Nixon betrayal far worse than GOP Iran letter

tags: LBJ, Vietnam, Iran, Nixon, Paris Peace Talks, Iran letter

Ray Locker is the Washington enterprise editor of USA TODAY and author of "Nixon's Gamble: How a President's Own Secret Government Destroyed His Administration," to be published in October.

The warning letter by 47 Republican senators to Iran's leaders about any deal reached with President Obama spurred the White House to claim the senators had interfered with ongoing negotiations. It was a bold departure from the previous practice, but it falls short of what some are calling treason.

It also does not rise to the same level as Richard Nixon's interference with the Paris Peace Talks in the fall of October 1968, when then-President Lyndon Johnson thought he had a deal that could end the Vietnam War, or at least speed the U.S. departure from Vietnam. That, presidential records show, put Nixon's fingerprints on a stunning interference with the peace talks.

By then, the United States had bombed North Vietnam for more than three years. The so-called Rolling Thunder raids turned much of the country into a smoldering ruin. However, they did little to stem the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong war effort in South Vietnam. Communist troops dominated wide swaths of that country, and their bold offensive during the Tet holiday period that winter, while eventually unsuccessful militarily, damaged U.S. morale.

The United States, North Vietnam and the Viet Cong started meeting in Paris in May 1968 to find a way to end the war. Progress in the talks was painstakingly slow. For months, the negotiators argued over the shape of the conference table, and the communists resisted the presence of South Vietnamese negotiators because they considered them only representatives of an illegitimate U.S. puppet regime.

But the U.S. team managed to win a concession that had the potential to break the talks open. The United States would stop bombing North Vietnam if it agreed to three terms — that the North Vietnamese respect the demilitarized zone separating the two countries, allow the South Vietnamese to join the Paris talks, and stop the artillery barrages on southern cities. ...

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