5. Editorial Note
On January 21, 1969, from 2 to 3:30 p.m., President Nixon met in the Cabinet Room of the White House with the National Security Council. (President's Daily Diary; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files) At this inaugural meeting, President Nixon asked Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms to prepare for the second National Security Council Meeting (see Document 10) “a good job on the situation in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, adding that he also wanted an overview from State and CIA on the views of [Page 11]other Asian nations on the situation and stating that much of what we will do depends on the effect that these actions will have on the peoples of the area, not only on the leaders but on the people themselves.” The Council then discussed events in East Asia, Nigeria, Peru, and procedural and administrative issues.
Toward the end of the meeting, the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs, Henry Kissinger, stated that the Council would address at the next meeting the situation in Vietnam and “alternative courses of action open to us.” At this point, the following discussion occurred:
“… the President emphasized that while he did not believe in changing policy for change sake alone that he felt with respect to Vietnam that we must rethink all of our policy tracks by reviewing all past instructions and determining whether or not we are proceeding down the correct tracks. He stated we do not want the enemy to assume that we are locked on the same old tracks as the previous Administration, emphasizing that we will change if the situation dictates.
“Secretary of State emphasized that the U.S. has not really made any commitments in this regard, pointing out that Ambassador Harriman informed him that we really had no policy with respect to negotiating objectives.
“General Wheeler said that both Harriman and Vance had only been provided preliminary instructions to get the talks started in Paris but that they had not been provided any finite objectives from Washington.
“The President stated, ‘I was very disturbed about this since it was obvious from the conduct of the negotiations.' He stated that he had discussed the problem with Lodge and Walsh, emphasizing that he did not want any coercive action with respect to the South Vietnamese, pointing out that while they may be difficult to deal with they are our allies and this was the basis for the selection of Lodge and one of his principal missions is to rebuild South Vietnam's confidence and trust in the U.S.
“Dr. Kissinger stated that they had been operating in Paris with a laundry list of objectives which served as probing vehicles with the other side.
“Secretary Rogers stated that this was the Administration's effort to get something started before the election.
“The President said he was very much aware of the domestic issues but that he would rather take the heat now and achieve a sound settlement subsequently. He emphasized that he does not want a lot of promising press pizazz which we may not be able to deliver on later. He told Lodge to avoid the type of over optimism which had characterized past press treatment. He stated that while it looks fairly rosy now, we may not be able to achieve acceptable agreements.[Page 12]
“The President added that he instructed Lodge not to be quite so friendly with the North Vietnamese and assured him that if he made the President look a little tougher, that was just fine.
“The President stated that we cannot panic by moving the wrong way.
“Mr. Kissinger stated that the most difficult problem on Vietnam can be traced to fundamental disagreements on facts and that is why we are inventorying the facts to insure that we have them in hand before considering our basic objectives, referring to the questions on Vietnam which are to be developed interdepartmentally with a short deadline.”
The discussion then turned again to procedural matters. (Minutes of NSC Meeting, January 21; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS–82, NSC, NSC Meetings, January–March 1969)