88. Editorial Note

President Nixon met on April 20, 1971, with members of the Republican Congressional leadership in the Cabinet Room of the White House between 8:06 and 9:44 a.m. The group included Vice President Agnew as well as more than a dozen members of the White House staff. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, Staff Members and Office Files, Office of Presidential Papers and Archives, Daily Diary) According to the notes prepared that day by the President’s Special Assistant, Patrick J. Buchanan, the discussion opened mainly on economic matters.

“Following this the President went into a dissertation on American foreign policy. It was one many of the members had probably heard before. The President spoke against the new isolationism, saying that if we abandon the world, pull back our aid, pull back our troops, it’s not just economically what is going to happen to the United States, but what kind of world is it going to be. If we leave a vacuum in the world, then the other powers are going to fill that vacuum. The President noted that these individuals you see now up on Capitol Hill who are shouting the loudest about peace or calling for cutbacks in aid and bringing home the troops, these individuals are the ones who represent the greatest danger to peace; they are the ones whose policies would generally invite a large war. With that kind of reasoning, it will bring on war as sure as we’re sitting here.”

After a brief discussion of extension of the draft, Nixon continued his comments on foreign policy:

“Here and on several occasions during the meeting, the President indicated that a lot of things are looking good for the doves right now, those who vote against American armaments or who vote to bring the troops home, that aren’t going to be looking good in the near future. One came away with the impression that the President was aware of something taking place or something occurring which would make the policy of isolationism, the policy of weakening America defensively, a disastrous one politically and a dangerous one for the country.

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“The President told the Congressmen that the Republicans there should not run with these people, they are on the wrong course, and history will show they were.

“The President then gave a brief talk about the ablest, most dynamic, most energetic people in Europe were the Germans, in Asia they were the Japanese; that these two peoples were with us now, not simply because of economics, although there were strong economic ties, but because the United States was the first power in the world and presented for them an umbrella for their national security. When the United States ceases to be the first power in the world, then these great powers are going to be looking elsewhere for their deals, for their arrangements, and when that happens, the President said, the United States is in serious trouble. That is why we’ve got to remain number one.

“He used the steel figures of America and Japan to indicate the tremendous growth of the Japanese empire. He said in 1950 the United States produced about 47-48% of all the steel in the world; today we produce about 20% of the steel. In 1950 Japan produced 5 million tons of steel; today she produces over 100 million tons, and by 1974 she will exceed the United States in production unless we do something with our productivity. One hundred million Japanese, he said, produce twice as much as 800 million Chinese. This is an indication of the capability of these people; we need them on our side.

“Whittaker Chambers told me one time, he said, that the war in Korea was not about Korea but was about Japan. In that sense, in that strategic sense, the war in Vietnam is also about Japan.

“The President told an interesting anecdote. He said when he was down in Williamsburg yesterday a little teenager came up to him and said, Mr. President, how does it feel to be a war criminal. He said, well, what we are doing in Vietnam today may make it possible that that young fellow won’t have to go off and fight and die in a war. If we remain strong, the President said, we can establish a modus vivendi with the Soviet Union, a modus vivendi with Red China. But we cannot if we weaken ourselves. In the long run, the President said again, the others may look good for a while, but down the road they are going to look very bad for the country, and bad for themselves.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, Memoranda for the President, Box 84, January 24-April 25, 1971)

Later in the day, in a meeting with Republican Senators and members of the President’s staff, Nixon expounded further on the dangers of a U.S. retreat from world affairs. According to notes prepared by Kenneth Belieu, the President’s Deputy Assistant for Senate Relations:

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“The President said, ‘I know that you gentlemen are concerned about the Vietnam War. The whole country is and many would like me to announce a specific date of withdrawal. Actually it would be improper for me to tell you, at this time, much more than I can tell anyone else. We must not publicly indicate how, when and where we will do certain things, but you will see from my announcements from time to time where we are going.’

“‘The real issue, however, is where the United States will be after Vietnam. Currently the popular thought is for us to cut back and to cease all actions now. But, we are engaged in difficult negotiations around the world, especially in the SALT talks. Some think the simplest thing we could do would be to negotiate only on ABM, but we must look at the whole picture. Let’s analyze just where we are now in national strength. We are ahead in conventional power. We are roughly equal in air power. With regard to nuclear punch they have approximately 1,500 ICBMs—we have 1,000. They have bigger warheads or throw-weight. By 1974 they will catch up to us in nuclear subs. We must negotiate on the broad picture. We have to consider where we will be after Vietnam. We need to end the war in Vietnam so the South Vietnamese will have a chance to survive. We can’t guarantee their perpetual survival, but we certainly owe it to them and to the Free World to give them a chance for survival. Not only for their sake, but for our sake because the other nations on the perimeter of Asia: the Philippines, Korea, Japan itself, etc., cannot be allowed to lose confidence in us, and they will if we leave precipitously.’

“‘If the world begins to think that the United States is content to be a second rate power (and even if that seems to fit well within the United States) it will not be conducive to peace in the world.’

“The President went on to explain, as he had in the Leadership meeting earlier in the day, that there were two great and key nations or peoples on the periphery of the Communist bloc that looked to us for a guarantee of their own security. They are Japan and Germany—neither of them have nuclear power. Germany, in Europe, will watch us. If she is convinced that America is satisfied to become a second rate power—if she once loses confidence in the American nuclear umbrella, she will accommodate herself with the East. Then all the peoples inhabiting the rim lands around the Communist bloc nations, who produce three times as much as the Communist countries, will have second thoughts. The same situation could happen with respect to Japan. Japan has 110 million people, and produces 2-1/2 times as much as China. It sits on the western borders of the Pacific in geographical position relative to Germany on the western borders of Russia and if Japan thinks the U.S. protection is not enough, then despite all else, despite its ties with us, [Page 311] economic links, its preference to deal with the West, it will look elsewhere. Then, where would we stand? And, what change in U.S. stature would occur over the long run? What this would do to our Nation’s soul is frightening to contemplate.

“The President pointed out that any President, especially the one occupying the White House at this time, with the delicate balance existing in the world, needed strength and evidence of such strength—not only military but cohesive political backing to enable him to play the proper cards to have the ‘blue chips’ essential in the international poker game.

“‘We could well be the last Administration that cares about America’s future in the international field. That is why ABM cannot be the only issue in negotiations at the SALT talks. The SALT talks have to look to the entire field of armament in an attempt to reduce the offensive power of weapons or to limit their future construction and deployment.’”

After commentary by Kissinger relating to Soviet and U.S. missile strength (some of which was not recorded because of its highly classified nature), Nixon returned to his theme: “the President said there is a brighter side we can look at. We should not always look at the negative side. Both China and Russia want to increase their consumer goods. Russia especially. The consumer pressure is building up. The world wants peace and we must take this opportunity to get it. He said, ‘One thing I want to point out. If SALT is to have a chance—the negotiations in SALT—we cannot give away in the Senate things we might want to discuss in SALT. Now is a critical time. If the USSR sees the United States ignoring its responsibilities in the draft for instance, in maintaining an adequate Armed Force, or on the Foreign Aid program, she could obviously take this as a sign of weakness and say; Why should we continue to negotiate SALT when the United States is going to take these actions itself unilaterally?’

“‘The USSR has strong reasons to have an agreement, but we know for a fact that they will only deal from strength and that they respect those who have strength, otherwise they have historically moved into the power vacuums.’ The President said, ‘I know it is difficult for you gentlemen to always stand firm on these hard issues; but this is the better part of valor and the greater part of statesmanship. Even though it is hard, it is terribly important to the United States and that in itself is good politics.’

“He pointed out that those who are for unilateral disarmament are the ones who will really put the world into jeopardy as far as the future is concerned. Past history shows that aggression moves into areas of weakness.”

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The meeting concluded with general discussion of the President’s war-making powers and U.S. missile strength. (Ibid.) The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room of the White House between 5:17 and 6:21 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files, Staff Members and Office Files, Office of Presidential Papers and Archives, Daily Diary)