160. Transcript of a Telephone Conversation Between Secretary of Defense Laird and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

K: Mel, how are you?

L: Very good; how are you?

K: Okay.

L: Say, I’ve gone over these logs here on the telephone calls, and so forth. Evidently, the President must have been a little exercised, huh?

K: Oh; yeah. I mean, what calls—to Moorer?

L: Yeah.

K: Well, we didn’t have much advance warning of these withdrawals.

L: Yeah.

K: And, with him going on television, he just wanted to be sure that he knew what the facts were, and then when all these stories hit with panic there, he just wanted to find out for himself; or are you talking about my conversations with Moorer?

L: Well, I got a list of all of them here. I thought, Jesus, things must have really gone to hell around here.

K: No, no; look, what happens is the President will call me four or five times and repeat essentially the same order. Then I call Moorer and say, you know, this is what the President wants to know. And you weren’t available, but . . .

L: Just so we keep on the right track because I think it almost got off the track on Abrams going out on a . . . just going over these briefs on the messages and conversations, it looks like Abrams damn near went off and had a public press conference,2 and I don’t think we want to start him on public press conferences. He handled that thing right.

K: Well, that was initially a Presidential order, and then I changed it to a backgrounder when I realized that.

L: Yeah, but on things like that, let me know about those things . . .

K: Well, I let Packard know.

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L: Yeah, we can save some problems there on things like that because that almost got off the . . . You know, I think that . . . well, of course, what you have here, is you’ve got Thieu trying to run the thing down in Saigon, and he’s looking at his political problems, you know; and he’s concerned about the election coming up. I believe he probably will announce a reduction in his forces within four months, and he’s going to do that for political purposes, too, because you know he brought that up to me, and I asked him not to do it.3 In my memorandum of conversation . . .

K: Yeah, I remember it very well. You said this would be very damaging and I think you are right.

L: And he also is . . . when he talked at that time was always wanted to limit his operations from five to eight weeks. You remember . . .

K: No, no; you told me.

L: And he is staying according to his plan—and it may be not Binh’s plan—but he is staying according to his plan.

K: No, Mel, the trouble was, as I reconstruct it, if these guys had told us, or if we had understood as well as you understood, that he meant to get out after eight weeks—five to eight weeks—and you never had any doubt about it. I have to say this to you.

L: And I tried to get that in the order because I didn’t want to mislead the President or anybody. You remember me fighting that rule?

K: I remember it very well, but if we had understood this, then after the fall of Tchepone, we could have sort of announced that they were getting out or this sort of achieves our objective. For example, Bill had to go on television on Thursday4—on Tuesday—we could have positioned him to carry the ball on that a little bit. Instead, as late as Wednesday afternoon, I was told that Phase V of the operation wouldn’t start till April 15th. And then the very next day, we are told they are getting out over the weekend. And this is what got the President so concerned whether there was a rout here.

L: Well, it’s probably my fault because I didn’t insist upon getting that through.

K: That was his problem.

L: Coming out, they are having heavy fighting there today, and the strikes are going along pretty well.

K: Well, he’s going on television, you know, tomorrow night with Howard K. Smith, and he wanted to make sure he wasn’t out in left [Page 483] field. On the whole, he thinks—and I think, and I believe you agree—that the operation has been a considerable success.

L: Oh, yeah.

K: Don’t you think?

L: Right; it has been a success and we’ll know fully how successful it is in September and October.

K: Exactly.

L: And that’s where we have to stay, and I think it’s going to show up as a greater success than we could even imagine now.

K: Well, that’s what I think. Now, what the President wants . . . I was waiting for you to come back, Mel. I knew you were coming back at 1:30 this afternoon, and I didn’t want to bug you out there because you couldn’t do anything about it. There weren’t any operational orders given. This was all stuff where the President said, “Are they panicking?” I’d say, “I don’t know; I’ll check with Moorer.” You know, it was that sort of question.

L: I just want you to know that, hell, we’ll do everything we can, Henry; and I think the thing is going to prove out to be a very successful operation. Now, when you withdraw and you are in contact withdrawing, it’s a hell of a problem.

K: Mel, what the President would appreciate is if you and Moorer would go and brief some Senators and lay that on on Tuesday,5 in terms of an evaluation of the operation; what you think it did . . .

L: We will briefing the Appropriations Committee tomorrow, too. As you know, Moorer and I are there all day tomorrow.

K: Right, but if you could broaden it beyond that on Tuesday.

L: We’ll do that.

K: And, you know, not just . . . I think the CIA is really screwing us.

L: Well, on their evaluations, they are, you see, because they leave us . . . they really are not helpful right now at times.

K: And you know that—Dave must have told you—we went through all these DIA figures and I must say they are pretty impressive to me.

L: Well, now, you know DIA is coming along a lot better than people give it credit. This Bennett is a good man, and that’s been reorganized and it’s a good operation now.

K: And CIA doesn’t have any figures to contradict it. All they have is moaning and groaning.

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L: Sure.

K: And being negative. And if you consider that they had to supply 40,000 people in southern Laos, that they had to consume rice, that they lost the rice that they purchased in Cambodia, that they lost the port of Sihanoukville, that the gunships have improved, and that they had to supply this operation logistically—just forget about the roads being cut—it must have cut into their system don’t you think?

L: Oh, sure; it’s cut into the system considerably, and it’s really raised hell with some of their units. Now, if you’ll notice, there’s not an awful lot of AA fire going on over there today.

K: Yeah, I noticed that.

L: And that’s simply because they’ve had to be doing so much moving around there.

K: Well, the President has given them one more strike, and then we’ll call it off. If the weather holds up . . .

L: Yeah, well, the weather looks good, so it’ll be “go” for another 24 hours.

K: Good. Mel, and you will then, whenever it’s finished, announce from the Pentagon or from Saigon—wherever you think it’s better—as you did in May that it’s now terminated.

L: Right, Henry; we will.

K: I don’t know whether you’ve met this fellow—that Colonel who commanded some of the helicopter operations, and the President wondered whether, when you brief the Senators on Tuesday or the Congress on Tuesday, if you thought it a good idea if he could answer a few questions.

L: I think that’s a good idea.

K: Good.

L: Yeah, that’s a good idea.

K: Hold on a second. Mel, it’s the President calling me. I’ll call you back.

L: Okay. Keep him cool.

K: I’ll keep him cool. You can count on that.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Kissinger Telephone Conversations, Box 9, Chronological File. No classification marking. There is no indication on the original what time the call was placed. Transcribed on March 22.
  2. General Abrams gave a background briefing for the press on Lam Son on March 21 in Saigon. A full text of the question and answer session with Abrams following his briefing is ibid., NSC Files, Box 82, Vietnam Subject Files, Vietnam Operations in Laos and Cambodia, Vol. V. Kissinger summarized the briefing in a memorandum to Nixon, March 21, which is ibid.
  3. See Document 105.
  4. March 18.
  5. March 23.