It is helpful to recall the guerrilla war on Bush by the Democrat dominated Senate after 2000 and the Bush v Gore case. He could get no appointments confirmed and he left the DoJ in the hands of Clinton appointees until Gonzales tried to clean house 2 years later and was savaged by Democrats for doing so. Clinton fired all US Attorneys right after he was inaugurated. That included the ones investigating Whitewater.
Rumsfeld was one of the few appointees at DoD by summer.
Gorelick was a disaster but Bush may have had little choice by then. He is justifiably blamed for not trying harder.
Nixon was a cold eyed realist who did pretty well but went too far in detente. The guy who let Vietnam go was Eisenhower who was asked by the French to help evacuate Dien Bien Phu or to use US airpower to help them break the siege.
“And as long as I’m talking about South Korea, I note that for a long time it a basket case run by a dictatorship. No more. I suppose if Nixon had been president in 1953 he would have tossed them under the bus, too”
Well, Nixon was Vice-president then and he did not feel that way about South Korea. More than that, he advocated threatening to use nuclear weapons to stymie Communist victory in Vietnam during Dien Bien Phu and again over Communist infiltration of Laos. Ike said no.
The reason for Nixon’s position then is that circumstances were different in a strategic sense. If the South Vietnamese Army fought their war ten times harder than the Afghans have the past decade, the South Koreans fought three times as hard in their war than the South Vietnamese. The ROK army did not lack for martial spirit then or now (the South Korean units later sent to Vietnam to fight were greatly feared by the Vietcong. The US also enjoyed overwhelming nuclear superiority during the 1950’s in every category – megatonnage, throw weight, accuracy, delivery vehicles etc. Nixon knew the US could play from a position of overwhelming strength in Korea or Indochina at that time.
Times changed. A combination of a Soviet arms build-up and McNamara-LBJ policy of intentionally allowing the Soviets to catch-up had eroded that great advantage. Nixon inherited that weaker hand along with a war in Vietnam the best and the brightest had royally screwed up. Momentum internationally was on the Soviet side and Nixon changed that by flipping China into an anti-Soviet camp. If you think the 70’s were bad – and they were – imagine them with even less Soviet restraint
Nixon did not *want* Saigon to fall, certainly not on his watch, and he hoped US aid and air support could keep ARVN on an even footing with the North. But his assessment that South Vietnam was less important to US national security than China tilting against the Soviets in sync with America was sound. The aid cut-off by Democrats to Saigon was not something he ever anticipated and probably would not have happened but for Watergate weakening the presidency and emboldening the anti-war wing of the Democratic Party. Nixon also overestimated how much influence China and even the USSR had with Hanoi in brokering a peace deal.
Nixon was not afraid to squeeze when he had an advantage but LBJ did not leave him very much to work with in 1969 but did bequeath Nixon many extremely serious problems to fix
I take your points, and I know I’m an outlier here when it comes to my low opinion about Bush.
But I am extremely tired of so-called leaders who deliver us various forms of defeat, then congratulate themselves because they haven’t brought us complete disaster.
I put Bush and Nixon in this category, both.
It seems an interesting parallel that Nixon and Bush had foreign policies requiring significant and important military commitments- Vietnam and Iraq- yet they both failed because they were unable to manage the domestic political scene.
Nixon was undone by Watergate, after relentless harassment by his enemies, then forced to resign. If I recall Ford later went down to the leftist-run Congress begging them to meet our treaty commitment to South Vietnam, but they refused. I’ve long regarded the abandonment of South Vietnam as a terrible stain on the honor of the US, but now I read that Nixon did it deliberately, convinced it didn’t matter if we let our Vietnamese allies get murdered by our enemies. Huh? And all after we had spent vast amounts of blood and treasure on the struggle, too.
I’m sorry, I just can’t accept that. But I suspect that if Nixon hadn’t been so distracted and weakened by Watergate South Vietnam may have been able to survive anyway, especially if the left hadn’t been able to cut off US support.
Bush wasn’t any better. It seems by now Republicans should have figured out that leftists aren’t their friends, and developed some sort of countermeasures. Instead, Bush simply wouldn’t respond, tamely accepting blame for disasters not his fault, accepting idiotic policies in the name false comity, and refusing to make obvious political attacks on his political enemies, which were a key part of his job.
I know it’s pointless to offer advice now, and of course everyone’s hindsight is famously excellent, but for Pete’s sake you don’t need to be an architect to notice that a building is burning down, either.
Again, the buck stopped with Bush. Period. When the democrat senate refused to act upon his nominees, he should done a little more about it than nothing at all. He should have been pointing out that they were refusing to act, perhaps he should have even gotten mad about it, using the power of his office to make his objections known. And it actually mattered, because if Bush had been able to get his people in place perhaps Moussoui’s infamous laptop would have been opened, preventing 9/11.
Failing that happy eventuality, he could have made a political case against the democrats, appropriately blaming them for their actions, resulting in weaker opposition that maybe wouldn’t have been so bold as to derail the nation’s entire political discourse over something so idiotic as the Plame affair.
That never happened, obviously. Worse, much worse, Bush seemingly delighted in pushing policy loathed by the rank-and-file supporters of the GOP. The Bush Amnesty bill and the intense opposition it engendered is well known, but I also recall a proposal to rewrite labor law that would have had the effect of eliminating overtime pay. Being that the GOP is essentially a middle-class party, and many middle-class voters get overtime pay, this was essentially a direct attack by the Bush administration upon a huge segment of its support. Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, successful presidents who also had intransigent opposition, a hostile press, general bad times and grim brutal warfare to contend with during the times in office would never have made such a stupid mistake, enraging their supporters for trivial gain. For sake of brevity I’ll refrain from discussing the 2008 economic collapse.
Anyway, because Bush was regarded by the public as a failure, radical narcissist Barry Obama became president, throwing away all we had gained in Iraq either because of sheer moronic idiocy or vile treason. Ugh.
Again, I know I’m an outlier. But I humbly suggest we stop accepting the excuses we’re given and just face facts: Both Nixon and Bush were failed Presidents. They failed at home, and they failed abroad.
We just don’t have enough lipstick to make them stop being pigs.
I think I’ve already covered some of this in my lengthy comment just above, but I’ll reiterate here: One of the big honkin’ reasons I count Nixon a failure was exactly *because* he failed to prevent the domestic opposition from wrecking his foreign policy.
Avoiding impeachment isn’t really a high bar. But Nixon somehow failed to clear it, choosing resignation instead.
That’s what failure looks like.
Plus, I simply think Nixon was wrong in his evaluation of the strategic scene, as Reagan proved a few short years later.
Reagan. That was what success looked like. I want more of that, less of Nixon/Bush excuse mongering.
China warned us repeatedly in early years of the war that if we escalated up to a certain extent, they would send in troops, and they supplied the North with much material and military support throughout the war. Chinese anti-aircraft artillery divisions supposedly shot down thousands of our aircraft.
Avoiding open conflict with China was one of the big reasons why we kept our operations limited. We didn’t want a repeat of Korea.
So the strategic shift was probably the case.
However, during the last few years of the war there was growing strain between China and Vietnam over cultural issues and rivalries in other parts of Indochina. They ended up fighting a war against each other a few years after the fall of Saigon.
It’s possible that Nixon over thought the calculus of supporting one side over the other and actually underestimated the multipolarity of the region.
I suspect your evaluation is correct.
But it just seems rather interesting to note that apparently China had no fear of the United States, and what *we* would do if they sent troops and started shooting down American aircraft.
Nope, no fear at all.
Quite correctly, as we never made them face any consequences for killing our citizens and Vietnamese allies, and in fact rewarded them handsomely soon after.
I think this was a bad lesson to teach our potential enemies.
I’m sorry, I came of age during the Nixon regime, and I wouldn’t emulate anything about him and his ideas or policies in any area whatsoever.
He was disastrously wrong about “détente”, disastrously wrong about the economy, disastrously wrong about southeast Asia, and cynically wrong about the level of corruption and illegality the people would tolerate.
Nixon is one of the biggest failures in the string of failed Presidencies the country has suffered since Eisenhower’s administration ended. Except for certain aspects of Reagan and Clinton, the leadership group in this country, and the west in general, has been a disgrace and a disaster for most of this century.
It is an aspect of the resilience and creative abilities of the ordinary, and extraordinary, working people of this country that it can survive such a string of idiocy, corruption, and failure.
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