After the event, I listened to a rerun of our current president's addressing the nation. The contrasts between the two men's words -- and their consequences -- could not be more dramatic.
Instead of ordering a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Republic of Vietnam, Nixon initiated a new relationship with America's imperfect ally in Saigon. Despite Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress and blatant hostility in the media, he sought and received backing for a gradual drawdown of U.S. combat forces -- and an accelerated program of recruiting, equipping and training for South Vietnam's military and security services.
By the spring of 1972, Nixon's "Vietnamization" plan was well under way, and our remaining combat units were ordered home, leaving a cadre of U.S. advisers embedded with South Vietnamese units. The effectiveness of this program so alarmed the communist dictatorship in Hanoi that Ho Chi Minh ordered the North Vietnamese army to launch a full-scale "Easter Offensive" across the demilitarized zone. The invasion might well have succeeded but for brave American and allied advisers on the ground -- and Nixon's decision to deliver massive amounts of U.S. air and naval support.
The NVA retreated to sanctuaries in North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, and less than a year later, Nixon ended military conscription and initiated our all-volunteer armed forces. That's the origin of the finest military force the world has ever known.
It's impossible to know what the outcome might have been had there been no Watergate affair. What we do know is that in December 1974, Congress voted to cut off all aid to our ally, and President Gerald Ford signed the bill. In his memoirs, Hanoi's Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap claimed "that was the day" he knew Saigon would fall to the communists. Less than five months later, April 30, 1975, NVA tanks surrounded the U.S. Embassy in Saigon as helicopters extricated the last Americans from rooftops of the conquered capital.
The Vietnam War wasn't a defeat for American arms, nor was it lost on the battlefields of Southeast Asia. It was lost in Washington -- the consequence of failed presidential leadership and an appalling lack of vision in our Congress.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.