70. Editorial Note

On November 18, 1970, President Richard Nixon sent a “Special Message to the Congress Proposing Supplemental Foreign Assistance Appropriations” totaling $1.035 billion. The request included $65 million for Vietnam to replace funds which would have been otherwise spent in Vietnam by the Department of Defense and U.S. forces who were being withdrawn on a more accelerated schedule and to prevent an economic collapse in South Vietnam. Also included was $155 million ($85 million in military grant assistance and $70 million for economic support) for Cambodia. (Public Papers: Nixon, 1970, pages 1074–1079)

In a meeting with the Republican Congressional leadership on the morning of November 17, President Nixon and his Special Assistant for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger made the case for this “must” legislation. Kissinger explained that the purpose of the $65 million for Vietnam “is to replace dollars which would otherwise be spent by American Forces which are being withdrawn on a more rapid timetable and to prevent an economic collapse of the Saigon Government which is dependent upon the inflow of these dollars. Kissinger here stopped, interrupted to point out that the ARVN had today captured 10 miles inside Cambodia the largest arms cache we had ever made in Cambodia. Another element of the request said Henry Kissinger was $85 million for grant military assistance to Cambodia. It’s for small arms; the kind of usable equipment which Cambodia needs and can employ in its own efforts. Kissinger said we are not making the Cambodian army a small model of the American army which is a mistake we made in the early years of the Vietnam War. Kissinger noted that almost all the troops now fighting in Cambodia against Cambodian forces were North Vietnamese not V.C., that Cambodia was right now, that Cambodian Armed Forces were tying up three North Vietnamese Divisions—and her Division has been pulled out of South Vietnam—out of the Central Highlands into Southern Laos or South Vietnam—to protect the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Kissinger now gave a bit of startling information. He said that from the bills of lading we have now determined that the amount of enemy military equipment brought into South Vietnam through Cambodia from the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville is ten times the lowest estimate that we have made and 2½ times the greatest estimate. He said we now ascertain that 90% of the arms, ammunition and equipment for III and IV Corps areas came out of Sihanoukville through Cambodia and 75% of the equipment for II Corps area came from Cambodia out of Sihanoukville. Kissinger then went on to detail the importance of American military assistance to Cambodia. He said that Sir Robert Thompson who had been over there [Page 174] said, formerly the United States used to get about fifteen cents for every dollar in terms of military effectiveness; whereas in Cambodia we’re getting ninety cents on the dollar. He said that that would be a correct analogy. Every dollar put into the Cambodian effort enables them to keep fighting as long as possible and enables us to continue withdrawing American troops. Henry said the request contained an additional $100 million to replace our borrowings from military assistance programs for Taiwan, Turkey and Greece. We had borrowed for Cambodia, he said, this $100 million is needed to replenish that. The President here interjected to say that two critical things about his Cambodian decision that should not go unnoticed. First, the North Vietnamese Divisions are being tied down by the Cambodian Army right now. They are fighting and that is a direct result of the Cambodian action. Secondly, we have cut off the main source of enemy supplies—Sihanoukville. The President here noted that in 1967, Congressman Chamberlain of Michigan had told him that the bulk of enemy arms and equipment was coming through Sihanoukville and what could we do about it. The President said he had come down and talked to the State Department and they had said it was only a trickle. He said their intelligence was dead wrong; it’s not any better now, but we do know in retrospect just how much has come through Sihanoukville and just how right Congressman Chamberlain was. This indicates the extent of influence a single Congressman can have on American foreign policy and that the Cambodian front is a result of what the Cambodians are doing and American lives are being saved. Let’s make the case that way. The Vice President here interjected two points. He said that when he had talked to Lon Nol they made two points that they felt were significant and differences between the Cambodian Government and his fight against Communism and that of the South Vietnamese. First, the Cambodians can own land whereas the South Vietnamese could not. This makes a significant difference in terms of support for the present regime. Secondly, in South Vietnam the clergy is generally concentrated in the cities; it is urban oriented; it is intellectually based; whereas in Cambodia the clergy which has tremendous influence over the populace is generally from the rural areas. It has its roots in the soil; it’s much closer to the Cambodian people; there would be far less likelihood of a general alienation from the mainstream of Cambodian life by the clergy there. Far greater than there is in South Vietnam, for example. Senator Scott asked the President what was our CIA capability; was it any good and the President described it as ‘pitiful.’ He said we are trying to do something about it. The Vice President again asked Henry Kissinger to compare the cost of Vietnam right now as compared with 1968. Kissinger indicated that well, perhaps it was $28 billion a year in 1968. It’s down to about $14 billion right now. Senator Scott indicated when this military assistance request hit the Senate—those [Page 175] who would try to make names for themselves on the Democratic side were bound to grab it and run with it. Kissinger here interjected the statement that if they provide $500 million for Israel and not the rest for Southeast Asia, I would feel it would be my duty not to spend the money for Israel; ‘that’s cold turkey.’ The President repeated his statement, I will not ask for money for Israel unless we can do it worldwide, he said, let’s make that very clear. The President repeated this statement, I will not ask for money. The President indicated that there was an absolute lock on public discussion until 10:00 am tomorrow morning. The President then discussed the basic need for each one of them. In Cambodia, for example, he said we are sending money, and pulling out men. He said, ‘sell it that way.’ In Korea, the same is true, we can’t possibly pull our 50 thousand troops out unless we can modernize the Korean army. Now, do they want to modernize it or not, do they want to pull out the troops or not?” (Memorandum for the President’s File by Buchanan, November 17; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, Box 83, Memoranda for the President, Beginning November 15, 1970)

On November 18 at 3:40 p.m., Nixon, Kissinger, Secretary of State William Rogers, and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird met with Senators Hugh Scott, Mike Mansfield, and Richard Russell to discuss the supplemental request. The discussion on Vietnam and Cambodia was as follows:

“Secretary Rogers then indicated that new aid for Vietnam and Cambodia were all part of Vietnamization and necessary to continue that program, which was working well. In addition, we wanted $13 million for Indonesia. Secretary Laird added the detailed figures that we were seeking for Southeast Asia and noted that the diversion of North Vietnamese troops to Cambodia is much cheaper for us to handle than if they remained in South Vietnam.

“Senator Russell interjected that he would certainly support such a request if it enabled other countries to take on the burden of their defense themselves.

“The President replied that, in the Indonesian case, the issue was internal security. Suharto was thinking of Indonesian needs, and rejected any notions of foreign adventures. In response to the President’s question whether the Indonesian aid was in line with Indonesia’s request, Secretaries Rogers and Laird answered affirmatively.

“The President then noted that Cambodia was the part of the package that would trouble some people. There will be fears of new US involvement, that we are trying to bail out of a situation which we should not have entered in the first place. Our Cambodian action, however, now appears to be enormously in the US interests. For example, it has choked off the enormous supply of equipment through Sihanoukville [Page 176] which had been the mainstay of the North Vietnamese supplies in South Vietnam.

“The President continued that the Southeast Asian/Korean package is part of the Nixon Doctrine. We wanted to let others do the job themselves; we wanted to get out ourselves. But we must remember the assistance part of the Doctrine. These countries are not going to be building up military machines of their own. We hope that Vietnam and Cambodia will become lesser burdens over time to us. We now see this as the best road in that area.

“Senator Scott asked whether Cambodia was not developing a war machine. The President replied that in fact Cambodia’s military operation was rather lean. Secretary Laird concurred, and added that we were proposing a reasonable investment in Cambodia’s military. They were making an all-out effort, and had done well so far. The aid will go for ammunition, small arms, trucks, and the like. It will provide no aircraft, helicopters, or other heavy equipment.

“Concerning the restoration of funds to programs from which money was borrowed for urgent need in Cambodia and elsewhere, Secretary Laird noted that we should honor our commitments. We had told the recipient countries about the size of their programs, and thus needed to restore funds to implement them. Senator Scott added that this also was a Congressional commitment, because Congress had voted the country funds too.” (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 314, Subject Files, Congress (Mtgs, Rqsts for Info, Agreements, Testimony, Executive Privilege, etc.) Vol. I)

The supplemental passed the Senate on December 16, but Senator J. William Fulbright refused to allow it to go to a conference committee for a final vote. In a December 21 memorandum to Nixon, Kissinger noted that Senator Frank Church offered to break the impasse if Rogers sent him a letter confirming that the funds would not be used for U.S. troops or advisers in Cambodia. Nixon agreed and Rogers sent the letter prior to December 23. (Ibid., Box 318, Subject Files, CooperChurch Amendment [May 70–Oct 71]) The Senate passed the bill on December 28, minus $25 million that the administration requested to reimburse funds it had taken from other countries’ accounts and used for Cambodia. (Congress and the Nation, 1969–1972, Volume III, pages 912–913)