Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA 24401
by Prof. Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
The 1968 Tet Offensive marked more than the end of getting into the Vietnam War and the beginning of getting out. It also signalled the end of consensus among the major U.S. political parties about that war, and about the containment policy the U.S. had followed since 1947. Thereafter, controversy and debate would surround nearly every decision made by U.S. presidents in conducting further anti-Soviet and anti-Communist policies.
Elected to the presidency in 1968, Richard Nixon and his principal foreign policy advisor, Henry Kissinger, appreciated this new domestic situation. Nixon and Kissinger were convinced that the U.S. needed to continue to checked the growing influence of the U.S.S.R., so they devised new means which could be used even without domestic consensus. Overall, their policies were known as "detente," or relaxation of tensions. Rapprochement with communist China and nuclear arms reduction agreements with the U.S.S.R. were the key elements of Nixon's foreign policy. To manage the Vietnam situation, the "Nixon Doctrine" for Asia was announced.
On July 25, 1969, U.S. President Richard Nixon met informally with newsmen while visiting the U.S. island territory of Guam. In remarks made then, the President outlined the thinking behind a diminished direct role for U.S. military forces in Asia. In the years that followed, the policies which grew from these ideas came to be known as the "Nixon Doctrine:"
"I am convinced that the way to avoid becoming involved in another war in Asia is for the United States to continue to play a significant role...[however,]
"Asians will say in every country that we visit that they do not want to be dictated to from the outside. Asia for the Asians. And that is what we want, and that is the role we should play. We should assist, but we should not dictate. At this time, the political and economic plans that they are developing are very hopeful. We will give assistance to those plans. We, of course, will keep the treaty commitments that we have.
"But as far as our role is concerned, we must avoid that kind of policy that will make countries in Asia so dependent upon us that we are dragged into conflicts such as the one that we have in Vietnam. This is going to be a difficult line to follow...
"...as far as the problems of internal security are concerned, as far as the problems of miitary defense, except for the threat of a major power involving nuclear weapons, ...the United States is going to encourage and has a right to expect that this problem will be increasingly handled by, and the responsibility taken by, the Asian nations themselves."
source: Nicholas Berry, editor, U.S. Foreign Policy Documents, 1963-1977 (Brunswick, OH: King's Court Publications, 1977): 29.
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