The Differences Between Fighting Communism Between American Presidents 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 middle of the year, the Communists controlled more of Laos than before” (LPW, 466). The change that followed in foreign policy for Nixon resulted in a string of international successes at containing Communism, by realizing that there were five economic superpowers in the world: U.S., Japan, China, Russia, EEC.
His first move was to befriend China and consequently use this friendship to contain Communist Russia. Nixon was the first American President to visit China and the people at home overwhelmingly applauded this effort. He succeeded in containing Communism by getting Russia and China out of the way due to the American shipment of desperately needed wheat to both countries, consequently pitting the two largest Communist powers against each other for American favors. Therefore when Nixon responded to a North Vietnam offensive in April 1972 with the heaviest bombing of the war on Hanoi and the mining of North Vietnamese harbors, there were no objections from the Communist Chinese or Soviets. This resulted in the first military success in Southeast Asia for Nixon and swayed public opinion about the president just in time for his reelection. Nixon was also helped by SALT I(Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) where he became the first American President to visit Russia and sign “an important pact limiting the number of defensive missiles each could possess and putting a five year freeze on testing and the deployment of intercontinental missiles” (LPW, 468).
This direction of peaceful diplomacy won over many voters in the 1972 election and differed greatly from Reagan’s aggressive foreign policy of the 1980’s. Ronald Reagan had a different approach to fighting Communism, rather than trying to peacefully contain it, he wanted to transcend it. His ideas were to actively pursue Communism and use a 40% increase in military spending during his first term to intimidate and forcefully attack the problem areas. “Reagan decided that spending on arms was going to be the cornerstone of his foreign policy”(LPW, 524), different from Nixon who avoided military pursuit of Communism and took care of the problems by talking to the foreign leaders. Actually, Reagan cared less about an arms treaty than his military buildup, and finally had the opportunity to demonstrate that he was not afraid to use force by invading Grenada and protecting the island and its neighbors from Communist Cuba. The invasion of Grenada was popular with the public because the unwritten rule was to win quickly and get out, nobody wanted a protracted war of any sort.
Then Reagan began to slip by attacking and trying to overthrow the Sandinista Government in Nicaragua for Cuban ties, aid to Salvadoran leftists, and their reluctance to hold elections. The U.S. aggression however produced the opposite effect it was hoping for because the Sandinista army increased in number and the government grew closer to Cuba and the Communist bloc for help as a result. As Nixon had pulled out troops from Vietnam and failed, conversely Reagan put soldiers in and actually made the situation worse. Nixon attempted to better relations between the Soviet Union and the United States, but Reagan used powerful anti-Communist rhetoric stating in 1980 that “the Soviet Union underlies all the unrest that is going on” (LPW, 527).
By 1983 Reagan was denouncing the Soviets as the “evil empire” and continued to accelerate his military build up. The President attempted to talk to Soviet leaders about limiting nuclear arms but nothing would come of these talks. A Democratic notion of a “nuclear freeze” forced Reagan to reconsider his military policy because the election of 1984 was approaching and he had to appease the American public. In conclusion, Nixon and Reagan had different ideas and strategies for fighting Communism around the world. Each were given different circumstances and acted in their own unique ways, Nixon dealt with the foreign problems successfully by speaking to leaders while Reagan tried using military intimidation to get the desired result.