Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security Policy

By John Lewis Gaddis | Go to book overview

CHAPTER
NINE
Nixon, Kissinger,
and Détente

The 1968 presidential campaign was unusual in that, unlike those of 1952 and 1960, it provided little indication of the direction in which the new administration would move once in office. Richard Nixon had made an issue of Johnson's inability to end the Vietnam War, and had promised that he would do so, though without saying how or when. He had also implied, with references to an era of confrontation giving way to one of negotiation, a continuation of the previous administration's efforts to arrange a relaxation of tensions with the Soviet Union. There had even been hints, in a Foreign Affairs article the previous year and in occasional campaign speeches, of a willingness to consider a new relationship with Communist China. 1 But, in general, voters going to the polls on election day, 1968, had no idea that they were ushering in the most sweeping changes in United States foreign policy since the idea of containment had first evolved two decades earlier.

The world confronting the new administration in January 1969, though, was one ripe with possibilities for new approaches. Johnson had already made the decision to put a ceiling on U.S. troop commitments in Southeast Asia and to begin the process of "Vietnamization" that, he hoped, would eventually permit an American withdrawal. China, emerging from the self-imposed isolation of the Great Cultural Revolution, was on the verge of a military confrontation with the Russians along their Manchurian border. The Soviet Union was about to achieve numerical parity in strategic missiles, but confronted increasing economic difficulties at home that appeared likely to make it more rather than less dependent on the

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