59. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Buchanan) to President Nixon 1

Notes from Legislative Leadership Meeting2

Tuesday, February 17, 1970

The bulk of the leadership meeting was devoted to discussion of the State of the World message3 which Dr. Kissinger outlined in extensive and brilliant detail.

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The President opened the discussion by saying his message would cover foreign and defense policy of the entire world. It was in effect 40,000 words of policy. He described it as the most important statement made by this Administration; that all our foreign and defense policies had been gathered together in one place, that there would be a summary of 3,000 words, and a briefing had been held on the total message and one would be held this afternoon for the bipartisan leadership. The message had been put together over many weeks. It had been put into its final form over the weekend in Key Biscayne. The President described it as interesting reading, and not hard reading.

Henry outlined the extensive message and his discussion took about three quarters of an hour. At the end of it, the President interjected a number of comments in response to some points that had been raised. On Japan for example, the President said it was absolutely indispensable for political reasons that we train troops in Japan, and that we have some U.S. forces there. In the event that China should try to take on Japan, we would not, of course, try to fight it out with conventional forces. The purpose of the troops was to maintain the U.S. presence and involvement in the security of Japan.

Moving on to another point, the President said unless the United States does play a role in the world, if, for example, the United States should return home, the rest of the world in his opinion would come under Communist domination.

One of the questions we answered, he said, is how we can meet our responsibilities without draining ourselves economically and psychologically. The purpose of this foreign policy is to find a way to stay in the world, not a way to get out of the world. The message puts great responsibility indirectly in its language on the other nations of the free world to do more in their own behalf. They must assume an increasing share of the burden of their own defense, said the President. Returning to Japan, he said that while admittedly some time ago there was a good deal of reluctance on the part of the Japanese to involve themselves in world affairs, he wouldn’t be surprised if “in five years we didn’t have to restrain them.” They have gone through a traumatic period since the bomb dropped, he said. Now they are going to do something.

The President indicated that he felt that in Asia the major counter-force to China should not be the U.S. but Japan. He indicated that both the Chinese and the Soviets recognized this; there had been far more interest in the cables on the part of the Chinese and Russians in the reversion of Okinawa to Japan than any other facet of US policy in the area.

Discussion of the difference between soft line and hard line began, and the President said he would consider this policy neither. It is more a pragmatic and realistic line, a peace line. He said in the past it has [Page 192] been his experience that the soft line has led to war more often than the hard line. He can recall some two or three occasions in the post-war era when a soft line resulted in a war where he could not recall a single incident where a hard line had.

The President eschewed gushy optimism of any kind. He said that some Americans think that we can rely on peace by sending a few Fulbright scholars abroad or even Fulbright himself, but that doesn’t bring peace. We can avoid war if we are realistic and not soft-headed, he indicated.

As for Laird’s report on Vietnam after his return,4 the President described it in a single word: encouraging.

Moving on to the Middle East, he said that many American politicians took it that it should be the basis of American foreign policy the simple question of whether or not Israel is to survive. That cannot be the basis of American foreign policy, he said. The interest of the US policy in the Middle East is designed to advance the United States interests primarily. Those interests involve vital stakes in the Mediterranean and Iran; they involve oil interests in the Arab world; they also are coincidental with the survival of Israel as a state. For one hard reason the Israelis are currently the strongest buffer against Soviet expansion in the entire region.

The President asked what the Soviet objectives in the Middle East were, and answered his own question. They want control of the Middle East; they want the oil it contains; they want a land bridge to Africa. Looking over the Middle East, the President said Tunis is too weak to matter. Morocco is distant, out on the Atlantic Coast, and you know what happened in Libya. Algeria, the UAR, Syria, Iraq, the Sudan are all either under great Soviet pressure or Soviet influence at this time. As for Spain, it has been relegated to outer darkness until Franco’s death. Italy is paying now for the opening to the left of a few years back, which the President had opposed. We intend to see to it that Israel is not overrun for the reason that Israel is the current most effective stopper to the Mideast power of the Soviet Union. Our policy, said the President, will not be pleasing to some of our political friends. But it is not in Israel’s interest for American policy to be one sided. Israel ought to make a deal when it is strong enough to whip anyone in the Middle East and will be strong enough for the next five years. The President said he indicated to [Page 193] Golda Meir when she was in the country that he had only gotten 8% of the Jewish vote and he was supporting the Israelis not for political reasons for the first time in recent history. He was supporting Israel because it was in the interest of the United States to do so.

[Omitted here is discussion of a visit to the United States by French President Pompidou.]

Discussion was now brought up of the withdrawal of all American forces. The President said he thought the withdrawal of all American forces from Europe, for example, would be very detrimental policy. At the very least we ought to retain a “trip-wire.” He said there is a significant shift indicated in this statement. We are telling all Asia and Europe they must do more on their part and we are going to do less on our part. Griffin5 indicated the President should emphasize how he has reorganized and taken control of policy development. Taft6 asked what effect it has on the National Commitments Resolution.7 I have no precise response on that.

Another point made by Dr. Kissinger was that we are being “absolutely candid” with the American people on this. With regard to someone recommending the proposal for mutual cooperation in Latin America, Kissinger indicated it should not be the US proposition for “if it is a US proposal, it tends to be counter-productive.” In other words, the countries of Latin America tend to reject out of hand something that bears the American stamp of American initiative. The President indicated that he would hope Congressmen would pick out eight or ten points to be drawn from the message by Safire and Kissinger and others and repeat these points in speeches around the country.

Allott8 now returned to the Mansfield resolutions.9 He said that the NATO countries had not, were not, and are not doing their share and there was a general feeling in the Senate that the only way they could be forced to do so is for the reduction of American contribution to the [Page 194] effort. Allott said this is the feeling that has to be considered when you take into account the vast American investment in places like France and the pipeline arrangement we put into France and our difficulty in getting satisfaction. The President said this is a difficult problem, but if the US were to withdraw now under the pressure of this resolution, the whole thing (NATO) would unravel. On the other hand, we do have a new attitude. And we must remember we are there in Europe not to defend Germany or Italy or France or England, we are in Europe to save our own hides.

Returning again to the Middle East, he said as for Israel, it’s a pretty weak argument when we say we are supporting Israel for simply political reasons. The strongest foundation for our support is that it is in our national interest.

Again to the Mansfield Resolution to bring home troops from Europe, if they pass the resolution to bring home two divisions, said the President, it would have a detrimental impact. We may do it ourselves, but we have to do it our way.

The President then summarized a number of points that he had taken since his Administration had begun that should be emphasized in speeches. First, his new control and coordination of planning and foreign policy. Second, there has been no major crisis with the Soviet Union. Third, there is normalization of relations with Japan after the reversion of Okinawa. Fourth, steps have been taken in CBW warfare. Five, the Middle East’s problems were inherited. Six, we have reopened lines of communication with Communist China. For a number of reasons we have done this “which have nothing to do whatever with what we think of them.” The President had made successful visits to Asia and Europe which could not have been done under the previous administration. We have put relations in Western Europe on a new perspective. We have re-established contact with General DeGaulle, and from that contact come our current discussions with Georges Pompidou.

[Omitted here is discussion of domestic issues.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, Box 80, Memoranda for the President, Jan 4-May 31, 1970. No classification marking.
  2. The meeting with Republican Congressional leaders was held in the Cabinet Room of the White House from 8:34 to 10:51 a.m. Six Senators and nine Representatives attended. In addition to the President, Vice President Agnew, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Robert Finch, and nine members of the White House staff, including Haldeman and Kissinger, were also present. (Ibid., White House Central Files, Staff Members and Office Files, Office of Presidential Papers and Archives, Daily Diary)
  3. Reference is to the report submitted to Congress on February 18; see Document 60.
  4. Secretary of Defense Laird visited South Vietnam February 10-17. He submitted a report on his trip to the President on February 17. The report is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 224, Agency Files, DOD, Vol. IV, 1 Feb 70-20 April 70; it is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Vietnam, 1969–1970.
  5. Senator Robert Griffin of Michigan.
  6. Representative Robert Taft of Ohio.
  7. The National Commitments Resolution was a non-binding resolution adopted by the Senate on June 25, 1969, which defined a national commitment and expressed the sense of the Senate that a commitment could only result from a treaty, statute, or concurrent resolution of both Houses of Congress providing for such a commitment. As defined by the resolution, a national commitment involved the promise or use of U.S. financial resources or armed forces to assist a foreign country. S. Res. 85 is summarized in the Congressional Quarterly Almanac, Vol. XXV, pp. 178-181.
  8. Senator Gordon Allott of Colorado.
  9. Reference is apparently to the resolution introduced in the Senate on December 1, 1969, by Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield which called for a “substantial reduction” of U.S. troops in Europe. Mansfield had initially introduced this resolution in 1966. S. Res. 292 is summarized in Congressional Quarterly Almanac, Vol. XXV, p. 999.