In 1969, President Richard Nixon sat in front of the American people and gave us his exit strategy from Southeast Asia. “Johnson’s war” is what he called the Vietnam conflict. He had been in office less than a year, and opposition to the war was a national issue, to say the least. The war, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, and violent police reaction to protests during the Democratic Convention in Chicago the previous year spurred an entire generation to march on campuses and streets all over the country. Three Days of Peace & Music had just happened in Woodstock, NY where more than one hundred thousand people and the top musical acts of the day railed against Nixon and the war. Nixon called those folks “the vocal minority,” and that November evening in 1969 he asked “the great silent majority of my fellow Americans” for his support.
He talked about how we got into the war, from President Eisenhower, to Kennedy to Johnson’s escalation “to prevent a Communist takeover.”
I heard that speech again recently, and it sounded disquietingly familiar. He said he had a plan that would bring our troops home, “a plan which would end the war and serve the peace.” Nixon had first floated his idea in a visit to Guam earlier that year, and now, on television, the American people heard the details of what was already being called the “Nixon Doctrine”. There was also another name for Nixon’s new policy when applied to Vietnam – “Vietnamization.”
In his own words, Nixon’s new primary objective in Vietnam was “to enable the South Vietnamese forces to assume full responsibility for the security in South Vietnam.”
“Through continued implementation of our plan for Vietnamization,” he said, “we will withdraw all of our forces from Vietnam on a schedule … as the South Vietnamese become strong enough to defend their own freedom.”
In June 2005, George W. Bush stood in front of an oddly silent group of soldiers at Fort Bragg, N.C. and explained to an increasingly discontented American public his way of getting American troops home from Iraq. Cindy Sheehan was starting to get some press, and there was a growing sentiment of distrust of W and an administration drunk on its own hubris.
He reiterated what has already been called the “Bush Doctirne” – “…as freedom takes root in Iraq, it will inspire millions across the Middle East to claim their liberty as well.” Then we’ll all feel safer. “Our strategy to defend ourselves and spread freedom is working,” he says.
He talked about why we went to war, invoking September 11, terrorism and “murder in the name of a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom, rejects tolerance, and despises all dissent.”
In that speech, Bush said this: “The best way to complete the mission is to help Iraqis build a free nation that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself. We are building up Iraqi Security Forces as quickly as possible, so they can assume the lead in defeating the terrorists and insurgents. A major part of our mission is to train them so they can do the fighting and our troops can come home.”
For those who say we cannot compare the war in Iraq with the war in Vietnam, these statements seem to confirm the desire of our administration to complete the Vietnamization of Iraq. Are they thinking we’ll get it right this time, that “Iraqization” will work? Nixon thought his Vietnamization plan would get our troops home sooner.
Nixon in 1969: “As South Vietnamese forces become stronger, the rate of American withdrawal can become greater.”
Bush in 2005: “As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.”
Nixon said Vietnamization would work because the South Vietnamese were getting stronger.
Nixon in1969: “The South Vietnamese have continued to gain in strength.”
Bush in 2005: “We have made gains in both the number and quality of those [Iraqi Security] forces.”
Nixon said Vietnamization was the new way for America to assume the responsibility of spreading freedom.
Nixon in 1969: “The wheel of destiny has turned so that any hope the world has for the survival of peace and freedom will be determined by whether the American people have the moral stamina and the courage to meet the challenge of free world leadership.”
Bush in 2005: “We know that this great ideal of human freedom is entrusted to us in a special way – and that the ideal of liberty is worth defending.”
And finally, both insisted Vietnamization was the key to peace for future generations.
Bush in 2005: “We are…laying the foundation of peace for our children and grandchildren.”
And Mr. Nixon: “I want it to end in a way which will increase the chance that [the soldiers’] younger brothers and their sons will not have to fight in some future Vietnam some place in the world.”