248. Editorial Note
On April 22, 1970, from 3:04 to 4:42 p.m., President Nixon met with the members of the National Security Council. The participants, in addition to the President, were Vice President Spiro Agnew, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, Secretary of State William Rogers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Earle Wheeler (who resumed his duties in time to attend the meeting), Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms, Presidential Assistant Henry Kissinger, and the Director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness, General George A. Lincoln. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) According to an April 21 memorandum from Dwight Chapin to Kissinger, President Nixon restricted the meeting to these individuals and did not want any of the Under Secretaries present. The President also insisted that “there should be no note taker.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–028, NSC Meetings, 4/22/70) No contemporary record of this meeting has been found and apparently none was made.
In his memoirs Kissinger provides a relatively full account of the meeting recalling that the National Security Council was faced with three options: current shallow operations (preferred by Laird and Rogers), attacking the sanctuaries with GVN troops with U.S. tactical and logistical support but no ground troops (Kissinger’s preference), or all out U.S. and GVN attack on the sanctuaries (the choice of Bunker, Abrams, and the Joint Chiefs). Kissinger recounts that Nixon’s National Security Council meetings had a stylized nature to them. Issues had [Page 850] been so analyzed by lower-level officials and the principals tended to perform their roles “like actors in a well-rehearsed play.” There was always the suspicion that more was going on than each of the participants knew, as well as the general ambivalence between supporting the President’s position and fear of domestic reaction to escalation of the war. Kissinger recalls that the domestic reaction to action in Cambodia loomed heavily during the meeting. According to Kissinger, Rogers opposed major cross-border operations but not bombing if Lon Nol was overthrown; Laird opposed all out destruction of the sanctuaries, which both Helms and Agnew supported. At this meeting Nixon broke his usual habit of not announcing his position until after the deliberations by announcing his support of GVN operations with U.S. support but not U.S. ground troops. Wheeler recommended that the South Vietnamese attack the Parrot’s Beak and then the discussion turned to what to do about the other sanctuaries with Laird and Rogers trying to limit the U.S. role. At this point, Kissinger recalls that Agnew stated that either the sanctuaries were worth attacking or were not. He did not understand “all the pussyfooting about.” He favored an attack on the Parrot’s Beak and the Fishhook including the use of U.S. troops. Kissinger suggests that Nixon resented being shown to be “less tough” than Agnew. Kissinger recalls that the President complained to him about not being forewarned of Agnew’s view and Kissinger believes that Agnew’s stance accelerated Nixon’s decision to go for the maximum option. (White House Years, pages 490–492)
On April 22 at 6:20 p.m., Rogers and Kissinger spoke on the telephone. Kissinger told Rogers that he had talked an hour before to the President who was thinking about authorizing an attack on the Parrot’s Beak. Rogers hoped that it would not include U.S. air support ahead of time. Rogers also hoped that the operation would have a definite time limit. Kissinger agreed to recommend that view to the President. Rogers feared that this action might cause the fall of the Lon Nol government, stating that when the Cambodians “hear guns, they run.” Kissinger agreed with Rogers’ view probably expressed at the NSC meeting of April 22 that “it would be nice to have an ally who could fight.” (Transcript of telephone conversation between Rogers and Kissinger, April 21; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 363, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)