The Cold War and Post War European History

Chapter 3: (Part 1) The “Big Game” and the Bombing of Cambodia, December 1968–March 1969 :: Nixon’s Nuclear Specter: The Secret Alert of 1969, Madman Diplomacy, and the Vietnam War Jeffrey P. Kimball

Response / Thought Quotes

  • “negotiations alone, Kissinger observed, were “also a very time-consuming strategy, and time is not on our side””
  • “Proposals for an actual or feigned nuclear escalation in Vietnam appeared in some of the very first planning papers of the administration in February 1969, but the road to the secret nuclear alert of October would nonetheless be long and tortuous, passing through Cambodia, Laos, North Korea, Subic Bay, Moscow, and Haiphong.”
  • “the destruction or withdrawal of all NVA units in South Vietnam, the destruction, withdrawal, or dissolution of all (or most) VC [Viet Cong] forces and apparatus, the permanent cessation of infiltration, and the virtually unchallenged sovereignty of a stable, non-Communist regime …, with no significant Communist political role except on an individual, ‘reconciled’ basis.”
  • “the credible threat, explicit or tacit, of unrestricted bombing or limited invasion of the DRV might well cause the Politburo in Hanoi to accept our conditions for victory immediately.”
  • “a coalition government> … [and] mutual withdrawal [of US and NVA forces] or cease-fire … as part of an agreed overall settlement.”10 A formal settlement was preferable to a tacit one, for “there would be a clear expression, politically useful both for the Republic of Vietnam (RVN, also known as South Vietnam) and the United States, that the main purpose of the US involvement had been accomplished—hence US withdrawal was appropriate.”
  • “We might end up with a [diplomatic] settlement of some type without a formal agreement, a sort of mutual accommodation in which either side is not deprived of the hope of ultimate success.… The mix of actions should be something like this. We talk hard [with the Communist Vietnamese side] in private but with an obvious peaceful public stance, seeking to gain time, initially giving the South Vietnamese a chance to strengthen the regime and add to the pacification effort while punishing the Viet Cong. Within three or four months, bring home a few troops unilaterally as a separate and distinct action from the Paris negotiations and as a ploy for more time domestically, while we continue to press at the negotiating table for a military settlement.”
  • “I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no way to win the war. But we can’t say that, of course. In fact, we have to seem to say the opposite, just to keep some degree of bargaining leverage.”
  • “The situation in South Vietnam which we inherited on 20 January is well described in Secretary Laird’s memorandum to you: “General Abrams has made remarkable progress in achieving a measure of military superiority throughout South.… But none of our officials, either military or civilian, is under any illusion that the battle in South Vietnam can be brought to a military conclusion within six months, a year or even several years. Options, over which we have little or no control, are available to the enemy for continuing the war almost indefinitely, although perhaps at a reduced intensity.””
  • “In 1969, the long-term goal of Nixon and Kissinger was to provide Thieu’s government with a “decent chance” of surviving for a “decent interval” of two to five years after a US and NVA exit from South Vietnam.”
  • “Priority objectives for the next several months would be mutual withdrawal, the reestablishment of the demilitarized zone and the restoration of the seventeenth parallel as a provisional boundary line, the release of US and allied prisoners of war, and an eventual cease-fire with international guaranties and supervision.”

Thought Questions

  • Describe what the author intends by using the phrase the “Big Game”
  • Describe the public domestic events in the United States from December 1968 – March 1969
  • Describe the “Carrots” of Diplomacy in the Southeast Asian negotiations in during this period
  • Describe the “Sticks” of Military action in Southeast Asian negotiations during this period
  • In what ways did Hanoi react to and understand the political change in the United States between Johnson and Nixon
  • How did Hanoi come to its understanding of political changes occurring in the United States during this period
  • Explain and Expand: “negotiations alone, Kissinger observed, were “also a very time-consuming strategy, and time is not on our side””
  • Explain and Expand: “Negotiations with Hanoi would have to be facilitated, they believed, by other methods.”
  • Describe “The RAND Options Paper” and the positions of “Group A” and “Group B”
  • How did the “The RAND Options Paper” and the positions of “Group A” and “Group B” impact the course of negotiations in Southeast Asia
  • Who are Daniel Ellsberg and Fred Iklé
  • Explain and Expand: “Rather unrealistically, they maintained that the American public would accept the costs”
  • Compare and Contrast: Diplomatic Solutions and Political Solutions in the early Nixon administration in Southeast Asia
  • Explain and Expand: “look threatening … but actually may not occur”
  • Explain and Expand: “I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no way to win the war. But we can’t say that, of course. In fact, we have to seem to say the opposite, just to keep some degree of bargaining leverage.”
  • Explain and Expand: “leave the political side to the Vietnamese”
  • Explain and Expand: “recognition of what was pragmatically possible if the goal was to preserve US honor and credibility, which Nixon and Kissinger believed it was.”
  • Explain and Expand: “We had to give the South Vietnamese time to replace American forces without catastrophe.”
  • Describe the 1967 Operations Pennsylvania
  • What was the significance of “Nixon and Kissinger tenaciously concealed their true motives, goals, and strategies from the public, Congress, cabinet heads, and even their staffers—with the occasional exception of such trusted, like-minded aides as Alexander Haig and H. R. Haldeman.”
  • Explain and Expand: “The public format immediately proved unworkable.”
  • Explain and Expand: Détente, Linkage, Triangular Diplomacy, and the China Card

Primary Sources

Articles and Resources

Further Reading