In this dissertation, I analyze the relationship between the top echelons of Nixon s White House and the South Vietnamese president, Nguyen Van Thieu as it related to Nixon s Vietnam War strategies from January 1969 to January 1973. I show that the relationship between the two allies was generally good, that Thieu was usually well informed, and that it was characterized by few open conflicts before the fall of 1972. The absence of conflicts was in part rooted in the lack of frank and open discussions on strategy between the governments. More importantly, however, was the fact that the allies shared a common goal.
The Nixon administrations main instrument for preserving the Thieu regime was not the madman theory , but a chain of large-scale military operations aimed at reducing the communists war making capabilities by destroying their stocks and interdicting their lines of supply. The most important of these operations were the MENU bombings of Cambodia, the Cambodian incursion of 1970, Lam Son 719, and Linebacker I in 1972.
In order for Nixon s win-strategy to work, he needed to placate the domestic opposition to the war. He did so by phasing out the American forces in Vietnam while strengthening the South Vietnamese armed forces. This policy, called Vietnamization, would have the added benefit of making the defense of South Vietnam less dependent on the U.S. Congress. Despite claims made after the war, the South Vietnamese president did not object to start phasing out American soldiers. In fact, Thieu signaled more than once that he would welcome the policy well before the decision to do so was made.
Thieu was generally well informed on Kissinger s negotiations with the North Vietnamese. The level of coordination between Washington and Saigon on day-to-day business was, for the most part, remarkably high. The Nixon administration did, however, stray from its usual practice when it neglected to inform Thieu that Kissinger had dropped the demand for mutual withdrawal on May 31, 1971.
By August 1972, both Washington and Hanoi had decided that they needed to settle the war. Mounting Congressional pressures for finding a peaceful solution, combined with the allies apparent inability to break the military stalemate and the weak showing of the ARVN during the Communist Easter offensive made it imperative for the Nixon administration to settle the war in the near future. In October, Kissinger and Le Duc Tho reached agreement on all substantive points, and were ready to conclude a settlement. However, Thieu was not. Nixon considered settling bilaterally with Hanoi, something that would surely have had severe adverse effects on Thieu s regime, but time and again Nixon would give Thieu another chance to go along. In order to break the impasse Thieu s recalcitrance had produced before Congress reconvened on January 3, 1972, and to convince Thieu that the U.S. had done everything in its power to get the best possible results in the negotiations, Nixon ordered an air campaign against the Hanoi-Haiphong area. Linebacker II, or the Christmas bombings, caused a public outrage, but it had only minor effects on the final peace agreement. Only after Nixon had set an absolute deadline for settling did Thieu finally give in, and on January 27, the Paris Agreement was signed.