Missed Opportunities from the Détente Years

DR. SUSSER: Do you think that there were any opportunities that you missed during this period? Is there anything you would do differently in retrospect?

DR. KISSINGER: Why don't you answer some questions? (Laughter.)

DR. SCHLESINGER: When you're batting .1000, you can't improve on it. (Laughter.)

DR. SUSSER: Perhaps you could--we haven't really discussed in any great length--

DR. KISSINGER: In (inaudible) retrospect I would say this. And it concerns Vietnam. I agree with Jim that I thought we had won the Vietnam War in September. In October, when the North Vietnamese, when Hanoi accepted the proposals we had made in January, to universal disapproval incidentally as being much too tough, I made the decision on the spot there that I thought that it was based on a misunderstanding by the North Vietnamese of the situation; namely, that they thought our position would improve greatly after the election. But I knew that we would not--that we would probably lose congressional seats and that the Defense Department budget required us to cut down on our B--52 augmentations, and that therefore we should hurry the agreement. And we probably could have dragged it out through the election. Nixon did not think he had anything to gain from a Vietnam agreement, but he was willing to make it when he saw it, but he left that essentially up to me. I could have dragged it out until after the election.

In the light of what happened afterwards, I think it might have been better to delay, but then Watergate would have destroyed everything, of which I had no idea. But we couldn't have gotten better terms, but we could have got it in a way that was less upsetting to the South Vietnamese perhaps.

DR. SCHLESINGER: In the summer of '73 in the Appropriations Act which President Ford did approve, the Congress prohibited the use of American forces in and over and offshore the states of the former French Indo-China to announce to North Vietnam that we were unprepared in the future to use any force should have been an early signal to them, but they didn't quite believe it. And it was only as they tested us in the late--at the latter stages, starting in December of '74 and early in '75 when we were unable to make a response, that they poured in the 18 divisions which ultimately led to the collapse of South Vietnam.

DR. KISSINGER: I don't believe that the collapse of Vietnam in 1975 was inevitable. We cut aid to Vietnam by two-thirds and cut off aid to Cambodia altogether and prohibited any military intervention. Under those conditions, Korea couldn't have survived and maybe some of our European allies couldn't have survived. Could Vietnam have lasted forever? I don't know that. But I felt we owed them an opportunity to see whether they could do what happened in--what finally has happened in South Korea.

But I'm mentioning this, if you ask me what decision would I do differently now if I had known, but I didn't know Watergate. I didn't imagine that the Congress would cut off aid or these other measures, so this is hindsight.