The Limits of Air Power: The American Bombing of North Vietnam

By Mark Clodfelter | Go to book overview

V

Nixon Turns to Air Power

What really matters now is how it all comes out. Both
Haldeman and Henry seem to have an idea—which I
think is mistaken—that even if we fail in Vietnam we can still
survive politically. I have no illusions whatever on that score,
however. The U.S. will not have a credible policy if we fail,
and I will have to assume responsibility for that development
.

RICHARD M. NIXON
diary entry, April 19721

On 20 April 1969, President Richard M. Nixon announced that he would withdraw 150,000 men from Vietnam during the next year. The decision conformed to the Vietnam policy outlined almost a year earlier by his predecessor: The United States would rely on negotiations and an improved Southern army, supported by decreasing amounts of American military power, to end its Vietnam involvement. Lyndon Johnson had halted all bombing of the North in October 1968 in exchange for Hanoi's "agreement" to negotiate seriously and stop certain military activities.2 Rolling Thunder officially ended, and the air effort devoted to it was shifted to the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Except for infrequent "protective reaction strikes" in response to violations of the October accord, the North was a refuge from American bombs from November 1968 to April 1972.3

After ten months of no progress in the public negotiations begun in Paris by the Johnson administration, Nixon dispatched Henry A. Kissinger, his Assistant for National Security Affairs, to meet secretly with North Vietnamese representatives in August 1969. Kissinger met with delegates Le Duc Tho and Xuan Thuy twelve times before the North Vietnamese abruptly halted the connection in October 1971. He achieved no more than the deadlocked public talks paralleling his unannounced sessions. Nixon became convinced that Hanoi had no intention of settling the war at the conference table, a

-147-

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The Limits of Air Power: The American Bombing of North Vietnam
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction ix
  • Preface and Acknowledgments xiii
  • I - From Unconditional Surrender to Flexible Response 1
  • II - The Genesis of Graduated Thunder 39
  • III - An Extended Application of Force 73
  • IV - Restraints and Results, 1965–68 117
  • V - Nixon Turns to Air Power 147
  • VI - Persuading Enemy and Ally: the Christmas Bombings 177
  • VII - Assessment 203
  • VIII - Epilogue 211
  • Notes 225
  • Bibliography 277
  • Index 299
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