241. Editorial Note

On April 21, 1970, at 10:35 a.m. Secretary of State William Rogers and Assistant to the President Henry Kissinger spoke on the telephone. Kissinger told Rogers: “The President got up at 6:30 this morning to everyone’s dismay.” Kissinger then informed the Secretary that the $10 million was being sent secretly to Lon Nol. Rogers worried: “I think he [Nixon] is making decisions off the drop of a hat. We can make a good case for helping them [the Cambodians] but we should do it openly. We can make a good case that this might not be a good time— this government might not last.” Kissinger replied: “He [Nixon] feels to put in a lot of aid is self defeating. What he thinks is to do things to help their morale but not their huge requests. That’s why he is doing this.” Rogers stated that: “We should think carefully what we are doing while he is bucking up their morale. Even if they don’t survive they will keep the VC at bay. But if they go down the drain and it becomes known—and I think in this day and age it will be known—and if it’s known we are sending money through black bags we have paid a high price—we emphasize feelings about government some people have. We may have to pay a price.” Kissinger and Rogers discussed the issue further and then Kissinger asked the Secretary: “Do you think there’s a prayer for Vietnamization if Cambodia is taken over?” Rogers answered, “Yes,” although he admitted it would be a “psychological set back.” Kissinger said: “You’re entitled to your opinion.” The two men then discussed whether the North Vietnamese take-over of Cambodia was possible and whether it would impede U.S. aims in Vietnam. Kissinger suggested it would, while Rogers was more dubious about the effect or even the North Vietnamese ability to take over Cambodia. Kissinger admitted: “It is absurd that 100 NVN 18 miles from Phnom Penh should throw our people into a panic. What can you do with a government that can be taken over with 5 thousand?” Kissinger told Rogers, “he [Nixon] is so determined on this [the money]—we should raise your crucial question of what we want to do. Not one problem at a time and slipping into something we don’t understand.” Rogers responded, “What worries me is how little other governments want to get involved.” Kissinger suggested that “they may be watching in a paralyzed way hoping somebody else will do something.” Rogers replied that Nixon “should not be making the decision all by himself … he can’t operate like that.” Kissinger agreed that “he must hear his senior advisers on these things and I will try, but failing that, I will follow his instructions.” (Transcript of telephone conversation between Rogers and Kissinger, April 21; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 363, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)

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At 12:05 p.m. on April 21 Kissinger called Army Chief of Staff General William Westmoreland and asked him: “What is your assessment? Could we take a Cambodian defeat—if Sihanouk came back?” Westmoreland responded: “That’s more political but it seems Sihanouk has taken a considerable loss of face. My impression is that Lon Nol is capable of holding the country together. The 15 battalions that they have mobilized shows that this administration [Lon Nol’s] has popular support. They need arms and provisions but they should be effective.” “Do you think the VN can move in and handle it without us, except for artillery and air support?” Kissinger asked. Westmoreland replied affirmatively, “They have some very fine troops. But we have the rainy season coming up next month which will complicate things. The dry season would facilitate it, but with our support on the borders and helicopter and tactical air they can be effective but I don’t think they can clear them out.” “Can we?” Kissinger then asked. Westmoreland replied: “We would be hard pressed in the rainy season but it could be done. If Gen. Abrams wants to we could do it.” Kissinger asked: “Would it be worth it?” Westmoreland responded: “If we could destroy COSVN headquarters this would indeed. We would have an apparent idea where it is. It’s about 10,000 troops. Troops would have to move into the area and stay some time. It would be costly with respect to casualties because there are no doubt mines, booby traps, bunkers, etc. But we could do it. The weather period is an unhappy coincidence and would inhibit our operations flexibility. The VN would be less effective but with the proper support they could be effective and would be desirable.” (Transcript of telephone conversation between Kissinger and Westmoreland, April 21; ibid.)