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This is a time of testing for our nation The question is whether we have the staying power to fight a very costly war when the objective is limited and the danger to us is seemingly remote Lyndon Johnson 1967 State of the Union Address When Lyndon Johnson and his holdover New Frontiersmen adopted tactics of attrition in Vietnam they warped the debate over Americas proper role in that country They denied advocates of a sounder military strategy the chance to try their hand while Americans possessed the will to fight As the conflict dragged on skeptics--many were Democrats and hence constrained directly from attacking their party chief--instead developed a broader critique that would shatter the Cold War consensus When Richard Nixon assumed responsibility for managing the war he possessed perilously little margin for error By 1970 it was clear or should have been that his Vietnamization policy would have to work fast if it was to work at all There emerged three responses to Hanois determined effort to unify Vietnam under Communist leadership Hawks including a majority of Republicans and a number of often southern Democrats agreed that American boys should not fight Asian land wars Americans should lend sea and air support bomb the important economic and military targets that Johnson would not cut the Ho Chi Minh trail and most of all leave the ground fighting to the South Vietnamese There was an obvious weakness in this prescription and it would become more urgent later on what would these hawks do if their Saigon ally proved unequal to its assigned task For the time being they received a pass on this issue Doves increasingly mated realist strategy to unrealistic tactics Typically they called for bombing halts plus negotiations This remained their line even when Hanoi used the pauses to step up its infiltration of the South and the talks to press for unilateral American
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