The Vietnam War and Foreign Policy

The Vietnam War and Foreign Policy



on the night of August 2nd 1964 three North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked the u.s. destroyer USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin while the United States had been involved in the ongoing crisis in Vietnam since the 1950s this was the first time that US personnel came under direct attack from North Vietnam two days later President Lyndon Johnson addressed the nation by radio he claimed that the North Vietnamese were the aggressors he informed the American people of the attack and asked for the authority to retaliate reports on the incident have been inconclusive many in the US intelligence community believe that errors were made by the National Security Agency and that the Johnson administration did not have the whole picture when it made the decision to retaliate it is generally believed today that Johnson had intended to go to war with North Vietnam even before the incident occurred and had used the attack in the Gulf of Tonkin as a means to garner public support for a larger scale conflict three days after Johnson's address Congress passed a joint resolution granting the president approval quote to take all necessary steps including the use of armed force to assist any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia collective defense treaty requesting assistance in defense of its freedom this resolution came to be known as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution over the next year it would allow for the escalation of US forces in Southeast Asia that would eventually cost more than 50,000 American lives from 1964 to 1973 the United States was fully engaged in the Vietnam conflict yet Congress never officially declared war President Johnson's decision to escalate the Vietnam conflict and President Nixon's decision to invade Cambodia in 1970 were both made based on powers granted to the president by the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution with a price tag in billions of taxpayer dollars in millions of human lives such power quickly came under scrutiny by the US legislature and the American people members of Congress grew increasingly concerns that the president acting alone could direct powerful military actions that would have a massive impact on the global stage in 1973 Congress passed the War Powers Resolution to restrict presidential war powers granted by the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution the War Powers Resolution allows the President to make immediate decisions in times of crisis to command the military against foreign threats to the security of the nation then within 48 hours of deploying the military the President must deliver a full report to Congress that explains the need for such action the legal authority under which the deployment took place and the estimated scope and duration of the hostilities within 60 days after the report the president is required to terminate any deployment of US forces unless Congress has authorized an extension of hostilities has declared war against the enemy or is physically unable to meet the president who does not follow the law can be impeached and removed from power every US president since 1973 has attempted to follow the spirit of the War Powers Resolution though stronger presidents have stretched the boundaries of the legislation the law has created tension between the legislative and executive branches political feelings about the War Powers Resolution are mixed article 2 of the Constitution states specifically that the president is the commander-in-chief of the military and should have the authority to deploy US military might as needed most presidents believe the War Powers Resolution places additional restrictions on this Authority and if stated they consider the law unconstitutional this belief centers on the idea that a declared war is a total war and is different from what has become known as a police action which is designed to eliminate temporary and immediate threats to national security while only Congress can declare war sometimes the president needs to use military force in actions smaller than a total war to protect the nation on the other hand Congress believes that article 1 of the Constitution grants the legislature the sole right to declare war Congress understands that the president may need to make immediate decisions for national security and that is why the War Powers Resolution allows 60 days to engage in hostile actions before troops must be recalled this belief focuses on the idea that any hostile military action is technically a war whether or not it has been declared by Congress Congress represents the whole of the nation and no act of war by the United States is justified unless it has been authorized by the will of the people acting through Congress the struggle between the executive and legislative branches over War Powers may seem like political deadlock but actually it represents the nature of government that our founders had in mind liberty requires checks and balances on government to preserve the rights of the people while the debate most likely will never be settled the nature of the debate is necessary and proper to preserve our democracy for future generations of Americans

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