The Differences Between Fighting Communism for American Presidents
Many years passed between the presidential terms of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan yet the fight against Communism endured. Each president had his unique way of defining the importance of fighting Communism, Nixon attempted to contain the spread of Communism while Reagan tried to transcend it. Nixon succeeded when using intelligent and friendly diplomacy in China and the Soviet Union, yet failed in Southeast Asia with his 'Vietnamization' program. Reagan found little success in the application of his foreign policy, which was mainly based on the raising of defense spending. Nixon and Reagan had different foreign policies and very different methods of carrying out what they promised, therefore it cannot be said that they had similar ways of fighting Communism.
The attitudes of fighting Communism contributed to the differences in defining the importance and urgency with which each president acted. Nixon had a more passive attitude of containment, as shown through his policy of 'Vietnamization' in 1970, under which he stated that "American troop strength would be reduced systematically in Vietnam while the South Vietnamese received more military equipment so that they could fight their own war" (LPW, 465). This attempt at slowly backing out of the war indicated the direction that Nixon was heading in the fight against Communism, he took his attention off of Vietnam and moved it to China and the Soviet Union. Whereas Nixon took the passive route, Reagan used powerful anti-Communist rhetoric to set the tone for his approach towards fighting Communists. Of his projected changes "none was more important to Reagan than building up tremendous military strength and then demonstrating that the "Vietnam syndrome," American reluctance to use military force because of the Vietnam debacle, no longer existed" (LPW, 524). With this message, President Reagan put America on the offensive for fighting against Communism, which differed from Nixon, who took the less violent approach to solving the problem.
Nixon had failed to ameliorate the problem in Vietnam through Vietnamization because he decided to invade Cambodia on April 30, 1970 therefore extending the war to peripheral countries rather than shrinking U.S. involvement as was originally planned. The Cambodia Incursion sparked much anti-war action at home and the infamous Kent State University incident ensued, where four students were killed. The result of the Cambodia Incursion consisted of the Communist North Vietnamese moving into the area occupied by the Americans, thus moving closer to the South Vietnamese army and indicating the failure of the attempted containment. It took Nixon one more lesson to change his foreign policy, this time the South Vietnamese invaded Communist bases in Laos in February 1971 and fought without the help of American troops. It resulted in failure by the South Vietnamese and "by the...