How did Richard Nixon both escalate the war in Vietnam and wind it down?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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When Richard Nixon ran for president in 1968, he promised that he had a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam.  When he became president, he did eventually end US involvement in that war.  However, he also escalated the war in important ways.

One example of how Nixon escalated the war in Vietnam was his “Linebacker II” program of bombing North Vietnam.  Up until that point, there had been limited bombing of the North.  In late 1972, however, Nixon ordered massive bombing raids of the North.  His plan was to force the Vietnamese to break a stalemate in the peace negotiations. 

A second example of escalation was Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia.  In mid-1970, Nixon ordered an invasion of a part of Cambodia.  He did so because North Vietnamese troops had been using this part of Cambodia as a safe haven.  They would retreat across the border and the US would not attack them there.  Nixon wanted to end this practice and therefore ordered the invasion.  This was seen as a major escalation of the war.

At the same time, however, Nixon was trying to end US involvement in the war.  Nixon’s time in office is known for the policy of “Vietnamization” of the war.  Nixon gradually reduced the role that American troops were playing in the war and handed more responsibilities over to the Vietnamese.  Eventually, in 1973, he ended the American presence in Vietnam.  Thus, Nixon both escalated the Vietnam War and wound down the American involvement in that war. 

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