Statement Submitted to Republican National Convention Committee on Resolutions: "Vietnam"
With regard to the war in Vietnam, the Republican party faces the question of how a complex, emotionally-charged and highly sensitive issue can be handled during an election year in a responsible way.
The manner in which we conduct ourselves on this issue can bear heavily on the chances for peace.
The Republican party must address this issue in its platform. What I intend to do, and what I believe the party should do, is to separate those questions that can responsibly be discussed from those that cannot. The present Administration's emissaries in Paris must be able to speak with the full force and authority of the United States. Nothing should be offered in the political arena that might undercut their hand.
But there is much that can and should be discussed.
The war must be ended.
It must be ended honorably, consistent with America's limited aims and with the long term requirements of peace in Asia.
We must seek a negotiated settlement. This will require patience.
Until it is ended—and in order to hasten a negotiated end—it must be waged more effectively. But rather than further escalation on the military front, what it requires now is a dramatic escalation of our efforts on the economic, political, diplomatic and psychological fronts. It requires a new strategy, which recognizes that this is a new and different kind of war. And it requires a fuller enlistment of our Vietnamese allies in their own defense.
I have long been critical of the Administration's conduct of the war. Specifically:
• Our massive military superiority has been wasted, our options frittered away, by applying power so gradually as to be ineffective. The swift, overwhelming blow that would have been decisive two or three years ago is no longer possible today. Instead, we find that we have been locked into a massive, grinding war of attrition.
• The Administration has done far too little, too late, to train and equip the South Vietnamese, both for fighting their own war now and for the task of defending their own country after the war is settled.
• The Administration has either not recognized that this is a new and more complex kind of war, or has not seen its significance. The result is that the old-style, conventional military aspects have been overemphasized, and its other dimensions—psychological, political, economic, even diplomatic—have gotten too little attention.
• The Administration has failed in candor at home and in leadership abroad. By not taking the American people into its confidence, the Administration has lost their confidence. Its diplomacy has failed to enlist other nations to use their influence toward achieving a peaceful settlement.
These are failures of the past. In terms of what the United States should do now, we start with the fact of the Paris talks. These impose limits on what a Presidential candidate can responsibly say—not because of what the American people might think, but because of how Hanoi's negotiators might interpret it.
A Presidential candidate is in a different position than is a private citizen, an editor or even a Senator. He may soon bear the responsibility for conducting the negotiations. Anything he might offer as a candidate would become unavailable for bargaining when he became President. Anything he might say, any differences he might express, would be taken by Hanoi as indicating the possible new direction of the next administration.
Our negotiators in Paris represent not only the present administration, but the United States. In the spirit of country above party, as long as they have a chance of success—and as long as the Administration remains committed to an honorable settlement—they should be free from partisan interference, and they should have our full support. The pursuit of peace is too important for politics-as-usual.
If the talks fail, or if they drag on indefinitely, new approaches both to the conduct of the war and to the search for peace will be needed.
There is no Republican way or Democratic way to end a war, but there is a difference between an administration that inherits the errors of the past, and an administration that can make a fresh beginning free from the legacy of those errors.
There is a difference between an administration burdened by accumulated distrust, and a new administration that can tell the truth to the American people and be believed.
However cruel its military aspects, this new kind of war is not primarily a military struggle in the conventional sense. It is primarily a political struggle, with the enemy conducting military operations to achieve political and psychological objectives. It is a war for people, not for territory. The real measure of progress is not the body-count of enemy killed, but the number of South Vietnamese won to the building and defense of their own country.
This new kind of war requires greater emphasis on small-unit action, on routing out the Viet Cong infrastructure, on police and patrol activities, on intelligence-gathering, on the strengthening of local forces. This kind of war can actually be waged more effectively with fewer men and at less cost.
The fact is that our men have not been out-fought; the Administration has been out-thought.
At the same time, we need far greater and more urgent attention to training the South Vietnamese themselves, and equipping them with the best of modern weapons. As they are phased in, American troops can—and should—be phased out. This phasing-out will save American lives and cut American costs. Further, it is essential if South Vietnam is to develop both the military strength and the strength of spirit to survive now and in the future.
It is a cruel irony that the American effort to safeguard the independence of South Vietnam has produced an ever-increasing dependency in our ally. If South Vietnam's future is to be secure, this process must now be reversed.
The context in which the final negotiations will occur cannot be predicted, but the far-reaching implications of the war in Vietnam plainly indicate that the conference table must be wide enough, and the issues placed upon it broad enough, to accommodate as many as possible of the powers and interests involved. In particular, there should be the most candid and searching conversations with the Soviet Union.
Vietnam does not exist in isolation. Around the world, we should mobilize our diplomatic forces for peace—through our embassies, through the United Nations and elsewhere. We need such effort not only to speed an end to the war in Vietnam, but also to lay the groundwork for the organization of a lasting and larger peace. Certainly one of the lessons from the agony of Vietnam is that we need a new diplomacy to prevent future Vietnams.
If the war is still going on next January, it can best be ended by a new Administration that has given no hostages to the mistakes of the past; an Administration neither defending old errors nor bound by the old record. A new Republican Administration will be pledged to conduct a thorough reappraisal of every aspect of the prosecution of the war and the search for peace. It will accept nothing on faith, reputation or statistics. In waging the war and making the peace, it will come with a fresh eye and act with a free hand. And it will do what the present Administration has so signally failed to do: it will arm the American people with the truth.
APP NOTE: From section six of the volume "Nixon Speaks Out" titled, "Quest for Peace".
Richard Nixon, Statement Submitted to Republican National Convention Committee on Resolutions: "Vietnam" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/326784