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Leaving Vietnam: Nixon, Kissinger and Ford, 1969–1975, Part two: January 1972–January 1973

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Abstract

Although anticipated, the North Vietnamese ‘Easter offensive’ against South Vietnam in 1972 created problems for the United States. Having reached a rapprochement with Communist China, President Nixon and his foreign policy adviser, Henry Kissinger, believed that the attack could have serious repercussions for their attempt to balance it with détente with the Soviet Union, not to mention the US's credibility as a Great Power. They also feared it would damage Nixon's prospects for re-election in November 1972. Despite opposition from his Defense Secretary, Nixon renewed the bombing of North Vietnam which had been stopped by President Johnson in 1968. This helped to bring the North Vietnamese back to the conference table and after complex negotiations, a draft peace agreement was ready for initialling in October 1972. However, President Thieu of South Vietnam saw significant drawbacks in the agreement and refused to go along with it. The North Vietnamese chose to have one more attempt to win on the battlefield and President Nixon, who had scaled down the bombing when peace seemed closer and won a landslide victory in the presidential election, launched another eleven days of concentrated bombing raids on North Vietnam at the turn of the year. This led to the final agreement initialled on 23 January 1973, which President Thieu reluctantly acceded to. Thieu's reservations were justified, but Nixon realized that, despite his electoral victory, he could not count on the continued support of Congress and the American people for the war. Far from bringing ‘peace with honor in Vietnam and Southeast Asia’, the January agreement was a fig leaf to cover American withdrawal.

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