25. Message From Secretary of Defense Laird to President Nixon1
I have been informed by Henry Kissinger and his staff that you have approved the course of action associated with enemy positions in the vicinity of the Fish-hook in the III Corps Tactical Zone.2 Planning for B–52 strikes is proceeding. I have discussed the matter in detail with General Wheeler, and, following those discussions, I have some observations to make.
Military Execution. There is no doubt in my mind, nor in General Wheeler’s mind, that the proposed strikes can be executed effectively. In accordance with the instructions provided to me by Henry Kissinger, I have asked General Wheeler to put the operational machinery in motion that is necessary if the mission is to be carried out on the currently outlined schedule. This operational planning carries minimal security risks. The order can be countermanded at any time up to 1200 GMT, Thursday, 27 February.
Political Considerations. There are some facets of the matter which continue to bother me, however. This is that a number of people in other departments and agencies are aware of the possibility of this mission, simply by virtue of Ambassador Bunker’s February 12 message [Page 78] (Saigon 2830).3 It is reasonable to assume some of the people who saw the Bunker message would not look with favor upon this mission. It is also reasonable to believe they would then create, or attempt to create, difficulty for you and for all of us through contacts in the Congress and in the press who would likewise look with disfavor on this proposed action. By virtue of the presumed widespread knowledge of this possible mission, it would be difficult to claim, and make credible, an operational error. Equally difficult, in view of the moderate scale thus far and the currently diminishing level of enemy activity, would be the forthright approach of admitting an attack against an alleged enemy headquarters in a neutral nation.
Alternative. As you can see, I have reservations about conducting the mission under current circumstances. General Wheeler shares my concern. I believe it would be better to hold this attack for a period in which the scope, intensity, and duration of enemy-initiated activity are at more pronounced levels.4 If the enemy were to commit his main force units in major ground attacks in III Corps, that might present the backdrop behind which we could execute the mission and not be confronted with such marked risks vis-à-vis Congress and the press. While I submit this alternative for your consideration, I want to assure you we are proceeding as instructed previously and will continue to do so through execution unless informed otherwise.
All best wishes.
- Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 12, Geopolitical File, Cambodia Bombings, 1969. Top Secret; Sensitive. Laird’s handwritten signature appears as the “releaser” and apparently he was also the “drafter.” This message was apparently sent to Nixon who was in London.↩
- Reference is to Nixon’s decision on February 23 (en route from Washington to Brussels) to bomb Cambodian sanctuaries; see Kissinger, White House Years, p. 243.↩
- See footnote 4, Document 22.↩
- Nixon cancelled the order and postponed the operation; see Kissinger, White House Years, p. 244.↩