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How Nixon’s Invasion of Cambodia Triggered a Check on Presidential Power

How Nixon’s Invasion of Cambodia Triggered a Check on Presidential Power


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When President Richard Nixon ordered U.S. ground troops to invade Cambodia on April 28, 1970, he waited two days to announce on national television the Cambodian incursion had begun. With resentment already building in the country over the conflict in Vietnam, the incursion felt like a final straw.

The news unleashed waves of criticism from many who felt the president had abused his powers by side-stepping Congress. By November 1973, the criticism had culminated in the passage of the War Powers Act. Passed over Nixon’s veto, it limited the scope of the Commander-in-Chief’s ability to declare war without congressional approval.

While the act was an unusual challenge, presidents since have exploited loopholes in the War Powers Resolution, raising questions about executive power, especially during states of emergency.

READ MORE: The US and Congress Have Long Clashed Over War Powers

Why Did the U.S. Invade Cambodia?

LISTEN: Nixon Orders Invasion of Cambodia

Cambodia was officially a neutral country in the Vietnam War, though North Vietnamese troops moved supplies and arms through the northern part of the country, which was part of the Ho Chi Minh trail that stretched from Vietnam to neighboring Laos and Cambodia.

In March 1969, Nixon began approving secret bombings of suspected communist base camps and supply zones in Cambodia as part of “Operation Menu.” The New York Times revealed the operation to the public on May 9, 1969, prompting international protest. Cambodia wasn’t the first neutral country to be targeted by the United States during the Vietnam War—the United States began secretly bombing Laos in 1964, and would eventually leave it the most heavily bombed country per capita in the world.

READ MORE: Why Laos Has Been Bombed More Than Any Other Country

The Cambodian Incursion (April-June, 1970)

Nixon approved the use of American ground forces in Cambodia to fight alongside South Vietnamese troops attacking communist bases there on April 28, 1970. Recent political developments within Cambodia worked in Nixon’s favor. Prince Norodom Sihanouk, who had led the country since its independence from France in 1954, was voted out of power by the Cambodian National Assembly on March 18, 1970. Pro-U.S. Prime Minister Lon Nol invoked emergency powers and replaced the prince as head of state in what became known as The Cambodian Coup of 1970.

On May 8, 1970, Nixon held a press conference to defend the invasion of Cambodia. He argued that it bought six to eight months of training time for South Vietnamese forces, thereby shortening the war for Americans and saving American lives. He promised to withdraw 150,000 American soldiers by the following spring. But Vietnamization was not going well, and the American public was fed up with the war in Vietnam. The invasion of Cambodia proved to be a tipping point.

READ MORE: Which Countries Were Involved in the Vietnam War?

Public Reaction to the U.S. Invasion of Cambodia

Antiwar protests intensified across the country, particularly on college campuses. One hundred thousand people marched on Washington in protest. Approximately 400 schools had strikes while more than 200 closed completely. On May 4, 1970, the protests turned violent: National Guardsmen fired on anti-war demonstrators at Ohio’s Kent State University, killing four students and wounding nine. Ten days later, two students were killed at Jackson State University. The Kent State Shooting and the shooting at Jackson galvanized the country against the Cambodian incursion.

In Cambodia, the American bombing and invasion were weaponized as a recruiting tool by the Khmer Rouge, Cambodian Communist guerrillas who would later come to power in a brutal regime that would kill over two million people.

Congressional Reaction to the Invasion of Cambodia

Article 8, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution grants the power to declare war to the legislative branch of the U.S. government—a purposeful departure from the British tradition of granting war-making powers to the king.

But the term “declare” has been open to interpretation for centuries. In practice, American presidents have been going to war without congressional approval for centuries. James Polk’s 1846 occupation of Texas helped kick off the Mexican-American War; Abraham Lincoln even authorized early military action in the Civil War without first seeking congressional approval.

The Cold War era saw new breaches in war-making protocol from the executive branch. “Congress had become increasingly active in the years prior to the passage of the War Powers Act,” says Fredrik Logevall, Laurence D. Belfer Professor of International Affairs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. President Harry Truman did not seek Congressional approval before sending American troops to Korea, and when it came to the quickly-escalating Vietnam War, Congress was determined to play a larger role.

In late 1969, the Senate approved—by an historic vote of 78 to 11—the Cooper-Church Amendment named after Sen. John Sherman Cooper (R-Kentucky) and Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho), prohibiting U.S. combat troops or advisers from operating in Laos or Thailand. “This was really the first time since U.S. involvement in Vietnam began that Congress had found the votes to limit the president’s ability to wage war in Southeast Asia,” Logevall says.

In June 1970, Congress repealed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in a vote of 81-10, reasserting their control over the president’s ability to make war. That December, Congress passed an amended version of the Cooper-Church Amendment. While neither action put an end to the bombing campaigns in Laos or Cambodia, they set a strong precedent for congress to reign in the president.

In June, 1971, Nixon received another blow to his war-making powers: The New York Times published the Pentagon Papers revealing that the U.S. government had secretly increased U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

READ MORE: The US and Congress Have Long Clashed Over War Powers

War Powers Resolution of 1973

The War Powers Resolution, also known as the War Powers Act, is a congressional resolution that limits the U.S. president’s ability to initiate or mount military actions abroad without the express approval of Congress. It passed in November of 1973 over Nixon’s veto and requires the president, as Commander-in-Chief, to notify Congress whenever armed forces are deployed and imposes a limit of 60 days on any engagements initiated without congressional approval. While it does not outright forbid presidents from taking military action, it does create some sense of accountability.

The War Powers Act allows the president to declare war under three circumstances: (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces. Since Nixon resigned less than a year after its passage in the wake of the Watergate scandal, it was up to future presidents to test its limits.

Did the War Powers Act Work?

“Since it was passed, the War Powers Act has been honored in the breach—that is, presidents have reported to Congress what they intend to do anyway and have mostly ignored the War Powers Act when it would have inconvenienced their plans,” says Andrew Preston, professor of American History at Cambridge University and co-author with Logevall of Nixon in the World: American Foreign Relations, 1969-1977.

“Indeed, presidents have almost dared Congress to do something about the lack of respect they've shown to the War Powers Act. If Congress's intention with the War Powers Resolution was to reduce American military intervention and to restore the balance between executive and congressional war powers, then it can only be seen as a failure,” Preston says.

Yet in 2008, a bipartisan movement to repeal the War Powers Act did not succeed. “In the power of the purse, Congress already has the power it needs to regulate presidential war plans,” says Logevall. “Congress has simply failed to use that power.”


Respond to this Question

History

Which best analyzes Nixon’s involvement in Vietnam with the decision to pass the War Powers Resolution? a. The My Lai Massacre convinced representatives to force the president to disclose military information. b. The end of the

History

Which identifies why the Nixon administration decided to bomb Cambodia? a. North Vietnamese troops were using trails into Cambodia to get supplies. b. Cambodia secretly decided to ally with North Vietnam and planned to attack US

History

Which identifies the impact of the Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam War? The American public became more united in the face of Communist threats and military enlistment increased. Funds and resources for the military were reduced,

History

What impact did the evacuation of American troops in Vietnam have on the United States? A.The fall of Saigon led Americans to believe that the containment policy could not be achieved. B.Americans feared that returning veterans

History

Read the statement. Finally, you have broader considerations that might follow what you would call the “falling domino” principle. You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the

Civics

The Supreme Court case United States v. Nixon led to A.gaining executive privilege B.limits to executive privilege(I pick this one) C.Nixon keeping the tapes private D.Nixon losing his re-election

History

The 1964 Civil Rights Act did all of the following except: a. ban discrimination on the grounds of sex b. prohibit racial discrimination in employment c. prohibit racial discrimination in privately owned businesses that provided

History

1.What was one thing President Nixon did in an attempt to improve relations with the Soviet Union? A. established relations with China

Civics

Which of these book titles best describes the United States v. Nixon case and its significance? Not Above the Law - Nixon's illegal actions resulted in a Supreme Court ruling requiring sharing of the private tapes*** Stealing the

History please help.

What did the Pentagon Papers reveal? A. President Nixon withdrew from the peace process. B. The United States had given arms and money to the Vietcong. C. The U.S. military tried to cover up the massacre of Vietnamese civilians.

American History

What caused President Richard Nixon to act on environmental issues? A. Nixon had always been an environmentalist. B. The environmental protection movement was supported by public. C. The Republican Party supported environmental

Washington State History

Why did Marcus Whitman select Waiilatpu as the location of his mission? A. He wanted the mission to be close to a Hudson Bay Company trading post. B. It was a convenient location for the Nez Perce who had requested his services.


Bombing and Destabilizing

The US began bombing Cambodia in 1965. From that year until 1973, the US Air Force dropped bombs from more than 230,000 sorties on over 113,000 sites. The exact tonnage of bombs dropped is in dispute, but a conservative estimate of 500,000 tons (almost equal to what the United States dropped in the entire Pacific theater of World War II) is unquestionable.

The ostensible targets of the bombings were North Vietnamese and National Liberation Front (“Viet Cong”) troops stationed in Cambodia and, later, KR rebels. However, it is indisputable that there was also total disregard for civilian life. In 1970, President Richard Nixon issued orders to National Security Advisor (and later Secretary of State) Henry Kissinger:

They have got to go in there and I mean really go in. I don’t want the gunships, I want the helicopter ships. I want everything that can fly to go in there and crack the hell out of them. There is no limitation on mileage and there is no limitation on budget. Is that clear?

Kissinger relayed these orders to his military assistant, Gen. Alexander Haig: “He wants a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. He doesn’t want to hear anything. It’s an order, it’s to be done. Anything that flies on anything that moves.”

Just how many people the United States killed and injured will never be known. In his book Ending the Vietnam War , Kissinger himself cites an apparent memo from the Historical Office of the Secretary of Defense stating there were 50,000 Cambodian casualties. The leading Cambodian Genocide scholar, Ben Kiernan, estimates the likely number to be between 50,000 and 150,000.

One Cambodian eyewitness to a bombing described the event as follows:

Three F-111s bombed right center in my village, killing eleven of my family members. My father was wounded but survived. At that time there was not a single soldier in the village, or in the area around the village. 27 other villagers were also killed. They had run into a ditch to hide and then two bombs fell right into it.

The US bombing campaign in Cambodia destabilized an already fragile government. When Cambodia won its independence from France in 1953, Prince Norodom Sihanouk became its effective ruler. A neutralist, Sihanouk’s primary objective was to maintain the integrity of Cambodia — a task that proved enormously difficult, as American, Chinese, and Vietnamese interests, as well as various left- and right-wing factions within Cambodia, were all pulling Sihanouk in different directions. Attempting a delicate balancing act, he played groups off one another, working with one group one day and opposing it the next.

One group challenging Sihanouk was the Communist Party of Kampuchea, which would become widely known as the Khmer Rouge. The leadership of the party was roughly divided into two factions: one was pro-Vietnamese and advocated cooperation with Sihanouk, the other — led by Pol Pot — was anti-Vietnamese and opposed Sihanouk’s rule. By 1963, Pol Pot’s faction had mostly displaced the other, more experienced faction. The same year, he moved to rural Cambodia to formulate an insurgency campaign.

Four years later, a peasant uprising known as the Samlaut Rebellion broke out in the countryside over a new policy that forced peasants to sell their rice to the government at below-black-market rates. To ensure compliance, the military was stationed in the local communities to purchase (or simply take) the rice from the farmers.

With their livelihoods suffering, peasants launched an uprising, killing two soldiers. As the rebellion quickly spread to other areas of Cambodia, Pol Pot and the KR capitalized on the unrest, gaining peasant support for their fledgling insurgency. By 1968, KR leaders were directing ambushes and attacks on military outposts.

Pol Pot’s insurgency was indigenous, but as Kiernan argues, his “revolution would not have won power without U.S. economic and military destabilization of Cambodia.” Previously apolitical peasants were motivated to join the revolution to avenge the deaths of their family members. As a 1973 Intelligence Information Cable from the CIA’s Directorate of Operations explained:

Khmer insurgent (KI) [Khmer Rouge] cadre have begun an intensified proselyting campaign among ethnic Cambodian residents . . . in an effort to recruit young men and women for KI military organizations. They are using damage caused by B-52 strikes as the main theme of their propaganda.

In 1969, the US air war against Cambodia escalated drastically as part of Nixon’s Vietnamization policy. The goal was to wipe out Vietnamese communist forces located in Cambodia in order to protect the US-backed government of South Vietnam and US forces stationed there. At the beginning of the escalation, KR fighters numbered less than 10,000, but by 1973, the force had grown to over 200,000 troops and militia.

The US-backed coup that removed Sihanouk from power in 1970 was another factor that dramatically strengthened the KR insurgency. (Direct US complicity in the coup remains unproven, but as William Blum amply documents in his book Killing Hope , there is enough evidence to warrant the possibility).

Sihanouk’s overthrow and replacement by the right-wing Lon Nol sharpened the contrast between the opposing camps within Cambodia and fully embroiled the country in the Vietnam War.

Up until this point, there had been limited contact between the communist forces of Vietnam and Cambodia, as the Vietnamese accepted Sihanouk as the rightful government of Cambodia. But after the coup, Sihanouk allied himself with Pol Pot and the KR against those who had overthrown him, and Vietnamese communists offered their full support to the KR in their fight against the US-backed government.

The KR were thus legitimated as an anti-imperialist movement.

As the aforementioned CIA Intelligence Information Cable notes:

The [Khmer Rouge] cadre tell the people the Government of Lon Nol has requested the airstrikes and is responsible for the damage and the “suffering of innocent villagers” in order to keep himself in power. The only way to stop “the massive destruction of the country” is to remove Lon Nol and return Prince Sihanouk to power. The proselyting cadres tell the people that the quickest way to accomplish this is to strengthen KI forces so they will be able to defeat Lon Nol and stop the bombing.

In January 1973, the United States, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and South Vietnamese communist forces signed the Paris Peace Accords. US forces withdrew from Vietnam, and the bombings of Vietnam and Laos were discontinued.

Yet the Nixon administration continued bombing Cambodia in order to defend Lon Nol’s government against KR forces. Facing intense domestic and congressional opposition, Nixon was forced to end the campaign in August 1973 after reaching a deal with Congress.

For the next year and a half, civil war continued to rage between the government and the KR. The KR succeeded in capturing numerous provinces and large areas of the countryside, and they finally took control of Phnom Penh in April 1975.


Presidential war: “See if you can fixany limit to his power”

Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so, whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose—and you allow hint to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect. If, today, he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada, to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, “I see no probability of the British invading us” but he will say to you “be silent I see it, you don't.”

ABRAHAM LINCOLN to W. H. HERNDON, Feb.15, 1848

“Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power”—when he thus advised his friend Herndon, Congressman Lincoln of course had President Polk in mind. Yet by contemporary standards Polk would be in the clear. He had meticulously observed the constitutional forms: he had asked Congress to declare war against Mexico, and Congress had done so. But the situation Lincoln imagined a century and a quarter ago has now come much closer to the fact. For war at Presidential pleasure, nourished by the crises of the 20th century, waged by a series of activist Presidents and removed from processes of Congressional consent, has by 1973 made the American President on issues of War and peace the most absolute monarch (with the possible exception of Mao Tse‐tung of China) among the great powers of the world.

President Nixon did not invent Presidential war, nor did President Johnson. In their conceptions of Presidential authority, they drew on theories evolved long before they entered the White House and defended in general terms by many political scientists and historians, this writer among them. But they went further than any of their predecessors in claiming the unlimited right of the American chief executive to commit American forces to combat on his own unilateral will and President Nixon has gone further in this respect than President Johnson.

In 1970, without the consent of Congress, without even consultation or notification, President Nixon ordered the American ground invasion of Cambodia. In 1971, again without consent or consultation, he ordered an American aerial invasion of Laos. In December, 1972, exhilarated by what he doubtless saw as an overwhelming vote of personal confidence in the 1972 election, he renewed and intensified the bombing of North Vietnam, carrying it now to such murderous extremes as to make his predecessor seem in retrospect a model of sobriety and restraint—all this again on his personal say‐so. And so assured and confirmed does President Nixon now evidently feel in the unilateral exercise of such powers that he does not bother any longer (as he did for a moment in 1970) to argue the constitutional issue. If he should now choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade North Vietnam in order to prevent the North Vietnamese from attacking American troops, how can anyone stop him? Congress might see no threat in North Vietnam to the security of the United but: “Be silent: I it, if don't.”

How have we reached this point? For throughout American history Presidents have acknowledged restraints, written and unwritten, on their unilateral power to bring the nation into war. The written restraints are to be found in the Constitution the unwritten restraints in the nature of the democratic process. Why, after nearly two centuries of independence, should there now seem to be no visible checks on the personal power of an American President to send troops into combat?

This was plainly not the idea of the Constitution. The provision in Article I, Section 8, conferring on Congress the power to declare war was carefully and specifically designed to deny the American President what Blackstone had assigned the British King—“the sole prerogative of making war and peace.” As Lincoln went on to say in his letter to Herndon, it was this power of kings to involve their people in wars that “our [Constitutional] Convention understood to be the most oppressive of all Kingly oppressions and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where Kings have always stood.”

How did we get from Lincoln's no‐one‐man doctrine to the position propounded by President Johnson in 1966: “There are many, many who can recommend, advise, and sometimes a few of them consent. But there is only one that has been chosen by the American people to decide”? The process of placing our Presidents where kings had always stood has been gradual. In the early 19th century most Presidents respected the role of Congress in decisions of war and peace against sovereign states. Even a President like Jackson, otherwise so dedicated to enlarging the executive power, referred the recognition of the Republic of Texas to Congress as a question “probably leading to war” and therefore a proper subject for “previous understanding with that body by whom war can alone be declared and by whom all the provisions for sustaining its perils must be furnished.” Polk may have presented Congress with a fait accompli when he provoked a Mexican attack on American forces in disputed territory, but he did not claim that his authority as Commander in Chief allowed him to wage war against Mexico without Congressional authorization (cf., President Nixon explaining why such authorization was not required for his invasion of Cambodia he was only meeting his “responsibility as Commander in Chief of our armed forces to take the action consider necessary to defend the security of our

In the course of the 19th century, however, the Congressional power to declare war began to ebb in two opposite directions — in cases where the threat seemed too trivial to require Congressional consent and in cases where the threat seemed too urgent to permit Congressional consent. Thus, many 19th ‐ century Presidents found themselves confronted by minor situations that called for forcible response but appeared beneath the dignity of formal. Congressional declaration or authorization—police actions in defense of American honor, lives, law or property against roving groups of Indians, slave traders, smugglers, pirates, frontier ruffians or foreign brigands. So the habit developed of the limited executive employment of military force without reference to Congress. Then in the early 20th century McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt began to commit military force without Congressional authorization not only against private groups but against sovereign states—McKinley in China, T.R. in the Caribbean. Since Congress agreed with most of these uses of force, it acquiesced in initiatives that soon began to accumulate as formidable precedents.

As far as cases where the threat seemed too urgent to permit the delay involved in summoning Congressmen and Senators from far corners of sprawling nation, this was a possibility that the framers of the Constitution themselves had envisaged. Madison had thus persuaded the Constitutional Convention to give Congress the power not to “make” but to “declare” war in order to leave the executive “the power to repel sudden attacks.” Given the hazards and unpredictabilities of life, no sensible person wanted to put the American President into a constitutional straitjacket. No one wrote more eloquently about the virtues of strict construction than Jefferson. Yet Jefferson, who was at bottom a realist, also wrote: “To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property and all those who are enjoying them with us thus absurdly sacrificing the ends to the means. The line of discrimination between cases may be difficult but the good officer bound to draw it at his own peril, and throw himself on the of his and the recti tude of his motives.” In other words, when the life of the nation is at stake, Presidents might be compelled to take extraconstitutional or unconstitutional action. But, in doing so, they were placing themselves and their reputations under the judgment of history. They must not believe, or pretend to the nation, that they were simply executing the Constitution.

So when Lincoln in the most dreadful crisis of American history took a series of actions of dubious legality in the 10 weeks after the attack on Fort Sumter, he fully recognized what he was doing and subsequently explained to Congress that these measures, “whether strictly legal or not, were ventured upon under what appeared to be a popular demand and a public necessity trusting then as now that Congress would readily ratify them.” Though he derived his authority to take such actions from his constitutional role as Commander in Chief, he was always conscious of the distinction between what was constitutionally normal and what might be justified only by a most extraordinary emergency. “I felt that measures, otherwise unconstitutional,” he wrote in 1864, “might become lawful by becoming indispensable to the preservation of the Constitution, through the preservation of the nation.”

So, too, when Franklin Roosevelt in our second most acute national crisis took a series of actions designed to enable England to survive against Hitler, he obtained in the case of the destroyer deal not only a favorable interpretation of a Congressional statute but the private approval of the Republican candidate for President. In the case of lend‐lease, he went to Congress. In the case of his North Atlantic “shootat‐sight” policy, though the threat to the United States from Nazi Germany could be persuasively deemed somewhat greater than that emanating 30 years later from Cambodia or Laos, and though his commitment of American forces was far more conditional, Roosevelt did not claim in the Nixon style that he was merely meeting his responsibility as Commander in Chief. Knowing that Congress, which would renew Selective Service by a single vote in the House, would hardly approve an undeclared naval war in the North Atlantic, Roosevelt in effect, like Jefferson and Lincoln, did what he thought was necessary to save the life of the nation and, proclaiming an “unlimited national emergency,” threw himself upon the justice of his country and the rectitude of his motives. Since the Second World War there have been only two emergencies requiring immediate response. In the first, Harry Truman, confronted by the North Korean secured a mandate from the United Nations in the second, John Kennedy, confronted by Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba, secured a mandate from the Organization of American States.

Only Presidents Johnson and Nixon have made the claim that inherent Presidential authority, unaccompanied by emergencies threatening the life of the nation, unaccompanied by the authorization of Congress or of an international organization, permits a President to order troops into combat at his unilateral pleasure. President Johnson, it is true, liked to tease Congress by flourishing the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. But he did not really believe, as he said in an unguarded moment, that “the resolution was necessary to do what we did and what we're doing.” President Nixon has abandoned even that constitutional fig leaf. William Rehnquist, then in the Department of Justice and later elevated to the Supreme Court as what President Nixon hilariously called a strict‐constructionist appointee, said on behalf of his benefactor that the invasion of Cambodia was no more than “a valid exercise of his constitutional authority as Commander in Chief to secure the safety of American forces” One somehow doubts that if Brezhnev used the identical proposition to justify the invasion of a neutral country by the Red Army, it would be received with entire satisfaction in Washington. Today President Nixon has equipped himself with so expansive a theory of the powers of the Commander in Chief, and so elastic a theory of defensive war, that he can freely, on his own initiative, without a national emergency, as a routine employment of Presidential power, go to war against any country containing any troops that might in any conceivable circumstance be used in an attack on American forces. Hence the new cogency of Lincoln's old question: “Study to see if you can fix any limits to his11th paragraph of Article 1.

In short, President Nixon has effectively liquidated the 11th paragraph of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. He has thereby removed the most solemn written check on Presidential war. He has sought to establish as a normal Presidential power what previous Presidents had regarded as power justified only by extreme emergencies and to be used only at their own peril. He does not, like Lincoln, confess to doubts about the legality of his course, or, like Franklin Roosevelt, seek to involve Congress when such involvement would not threaten the life of the nation. Nor has his accomplishment been limited to the exclusion of Congress from its constitutional role in the matter of war and peace. For he has also taken a series of unprecedented steps to liquidate the unwritten as well as the written checks onthe Presidential war power.

WHAT are these unwritten checks? The first is the role of the President himself. President Nixon has progressively withdrawn from public scrutiny. He was an invisible candidate in the 1972 campaign, and he promises to be an invisible President in his second term—invisible on all but carefully staged occasions. Franklin Roosevelt used to hold press conferences twice a week President Nixon holds them hardly at all and has virtually succeeded in destroying them as a regular means of public information. As William V. Shannon of The Times has written, he “has come as close to abolishing direct contact with reporters as he can.” Even on matters of the highest significance he declines to expose himself to questioning by the press. Consider, for example, the Indochina peace negotiation. Does anyone suppose that if this had taken place in the previous Administration President Johnson would have trotted out Walt Rostow to discuss it with the media? Can anyone imagine Presidents Kennedy or Eisenhower or Truman dodging their personal responsibility in such momentous matters? Does anyone recall Franklin Roosevelt, returning from a wartime summit, asking Harry Hopkins or Admiral Leahy to explain it all to the press? Yet we have acquiesced so long in the Nixon withdrawal from Presidential responsibility that virtually no surprise is expressed repeatedly retreats behind Dr. Kissinger (who, for his part, is permitted to undergo searching interrogation by Oriana Fallaci, but not by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) Moreover, President Nixon, by flinching from press conferences, not only deprives the American people of opinions and information to which they are surely entitled from their President but deprives himself of an important means of learning the concerns and anxieties of the nation. Obviously, he simply does not recognize much in the way of Presidential accountability to the people. As he recently put it: “The average American is just like the child in the family.” And, presumably, fa A second check on Presidential war‐making has often come from the executive establishment. Genuinely strong Presidents are not afraid to surround themselves with genuinely strong men and on occasion cannot escape the chore of listening to them. Historically, the Cabinet, for example, has generally contained men with their own views and their own constituencies—men with whom the President must in some sense come to terms. Lincoln had to deal with Seward, Chase, Stanton and Welles Wilson with Bryan, McAdoo, Baker, Daniels and Houston Roosevelt with Stimson, Hull, Wallace, Ickes, Biddle and Morgenthau Truman with Marshall, Acheson, Byrnes, Vinson, Harriman, Forrestal and Patterson. But who in President Nixon's Cabinet will talk back to him—assuming, that is, they could get past the palace janissaries and into the Oval Office? The fate of those who have tried to talk back in the past is doubtless instructive: Where are Messrs. Hickel, Romney, Laird and Peterson now? In his first term, President Nixon kept his Cabinet at arm's length and in his second term he has put together what, with one or two exceptions, is the most anonymous Cabinet within memory, a Cabinet of clerks, of compliant and faceless men who stand for nothing, have no independent national position and are guaranteed not to defy Presidential whim. Most alarming of all in connection with Presidential war has been the deletion, so far as high policy is concerned, of the Depart dent Nixon, instead of exposing himself to the tempering influence of a serious exchange of views within the Government, has organized his executive establishment in a way to eliminate as far as humanly possible internal question or challenge about his foreign policy And to complete his insulation from debate, the President does not even tell most of his associates what he intends to do.

A third check in the past has come from the media of opinion—from the newspapers and, in more recent years, from television. With all its manifest imperfections, the American press has played an indispensable role through our history in keeping government honest. President Nixon, however, not only hides himself from the press and television, except on elaborately controlled occasions, but has launched a well‐orchestrated campaign to weaken the mass media as sources of information and criticism

He has tried a variety of methods — prior restraint on the publication of news VicePresidential denunciations of erring newspapers and reporters proposals to condition the renewal of television licenses on the elimination of anti‐Administration material from network programs subpoenas to compel reporters to surrender raw notes even jailing newspapermen who decline to betray confidential sources to grand juries—this last a practice which would not be constitutional had it not been for the Nixon appointments to the Supreme Court.

The Nixon Administration has tried to justify such actions by complaining that it has been the target of exceptional persecution by the media. Why it should suppose this is hard to fathom. Not only has 80 per cent of the press backed Mr. Nixon in two elections, but the Presidency has supreme resources of its own in the field of communications, and no previous President has used them more systematically. In his relationship to the media, President Nixon can hardly be described as a pitiful, helpless giant. No President enjoys criticism, but mature Presidents recognize that, however distasteful a free press may on occasion be, it is, as Tocqueville said long ago, “the chief democratic instru‐ment of freedom” and that in the long run government itself benefits from a healthy adversary relationship. But this is clearly not President Nixon's view. If his Administration has its way, the American press and television will become as compliant and as faceless as the President's own Cabinet.

Still another check on Presidential war has been President's concern for public opinion. Here again, President Nixon differs sharply from his predecessors. He explained his peculiar idea of the role of public opinion in a democracy last Oct. 12 when he scolded what he termed “the so‐called opinion leaders of this country” for not responding to “the necessity to stand by the President of the United States when he makes a terribly difficult, potentially unpopular decision.” It is hard to imagine an idea that would have more astounded the framers of the American Constitution. Indeed, who before President Nixon would have defined the obligation, “the necessity,” of American citizens, in peacetime and outside the Government, as that of automatically approving whatever a President wants to do? In the past it was naively supposed that the American system‐would work best when American citizens spoke their minds and con‐sciences.

IF President Nixon dismisses public opinion in the United States as disobedient and refractory when it dares dissent from the President, he is even more scornful of what in the past has served as another check on Presidential war—that is, the opinion of foreign nations. The authors of “The Federalist” emphasized the indispensability of “an attention to the judgment of other nations. In doubtful cases, particularly where the national councils may be warped by some strong passion or momentary interest, the presumed or known opinion of the impartial world may be the best guide that can be followed. What has not America lost by her want of character with foreign nations and how many errors and follies would she not have avoided, if the justice and propriety of her measures had, in every instance, been previously tried by the light in which they would probably appear to the unbiased part of mankind?” President Nixon's attitude could not be

“Most alarming of all . has been the deletion, so far as high policy is concerned, of the State Department.” more different. It is concisely revealed by the studied contempt with which he has treated the United Nations. Only recently, he made it perfectly clear that he regards the post of United States Ambassador to the United Nations as less important than that of chairman of the Republican National Committee at least one supposes that he thought he was promoting, not demoting, George Bush.

I began by suggesting that on issues of war and peace the American President is very likely the most absolute monarch in the world of great powers. The Soviet Union is in other respects a dictatorship, but, before. Brezhnev makes a new move in foreign affairs, he must touch base with a diversity of forces in the Government and the party. It would be hard to name anyone with whom President Nixon touched base before he invided Cambodia or resumed the obliteration of North Vietnam. Moreover, in other countries, dictatorships as well as democracies, failure in foreign policy can lead to political oblivion: Anthony Eden could not survive Suez, and in time the Cuban missile crisis did in Khrushchev. But Nixon, his tenure assured by the rigidity of the quadrennial election, will be running things in the United States until January, 1977.

With checks both written and unwritten inoperative, with Congress impotent, the executive establishment feeble and subservient, press and television intimidated, national opinion disdained, foreign opinion rejected, the fear of dismissal eliminated, our President is free to indulge his most private resentments and rages in the conduct of foreign affairs, and to do so without a word of accounting to Congress and the American people. Thus, on Dec, 18 he began the heaviest bombing of the whole ghastly war, but had not, by the time this article went to press, nearly a fortnight later, personally vouchsafed any form of explanation to the nation or to the world. Unidentified White House officials did say, however, to The New York Times, that the President intended the terror to convey to Hanoi “the extent of his anger over what the officials say he regards as an 11th‐hour reneging on peace terms believed to be settled.” Historians will have to settle the point as to which side started reneging first, though strong evidence suggests that it was the Americans. But we will all have to suffer the consequences of a President whose policy, in the curt summation of that sober Scotsman, Mr. Reston of The Times, has become that of “war by tantrum.”

Four more years? Is the American democracy really unable to fix any limits to the President's power to make war? The first line of defense must be the United States Congress, whose abdication over the years has contributed so much to the trouble we are in. The Senate passed a so‐called War Powers Bill in April, 1972, but Vietnam was specifically exempted from its operations. In any case, though its objective is admirable, the bill itself is both unduly rigid and unduly permissive. Had it been on the statute book in past years, it would have prevented Roosevelt from protecting the British lifeline in the North Atlantic in 1941, and it would not have prevented Johnson from escalating the war in Vietnam. Given the power of any President to dominate the scene with his own version of a casus belli, the War Powers Bill, if it is ever enacted, would be more likely to become a means of inducing formal Congressional approval of warlike Presidential acts than of preventing such acts.

Congress must find another route to end American involvement in Indochina. But does Congress really possess the courage to assert those rights the loss of which has been such a constant and tedious theme of Congressional lamentation and self ‐ pity? Perhaps it will at long last make a determined effort to reclaim its constitutional authority. The issue here is not (as some opponents of the war mistakenly suppose) the question of formal declaration of war. Even in the 18th century, as Hamilton wrote in “The Federalist,” the ceremony of formal declaration “has of late fallen into disuse.” A decade after the adoption of the Constitution, Congress without a declaration but by legislative action brought the United States into naval war with France. As Chief Justice Marshall put it in deciding a case that arose out of the war: “The Congress may authorize general hostilities . or partial war.” But, whether the hostilities be general or limited, war was considered to require Congressional authorization, and this is the issue today. It has been argued that Congress has implicitly authorized the Indochina war by voting appropriations in support of the war, and that argument is not without plausibility. But it is within the power of Congress to counter and cancel that argument by asserting a conflicting claim of authority.

Moreover, Congress can cut off funds for the continued prosecution of the war. But will even this restrain the President? Mr. Nixon has shown in other contexts his indifference to Congressional action. He has, for example, refused to expend funds appropriated by Congress for duly‐enacted legislation. Senator Ervin recently estimated that Presidential impoundment has now reached the staggering sum of $12.7‐billion. In his state of postelection euphoria, as well as in his righteous wrath over the refusal of the North Vietnamese to roll over and cry uncle, President Nixon might conceivably ignore end‐the‐war legislation. He might even, suppose, try to use impounded funds to continue the war.

Should this happen, the constitutional remedy would be impeachment. Certainly such conduct would represent a considerably more serious transgression than poor Andrew Johnson's defiance of a law—the Tenure‐of‐Office Act — which the Supreme Court itself eventually found to be unconstitutional. The House would have to adopt an impeachment resolution a two‐thirds vote of the Senate is required for conviction, with the Chief Justice presidlug over the trial. If it seems unlikely that a President elected with more than 60 per cent of the vote should find himself in such a plight, one has only to reflect on the fate of the three other Presidents this century who also took more than 60 per cent—Harding, Franklin Roosevelt and Johnson, all of whom were in serious political trouble a year or two after their triumphs. Still, at this point, impeachment hardly seems a usable remedy or a probable outcome.

The inability to control Presidential war is now revealed as the great failure of the Constitution. That failure has not brought disaster to the nation through most of our history because most of our Presidents have been reasonably sensitive, in Justice Robert H. Jackson's great phrase, “to the political judgments of their contemporaries and to the moral judgments of history.” When they have not been particularly responsive to the Constitution, the unwritten checks—above all, the power of opinion—have made them so. If no structural solution is now visible, the best hope is to reinvigorate the unwritten checks. Not only must Congress assert itself, but newspapers and television, governors and mayors, Mr. Nixon's “so‐called opinion leaders” and plain citizens must demand an end to Presidential war. Where, for example, are all those virtuous conservative pillars of business and the bar who have spent most of their adult lives wailing about the Constitution? Where are they when what is threatened is not their money but the peace of the world? Where are they when the Constitution really needs them? Perhaps President Nixon is right, and in the end Americans are just like children in the family. Or perhaps Lincoln was right when he said “No man is good enough to govern another man without that to “President Johnson liked to tease Congress by flourishing the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. President Nixon has abandoned even that constitutional fig leaf.”


On This Day in History: President Nixon approves Cambodian incursion

President Richard Nixon gives his formal authorization to commit U.S. combat troops, in cooperation with South Vietnamese units, against communist troop sanctuaries in Cambodia.

Secretary of State William Rogers and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, who had continually argued for a downsizing of the U.S. effort in Vietnam, were excluded from the decision to use U.S. troops in Cambodia. Gen. Earle Wheeler, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, cabled Gen. Creighton Abrams, senior U.S. commander in Saigon, informing him of the decision that a “higher authority has authorized certain military actions to protect U.S. forces operating in South Vietnam.” Nixon believed that the operation was necessary as a pre-emptive strike to forestall North Vietnamese attacks from Cambodia into South Vietnam as the U.S. forces withdrew and the South Vietnamese assumed more responsibility for the fighting. Nevertheless, three National Security Council staff members and key aides to presidential assistant Henry Kissinger resigned in protest over what amounted to an invasion of Cambodia.

When Nixon publicly announced the Cambodian incursion on April 30, it set off a wave of antiwar demonstrations. A May 4, protest at Kent State University resulted in the killing of four students by Army National Guard troops. Another student rally at Jackson State College in Mississippi resulted in the death of two students and 12 wounded when police opened fire on a women’s dormitory. The incursion angered many in Congress, who felt that Nixon was illegally widening the war this resulted in a series of congressional resolutions and legislative initiatives that would severely limit the executive power of the president.


Cambodia: U.S. bombing and civil war

Between 1965 and 1973, the expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia aggravated and radicalized internal Cambodian political disputes. These disputes readily became armed contests characterized by shifting alliances, regional struggles for dominance (including the US, Soviet Union, China and Vietnam), and Cambodian efforts to assert different varieties of militant nationalism (whether royalist, communist or otherwise). The result for civilians was devastating.

Atrocities 1965 – 1973

In 1965, Cambodia officially cut ties with the U.S., as Prince Sihanouk, the country’s head of state, tried, in his words, to maintain the country’s neutrality regarding the war in Vietnam. Nonetheless, his policies allowed Vietnamese communists to use border areas and the port of Sihanoukville. The U.S., under Lyndon Johnson’s administration, responded with targeted bombing of military installations and occasional attacks on Cambodian villages by South Vietnamese and American forces. Between 1965 and 1969, the U.S. bombed 83 sites in Cambodia. The pace of bombing increased in 1969, as U.S. B-52 carpet-bombing began, in support of the slow pullout of U.S. troops from Vietnam. Bombers targeted mobile headquarters of the South Vietnamese “Viet Cong” and the North Vietnamese Army in the Cambodian jungle. [i]

In March 1970, a coup was launched against Prince Sihanouk resulting in a new government with Lon Nol at the helm. The coup government made a drastic change in Cambodian policies, deciding to counter the North Vietnamese, in support of the South Vietnamese and U.S. forces. In May 1970, the US and South Vietnamese launched an offensive into Cambodia, with the aim of cutting off North Vietnamese supply routes. The Vietnamese Communists widened and intensified their actions in Cambodia as well, working with insurgent Cambodian communists. [ii] After the U.S. ground invasion failed to root out the Vietnamese communists, in December 1970, Nixon instructed his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to order the Air Force to ignore restrictions limiting U.S. attacks to within 30 miles of the Vietnamese border, expanding the bombing areas. However, extensive bombing forced the Vietnamese communists further west and deeper into Cambodia, and ultimately radicalized Cambodian citizens against the government

An alliance of royalist, Cambodian and regional communist forces fought against the Lon Nol government, US and South Vietnamese forces, and, despite many internal rifts, expanded their areas of control quickly. By 1971, writes Kiernan, the Lon Nol government was secure only in the towns and their outskirts. [iii] As the allied Communist forces gained control of territory, the Communist Party of Cambodia (CPK) attempted to win over the Khmer soldiers fighting with the Vietnamese and to expel the Vietnamese forces. In some places, this effort resulted in heavy fighting between ostensible allies. [iv] As peace talks began in Paris, the CPK adamantly refused to participate in a negotiated solution. [v]

The final phase of the U.S. bombing campaign, from January to August 1973, aimed to halt the rapid advance of the Khmer Rouge on Phnom Penh, in response, the U.S. military escalated air raids that spring and summer with an unprecedented B-52 bombardment campaign that focused on the heavily populated areas around Phnom Penh, but which affected almost the entire country. The sum effect was that while the take-over of Phnom Penh was delayed, hard-liners within the CPK were strengthened, the populace further turned against the Lon Nol government, and the Communists’ recruitment efforts were facilitated. [vi]

After the U.S. bombing campaign ended in 1973, the civil war continued with the Communist forces making steady progress, despite fighting within their ranks and between groups.

Fatalities
Our research indicted a rough low estimate of 250,000 people during this period.

Fatalities from U.S. bombing were concentrated during the period in which U.S. President Richard Nixon’s administration carpet-bombed eastern Cambodia from 1969 to 1973, although bombings and incursions into Cambodia by the U.S. began in 1965 under President Lyndon B. Johnson and ended in 1975 under President Gerald Ford. More than 10 percent of the U.S. bombing was indiscriminate.

Former National Security Adviser than Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, an architect of US policy in Indochina, states in his book Ending the Vietnam War that the Historical Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense gave him an estimate of 50,000 deaths in Cambodia due to the bombings from 1969-1973. The U.S. government released new information about the extent of the bombing campaign in 2000, leaving Owen and Kiernan to argue that the new evidence released by the U.S. government in 2000 support higher estimates. [vii] On the higher end of estimates, journalist Elizabeth Becker writes that “officially, more than half a million Cambodians died on the Lon Nol side of the war another 600,000 were said to have died in the Khmer Rouge zones.” [viii] However, it is not clear how these numbers were calculated or whether they disaggregate civilian and soldier deaths. Others’ attempts to verify the numbers suggest a lower number. Demographer Patrick Heuveline [ix] has produced evidence suggesting a range of 150,000 to 300,000 violent deaths from 1970 to 1975.

In an article reviewing different sources about civilian deaths during the civil war, Bruce Sharp [x] argues that the total number is likely to be around 250,000 violent deaths. He argues that several factors support this range: 1) Interviews with survivors after the Khmer Rouge period who discussed when and how their family members were killed 2) research by social scientists Steven Heder and May Ebihara, both of whom (separately) conducted extensive interviews with Cambodians 3) adding information about the geography of conflict and variations in the intensity of the conflict and 4) application of insights from documentation of the Vietnam War.

Sharp addresses some reasons why discrepancies may appear in various interview-based sources. First, there may be different perceptions about what is a “war-related” death that would inhibit assessment of increased mortality. Second, deaths calculated in relation to reporting by family members requires that a family member survive and bombs would have high clustering of mortality, potentially killing entire families. Third, the areas heavily targeted by the U.S. bombing campaign were subsequently heavily targeted by the Khmer Rouge, again, potentially leaving a gap in reporting if no family members survived.

US bombing of Cambodia came to a halt in August of 1973 when the US Congress legislated its conclusion, following the signing of a peace agreement between the US and North Vietnamese. The Khmer Rouge and Lon Nol armies continued to fight for two more years until 1975 when Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge.

On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh and declared Day Zero, ousting the military regime and emptying the cities. The defeat of Lon Nol forces precipitated an end to civil war deaths, but the beginning of the Khmer Rouge’s purge of perceived enemies. The civil war ended when the Khmer Rouge decisively won, an “end” that served only as prelude to a more intensive period of targeting civilians (detailed in a separate case study).

This case is coded as ending by strategic shift, when the U.S., under Congressional pressure, halted its bombing campaign. We note both international and domestic factors as influencing shift, given the importance of the peace agreement with Vietnam. In this case, the ending of the bombing campaign, noted as a withdrawal of international armed forces, was the most significant factor in the decline in civilian deaths. This case was immediately followed by a new one, during which the Khmer Rouge was the primary perpetrator.

Works Cited

Banister, Judith and Paige Johnson. 1993.”After the Nightmare: The Population of Cambodia,” in Genocide and Democracy in Cambodia: The Khmer Rouge, the United Nations and the International Community, ed. Ben Kiernan. New Haven, CT: Yale University Southeast Asia Studies.

Becker, Elizabeth. 1986. When the War Was Over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Revolution. New York: Public Affairs.

Chandler, David. 2008. A History of Cambodia, 4 th ed. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2008.

Etcheson Craig. 1984. The Rise and Demise of Democratic Kampuchea. Boulder, CO: Westview/Pinter.

Etcheson, Craig. 1999. “‘The Number’: Quantifying Crimes Against Humanity in Cambodia.” Mass Graves Study, Documentation Center of Cambodia.

Gottesman, Evan. 2003. After The Khmer Rouge: Inside the Politics of Nation Building. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Heuveline, Patrick. 1998. “’Between one ad three million’: Towards the demographic reconstruction of a decade of Cambodian history (1970 – 1979).” Population Studies 52: 49–65.

Hinton, Alexandar Laban. 2009. “Truth, Representation and the Politics of Memory after Genocide” in People of Virtue: Reconfiguring Religion, Power and Moral Order in Cambodia Today. ed. Alexandra Kent & David Chandler. Copenhagen: NIAS Press.

Hinton, Alexandar Laban. 2005. Why did they Kill?: Cambodia in the Shadow of Genocide. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Kiernan, Ben. 1985. How Pol Pot Came to Power : A History of Communism in Kampuchea, 1930 – 1975. London: Verso.

Kiernan, Ben. 2008. The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-79, 2 nd ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Kiernan,Ben. 2009. “The Cambodian Genocide” in Century of Genocide, ed. Samuel Totten and William Parsons. Third Edition. New York: Routledge, 340 – 373.

Owen, Taylor and Ben Kiernan. 2006. “Bombs over Cambodia. The Walrus, October 2006, 62 – 69.

“Report of the Research Committee on Pol Pot’s Genocidal Regime.” 1983. Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 25. http://gsp.yale.edu/report-cambodian-genocide-program-1997-1999.

Sharp, Bruce. “Counting Hell” Available at: http://www.mekong.net/cambodia/deaths.htm Accessed May 26, 2015.

Sliwinski, Marek. 1995. Le Génocide Khmer Rouge: un analyse démographique. Paris: Editions L’Harmattan.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. 1980. “Kampuchea: A Demographic Catastrophe.” Washington, DC, January 17.

Vickery, Michael. 1984. Cambodia 1975 – 1982. Boston, MA: South End Press.


How Nixon’s Invasion of Cambodia Triggered a Check on Presidential Power

When President Richard Nixon ordered U.S. ground troops to invade Cambodia on April 28, 1970, he waited two days to announce on national television the Cambodian incursion had begun. With resentment already building in the country over the conflict in Vietnam, the incursion felt like a final straw.

The news unleashed waves of criticism from many who felt the president had abused his powers by side-stepping Congress. By November 1973, the criticism had culminated in the passage of the War Powers Act. Passed over Nixon’s veto, it limited the scope of the Commander-in-Chief’s ability to declare war without congressional approval.

While the act was an unusual challenge, presidents since have exploited loopholes in the War Powers Resolution, raising questions about executive power, especially during states of emergency.


Nixon’s “Peace With Honor”

The Nixon regime, beginning with his first election victory and continuing with his re-election four years later, although appearing to signify the ‘wind-down’ phase of the war, initiated one of the most disturbed periods in US history. With his coterie of right-wing Republican ‘hard men’ buttressed by the erstwhile ‘liberal’ Republican Henry Kissinger, he literally poured oil onto the already troubled waters of US society. Kissinger, during the primary election campaigns of 1968, had backed millionaire ‘liberal’ Republican Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York. In a well-publicized statement Kissinger declared that Nixon was “unfit to be president”. The American people would eventually come to the same conclusion as he was driven from office but after the election Kissinger hitched his wagon to that of Nixon. He had also stated that Nixon was “the most dangerous” of all the candidates running for office in 1968. He had even confessed to “an American diplomat that he would have to abstain” rather than vote for either Nixon or Humphrey (the Democrats’ candidate).

Nevertheless, the Democratic liberal establishment believed that Kissinger would act as a check on Nixon: “Excellent… very encouraging,” said Arthur Schlesinger. Another declared, “I’ll sleep better with Henry Kissinger in Washington.” (1) Not many Vietnamese or Cambodians, or for that matter Chileans, would approve of these sentiments. Apart from his dirty work in Vietnam, Cambodia and elsewhere, Kissinger also helped to prepare the overthrow in 1973 of the democratically elected government of socialist Salvador Allende in Chile. He had signified his intentions when Allende was elected in 1970: “I don’t see why a country should be allowed to go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.” (2) Moreover, when the Shah of Iran asked in 1972 for secret American military aid to be given to Kurdish rebels in Iraq, Kissinger agreed despite objections from CIA agents in Tehran. When the Shah later cuddled up to Iraq, the Kurds were cut off and 35,000 killed and an extra 200,000 refugees created. Kissinger also helped to channel funds to a neo-fascist group in Italy, hoping to harm the Communist Party of Italy as a result.

Like Algeria?

Most of the American population considered that they had voted to end the war in supporting Nixon in the presidential elections. Nixon himself fed this mood when he quoted in a campaign speech the words of a previous US President, Woodrow Wilson: “Men’s hearts wait upon us men’s lives hang in the balance men’s hopes call upon us to say what we will do. Who shall live up to the great trust? Who dares fail to try?” (3) The men who were ‘waiting for him’, the troops in Vietnam and the battered and tortured population of that country, waited in vain. The war was escalated ‘secretly’. Nixon’s Chief of Staff, with commendable forthrightness, gave the reasons why: “Bombing in secret would get the message to the North Vietnamese and prevent a flare-up of the antiwar protests in the US, which would disable our peace negotiations in Paris. So the bombing began, but it wasn’t a secret long.” (4)

All the honeyed phrases about “peace” disguised Nixon and Kissinger’s intentions to use the threat of force, if not actual force, on the ground with depleted US manpower, to compel the Vietnamese to capitulate. This policy, which would end in failure and defeat, dragged out the war, resulting in the loss of a further 20,000 US troops killed together with tens of thousands of Vietnamese workers and peasants who died needlessly. Massive air raids on the North followed, beginning on March 18, 1969, with so-called ‘Operation Breakfast’, followed by ‘Lunch’ and so on. Three thousand six hundred and fifty B-52 bomber raids were launched, extending over 14 months, and involving four times the tonnage dropped on Japan in World War II. All of this was supposed to facilitate an ‘orderly withdrawal’ from Vietnam. It was, moreover, conducted secretly, as Haldeman admits, particularly the bombing of Cambodia. This infuriated the peace movement, which was massively rejuvenated by the bombing campaign and which echoed the widespread opposition amongst the American people.

Kissinger claimed that all the Nixon presidency was attempting in Vietnam was to negotiate an end to the war, a phased withdrawal along the lines that de Gaulle had achieved in withdrawing French forces from Algeria in 1962. Domestic criticism of any escalation of the war had driven Johnson from office with the clear implication that military escalation could in no way transform US prospects in Vietnam. However, as William Shawcross has demonstrated:

“The new administration considered that the criticism was indeed to be defied. Particularly in the use of air power, escalation was part of their strategy. MENU was launched in March 1969, and in 1970 Nixon expanded the free fire zone in Laos, sent B-52s over the Plain of Jars in Laos for the first time and approved targets in North Vietnam that Lyndon Johnson had never allowed.”

One intention was to demonstrate to Hanoi the political point that Nixon would not be constrained by domestic opposition.

“In 1971, a single B-52 squadron still dropped in one year half the tonnage dropped by US planes in the entire Pacific Theatre in World War II. Furthermore, the White House failed to advertise that bomb loads per raid were increased enormously. In 1968, the average fighter bomb load was 1.8 tons. In 1969, it was 2.2 tons and by 1973, the planes were laden with 2.9 tons of bombs. Each year proportionately more use was made of the B-52, which was militarily the least effective plane, but politically and emotionally the most awe-inspiring.” [Just how “awe-inspiring” can be witnessed first hand at the Imperial War Museum’s aviation museum at Duxford, where a B-52 bomber is on display and by itself occupies virtually a whole hangar.] “In 1968, B-52s accounted for 5.6 per cent of all sorties by 1972, their share had risen to 15 per cent. To the Air Force it was altogether clear that Nixon was doing anything but wind down its role. Its official secret 1969 history was entitled, The Administration That Emphasizes Air Power, and that of 1970 The Role of Air Power Grows.” (5)

“Fighting a Society”

Even when the Joint Chiefs of Staff wished to withdraw from Southeast Asia some B-52s that were not required, Nixon and Kissinger refused, demanding that they remain on station “for contingency purposes”. Again, as Shawcross comments: “A contingency did arise it was the overthrow of Sihanouk and the invasion of Cambodia.” (6) This stepped-up bombing policy was consistently opposed by the CIA because they could see that it was having no effect on the ability of Hanoi and the NLF in the South to continue the war on the contrary, it reinforced the anger of the Vietnamese and the determination to defeat the foreign invader.

The Vietnamese, including the leadership of the NLF, North and South, were a much more formidable foe than Nixon and Kissinger imagined. The bombing hardened their resolve, which showed that the policy of attrition had ‘an inherent flaw’ by assuming that it would have a ‘deterrent effect’ on the enemy – and that simply was not the case, despite the deliberate exaggeration of US success. One US observer commented correctly later: “You weren’t really fighting just a military force. You were fighting a society, a society equipped with a total faith.” Maclear comments: “It was the point which took so many people 10,000 days to grasp.” (7)

However, once in power Nixon, while professing to want to end the war, nevertheless hoped that the sheer firepower of the US would compel the North Vietnamese and the NLF to come to the conference table and acquiesce. But the mass of the US people, particularly the students and the youth who were paying the biggest price, gradually became aware that Nixon, rather then winding the war down, was prepared to intensify it, particularly by bombing Laos, Cambodia and threatening greater action against North Vietnam, which would mean countless and fruitless further sacrifices in blood and treasure.

Yet, Nixon and Kissinger, who alone decided foreign policy, “quite simply… did not consider an unsigned withdrawal as ‘peace with honor'”. (8) In 1969 US combat losses in Vietnam totaled 9,914, down from 14,592 in 1968. But US troops on the ground in Vietnam and those destined to travel into this nightmare, had one thing on their mind: the war was being wound down and they would do everything to avoid becoming one of the statistics of dead or wounded. Another 10,000 Americans, however, would die before the paper peace of 1973. In this period of so-called ‘Vietnamization’ South Vietnamese military losses would rise 50 per cent to more than a quarter of a million, and civilian casualties – including deaths – would also rise 50 per cent to 1,435,000. Historian Arthur Schlesinger junior states: “Nixon could have got American troops out of Vietnam in 1969”, on the same terms as happened when they were finally forced to withdraw. (9) The North Vietnamese were prepared to negotiate for peace, including leaving US stooges such as President Thieu in power, confident that without US bayonets such a regime would eventually collapse within a year or two and the war would have ended on their terms.

Kent State University and the Revitalized Anti-War Movement

The attempt of Nixon and Kissinger, however, to pretend to wind down the war but secretly hoping that they could win it by other means, met with fury in the US, particularly amongst young people. The Vietnam Moratorium Committee called for “immediate massive protests” in May 1969 and this led to “confrontational tragedy unknown since the Civil War”, (10) according to Maclear. The invasion of Cambodia was the trigger for massive demonstrations on campuses. This resulted in the infamous scenes at Kent State University, Ohio, when on May 4, National Guardsmen with loaded rifles surrounded the campus and without warning fired a volley of shots into a demonstration of students. Four students were shot dead, two of them young women, and 11 more lay bleeding. The scene of carnage on pristine green lawns was carried the length and breadth of America. Preceding this, on many campuses throughout the US the Reserve Officers Training Corps buildings were attacked or sacked. Kent, which had a special connection with Cambodia, joined in the protests. It seems that Prince Sihanouk, ruler of Cambodia, had once been welcomed there by students who listened to his “denunciations of the American press”. Afterwards, he wrote: “My short stay at Kent somewhat consoled me for all the disappointments we had with America and the Americans.” Shawcross comments: “Now Kent and Cambodia were to be forever linked.” (11)

After the ROTC building was burned, Governor James Rhodes of Ohio took his cue from Nixon and Agnew and declared that he would ‘eradicate’ rioters and demonstrators there. He stated: “They’re worse than Brown Shirts and the Communist element, and also the nightriders and the vigilantes. They’re the worst type of people we have in America.” (12) Kissinger later confided that Nixon was “on the edge of a nervous breakdown” in May 1970. His state of mind was shown the morning after the invasion of Cambodia before its full impact on America was clear. In the corridors of the White House, a few days before the events at Kent State University, he commented about “bums… blowing up campuses” and “get rid of this war and there’ll be another one”. These comments were published and stoked up the fires of rage sweeping the US. After the shootings at Kent, the father of one dead young woman, one of Nixon’s “campus bums”, declared through tears on TV: “My child was not a bum.” (13)

At a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Nixon was demented, began an “emotional harangue”, using what one of those present called “locker-room language”. He repeated over and over again that he was “going to clean up those sanctuaries” and he declared,

“You have to electrify people with bold decisions. Bold decisions make history. Like Teddy Roosevelt charging up San Juan Hill – a small event but traumatic, and people took notice.”

General Westmoreland tried to warn him that the sanctuaries could not really be cleaned up within a month the monsoon would make the area impassable.

“Nixon was unimpressed and threatened to withdraw resources from Europe if they were needed in Indochina. ‘Let’s go blow the hell out of them,’ he shouted, while the Chiefs, Laird and Kissinger sat mute with embarrassment and concern.” (14)

Haldeman confirmed that “Kent State marked a turning point for Nixon, a beginning of his downhill slide towards Watergate.” Oil was poured on the fires by the White House reaction to the killings, that they were “predictable”. Over the next few days, between 75,000 – 100,000 protestors converged on Washington. Buses were drawn up all around the White House and Kissinger’s adviser Alexander Haig told one journalist that “troops had been secretly brought into the basement in case they were needed to repel an invasion.” When Walter Hickle, Nixon’s Secretary of the Interior warned him that history showed that “youth and his protest must be heard” he was unceremoniously fired.” (15)

Widespread Opposition

In the next few days about 500 universities and colleges closed in protest. Shaken by this, Nixon even attempted on May 8, when the demonstrators were massing in Washington, to visit them at two o’clock in the morning at the Lincoln Memorial to talk to a group of college students. They wanted to talk about Cambodia and the war, but a dysfunctional Nixon, incapable of relating to real people, opened a dialogue about football, ‘their hobbies’, and all kinds of irrelevant issues except the burning one of war, which they were demonstrating over.

The Cambodian invasion was followed by similar actions against Laos in 1971. All of this was allegedly to snuff out North Vietnamese bases in Laos and Cambodia. The result was the virtual destruction of both countries – in Cambodia, 10 per cent of the population was wiped out by the bombing – which laid the basis for the coming to power of the monstrous Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. So devastated was Cambodia, so embittered was the rural population in particular, that out of the inferno was born the Khmer Rouge. When they eventually entered the cities, they reflected the enraged rural population and their resentment against the ‘cities’, which had seemed to acquiesce to the unspeakable horrors inflicted on them by US forces. Cambodia accounted for 10.5% of all US air ‘sorties’ and 14% of B-52 missions.

Capitalists Opposed

Bourgeois opposition had steadily grown under Johnson and burgeoned under Nixon, particularly when his real intentions in the war became clear. Congress was virtually unanimous in supporting war at the time of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution in August 1964, as mentioned previously. But with the growing difficulties of the US in Vietnam, that support for the war began to ebb away. In 1967, only 44 Senators were found in support of Johnson’s war policies while 40 were opposed. At the same time, of 205 Representatives interviewed, 43 said they had recently withdrawn their support for Johnson’s policy on Vietnam.

Even right-wing voices urged a massive and speedy withdrawal from Vietnam. Together with his arch-priest Kissinger, supported by the Pentagon and the military tops, Nixon was still trying to hold on to Vietnam. The bombing of Cambodia was undertaken and he clearly thought that by dragging the war out, the Vietnamese would lose heart and would sue for peace on their terms. Kissinger even quite consciously gave the impression to the North Vietnamese negotiators in Paris that his boss, Nixon, was “crazed” and was ready to use nuclear weapons against North Vietnam. His chief of staff remarked later that Nixon told him:

“I want the North Vietnamese to believe that I’ve reached a point where I might do anything to stop the war. We’ll just slip the words to them that ‘For God’s sake, you know, Nixon is obsessed about Communism. We can’t restrain him when he is angry – and he has his hand on the nuclear button’.” (16)

“If the American public would barely tolerate the war in its restrained form of 1967, certainly it would not support an extension of that war into Laos, Cambodia, or North Vietnam, or a drastic escalation of the conflict by bombing the dykes or using atomic weapons.” (17)

Nixon was aware of that, as he makes clear in his memoirs. Indicating that he would have clearly liked to continue with the war, he comments:

“Most people [meaning himself] thought of a ‘military victory’ in terms of gearing up to administer a knockout blow that would both end the war and win it. The problem was that there was only two such knockout blows available to me. One would have been to bomb the elaborate systems of irrigation dykes in North Vietnam. The resulting floods would have killed hundreds of thousands of civilians. The other possible knockout blow would have involved the use of tactical nuclear weapons” (again, a recurring theme of Nixon). Unfortunately for him, he concludes: “The domestic and international uproar that would have accompanied the use of either of these knockout blows would have got my administration of to the worst possible start.” (18)

He stated that he was not “escalating” the conflict but clearly intended to do just that.

Kissinger’s increasingly hawkish approach also brought him into collision with his former ‘liberal’ admirers. Following the invasion of Cambodia in 1970, a group of his ‘liberal friends’ from Harvard descended on him in Washington (they discovered, to their embarrassment, that Kissinger had provided them all with lunch at his expense). One of their number tried to explain who they were but Kissinger interrupted: “I know who you are… you are all good friends from Harvard University.” The reply from one of their number was, “No, we’re a group of people who have completely lost confidence in the ability of the White House to conduct our foreign policy and we’ve come to tell you so. We are no longer at your disposal as personal advisers.” (19) Kissinger himself comments: “A thousand lawyers lobbied Congress to end the war, followed by 33 heads of universities, architects, doctors, health officers, nurses, and 100 corporate executives from New York.” (20)

Footnotes:

1. William Shawcross, Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia, p75 et seq


May 4-5, 1970: Nixon Responds to Kent State Shootings

Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of a slain student during the Kent State shootings. [Source: John Paul Filo] At 3 p.m. on May 4, 1970, White House chief of staff H. R. Haldeman informs President Nixon of the shootings of four unarmed college students by National Guardsmen at Kent State University in Ohio. After a night of rioting and the torching of a campus ROTC building, prompted by outrage over the secret Cambodia bombings (see April 24-30, 1970), about 2,000 students faced off against squads of National Guardsmen in full riot gear. After tear gas failed to break up the demonstrators, and some of the protesters started throwing rocks at the Guardsmen, the Guard was ordered to open fire. Thirteen seconds and 67 shots later, four students were dead and 11 were wounded. Nixon is initially aghast at the news. “Is this because of me, because of Cambodia?” he asks. “How do we turn this stuff off?… I hope they provoked it.” Later his response to the increasingly confrontational antiwar protesters will become far more harsh and derisive. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 213]


May 2, 1970: Haig Orders Four More Wiretaps

When the press reports the secret US-led invasion of Cambodia (see April 24-30, 1970) and the subsequent massive air strikes in that country, Alexander Haig, the military aide to National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, notes that New York Times reporter William Beecher has been asking some suspiciously well-informed questions about the operation. Beecher’s latest story also alerts Defense Secretary Melvin Laird to the bombings (Laird, whom Kissinger considers a hated rival, has been kept out of the loop on the bombings). Haig tells the FBI he suspects a “serious security violation” has taken place, and receives four new wiretaps: on Beecher Laird’s assistant Robert Pursley Secretary of State William Rogers’s assistant Richard Pederson and Rogers’s deputy, William Sullivan. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 212]


Watch the video: President Nixons Cambodia Incursion Address (June 2022).


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