Gary Farber on the latest Nixon tape dump and manipulating the Vietnam conflict. Republicans have been running around for over thirty years now claiming that Democrats, or “liberals”, had betrayed South Vietnam. As I’ve written before, the problem is that these people seem to think that just because we could have achieved a tactical victory in Vietnam that we should have, that the tactical victory (which would have held the United States up to worldwide opprobrium — Westmoreland wanted to use nuclear weapons! — and cost far more than it would have gained) would have nonetheless have been worth it. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
At any rate, McNamara and Johnson were fully aware in 1968 that the war was unwinnable by any realistic means; Nixon, of course, was well aware as well when his turn came. He was just trying to put off the inevitable in order to protect himself. And, as it turned out, he was lying even more than was usual for him. Tricky Dick was getting Congress to threaten to cut off funding for the South Vietnamese regime in order to pressure them into a peace deal — while keeping his own hands clean. And then former Nixonites like Cheney and Rumsfeld could go out and claim that the Democrats stabbed South Vietnam and the US Army in the back. Neat trick. See Der Dolchstoßlegende.