156. Backchannel Message From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to the Ambassador to Vietnam (Bunker)1

WHS 1021. It would be hard to exaggerate the mystification and confusion caused here by the ARVN’s latest scheme of maneuver which envisages a rapid pull-out from Laos.2 For a week, we have been briefing on the assumption that we were proceeding along the lines of your latest conversation with President Thieu envisaging a slow pull-out through Base Area 611.

I do not want to get into details of military operations. However, it is intolerable to have the President vulnerable to constant changes of plans which are unilaterally implemented. The President will go on television on Monday night3 (protect). We must have an agreed strategy by then. From here, last week’s scheme looked preferable. As you know, we originally approved Lam Son to disrupt supplies during the dry season. For this reason, careful consideration should be given to operations along Route 914 and through Base Area 611. But whatever the scheme we must be part of the planning and have adequate advance warning.

I hope Thieu understands that the President’s confidence is an asset he should not lightly dissipate and that this may be his last crack at massive U.S. support.4

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 84, Vietnam Subject Files, Special Operations File, Vol. VI. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. In Ending the Vietnam War, pp. 203–204, Kissinger wrote that this backchannel message was in response to Bunker’s March 12 message, Document 149.
  2. Kissinger apparently learned of this from CIA report CS 317/09016/71, which Helms sent to Kissinger under a March 18 covering memorandum. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1013, Haig Special File, Haig Trip File, Haig SEA Trip—Mar 71 [1 of 2])
  3. The President’s March 22 interview with Howard K. Smith was broadcast live on ABC radio and television. For text, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1971, pp. 448–465.
  4. In a backchannel message to Bunker, March 19, Kissinger complained, “Because Thieu, et al, have not kept us fully informed of changes in their plans, we have had to follow the pack rather than lead it and have experienced difficult problems vis-à-vis a strident press and public here.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1013, Haig Special File, Haig SEA Trip—Mar 71 [1 of 2]) Kissinger also wrote in Ending the Vietnam War (p. 200) that he learned on March 18 that on February 12 Thieu issued orders to cancel Lam Son 719 once RVNAF casualties reached 3,000.