On this date in 1969, Edward Kennedy appeared on national television to explain why he had left the scene of an accident that killed Mary Jo Kopechne a week before. He was not, the senator insisted, drunk when his car toppled upside down into a pond.
Earlier that day, President Richard Nixon spoke informally to a group of reporters in Guam and outlined a set of skeletal priorities that would soon come to be known as the “Nixon Doctrine.” Elaborating on his stated goal of “Vietnamizing” the disastrous war in Southeast Asia, Nixon insisted that while the United States could not afford to withdraw from the Pacific Rim entirely, “regional pride” and nationalism among American allies would require a more careful approach to foreign policy:
Asians will say in every country that we visit that they do not want to be dictated to from the outside, Asia for the Asians. And that is what we want, and that is the role we should play. We should assist, but we should not dictate.
. . . [As] far as our role is concerned, we must avoid that kind of policy that will make countries in Asia so dependent upon us that we are dragged into conflicts such as the one that we have in Vietnam.
The United States, Nixon explained, would assist its friends in waging war against “internal subversion” but would not “fight the war for them.” In applying the Nixon Doctrine to the American war in Vietnam, the president did so with his characteristic illegality and viciousness. Over the next four years, as the US gradually withdrew ground troops, Nixon escalated the catastrophic air war while expanding it into Cambodia and Laos; he ordered the mining of North Vietnamese harbors and considered bombing its dams; and he presided over the entombment of 20,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Asians, whose deaths forestalled -- for six years at most -- the reunification and Communist takeover of Vietnam.
Meantime, as the forces of “internal subversion” imperiled the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf region, the Nixon Doctrine supplied the rationale for extending billions of dollars in military hardware and training to the House of Saud and the Shah of Iran, whose nations -- gurgling with petrodollars -- were expected to remain obedient, iron-fisted regional proxies for decades to come.