78. Transcript of a Telephone Conversation Between President Nixon and his Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig)1

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Vietnam.]

P: Nothing particularly new in the international field today is there?

H: No, we’re putting together those understanding papers today.2

P: Good.

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H: They will be quite conclusive.

P: Good. That will be a good one to have. We must never assume that people know what we know is the truth.

H: Well, I think there are some mischief-makers in there.

P: People trying to renege on what they said?

H: Yes.

P: But don’t their own words nail them to the cross?

H: I think so.

P: I am convinced—I’ve been thinking about it—and I am convinced that our rescue operation was a plus. I am not concerned about people yakking around about the intelligence failing. What do you think?

H: It was absolutely a solid plus. I was at a dinner last night for Ky . . .3

P: Oh were you!

H: Yes, and from the military peoples’ point of view it was a shot in the arm that they needed. To them it was a major breakthrough of national leadership with respect to the military.

P: Trying to win.

H: Yes, doing something they felt we needed.

P: Well, it’s up to them. If they come up with another plan, we’ll go through with it. We’ve got a lot of bright people in the military. We’re not sending them to War Colleges just to learn the history of the [Napoleonic campaigns] are we?

H: No sir. Some of these men said last night that this was to them the same as the Doolittle raids on Tokyo.

P: Really?

H: Yes, sir, and I think it has the same effect on Hanoi. They are a little goosey.

P: It doesn’t bother me to have people ask if we dropped bombs. We know we didn’t, but let them be confused. I think our critics who jumped on us about this will have to draw back a little bit.

H: Yes, and I think the Cambodian thing4 has shaken our opponents who were wrong as hell. I think we’ve turned a corner on this war and how it’s conducted. People have confidence.

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P: Even though it failed. But that’s one thing. As far as success, my idea of it is a little different from others, and I hope they teach this at the military schools. My philosophy is . . . they say it failed. I say the greatest failure is not trying. If you try and don’t succeed, it’s not a failure; it’s just a lack of success in one instance. You keep trying.

H: Exactly.

P: These boys did a hell of a job.

H: Yes, and your backing them up and immediately recognizing them had a tremendous impact on the military.

P: It’s worth doing then.

H: Absolutely. These were all old military hands, personal friends of Ky.

P: You didn’t hear any crying about why wasn’t the intelligence better?

H: I never heard anything about it. They were all very enthusiastic.

P: Ky probably mentioned—he said it to me—that he wishes they had participated. We know the reason they didn’t is they would have leaked, but I think they ought to do it. I want an order put out to Abrams on their conducting a raid. I would be delighted to have our Colonel over there5 help and advise them. I would like to have one a month from now on. Go in and blow up a power plant or anything, one a month from now on, something once a month. They have killed South Vietnamese. Get that figure for me too. I have heard that in the last year they have killed ______ citizens. Get that figure on how many have been killed since the talks began.6 Let’s give the South Vietnamese the go-ahead on that. We want continued harassing and cutting them off. CIA tried that Dien Bien Phu thing that fizzled.7 Let the South Vietnamese go in there. They have got to start fighting in the [North]—today is the day it begins, where South Vietnam begins fighting the North.

H: That’s a meaningful incentive for them.

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P: I want our top brains and theirs working in the greatest secrecy to get some plans. If the South is ready to go North, let them go. Ky said there are a lot of people in the South who are Northerners and know the area very well. Let them go. Okay?

H: Yes sir.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 998, Haig Chronological Files, Haig Telcons 1970. No classification marking. All omissions and brackets except those that indicate unrelated material are in the original.
  2. Reference is to an interagency review of an understanding reached between the North Vietnamese and the United States in October 1968 that, among other things, established that unarmed U.S. reconnaissance flights over North Vietnam would not be considered “acts of force.” The review was prompted by an attack by the North Vietnamese on an unarmed reconnaissance flight on November 13. See Document 79. For a fuller explanation of the understanding, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume VII, Vietnam, September 1968–January 1969, Document 167.
  3. Haig attended a dinner with South Vietnamese military officers at the South Vietnamese Embassy. (The New York Times, November 25, 1970, p. A6)
  4. Reference is to the joint U.S.-GVN operation into Cambodia from April to June 1970.
  5. Apparently Colonel Arthur Simons, who commanded the ground element during the Son Tay raid.
  6. Kissinger sent a memorandum to Nixon on November 30 in response to this request. He noted that the Department of Defense reported that there had been 15,507 assassinations of South Vietnamese civilians and 18,447 abductions between May 1968 and September 1970. Of this amount, 10,759 assassinations and 11,818 abductions had occurred since the “expanded talks” had begun in 1969. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 150, Vietnam Country Files, Viet 1 Nov 70)
  7. The operation to attack Dien Bien Phu was approved by Nixon on July 18, 1969. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume VI, Vietnam, January 1969–July 1970, Document 98.