123. Conversation Between President Nixon and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

[Omitted here is discussion of Kissinger’s speech to the Asia Society in New York the previous evening, his upcoming meeting with Dobrynin, leaks to the press, and military planning for Vietnam.]

Kissinger: Now, I feel I must put before you this consideration, Mr. President. We must do something drastic. There’s no question about it.

Nixon: Hmm.

Kissinger: The advantage of a blockade is that it commits us irrevocably, that after that we’ve struck, and there’s no turning back. That’s a great advantage. And the other side must then do something. The disadvantage is that it confronts the Soviets most directly.

[Page 435]

Nixon: That’s the thing I said the other day.

Kissinger: They can hardly step back from that. They may, but my Soviet expert thinks that it is more likely that they’ll step back from a blockade than from a bombing, but—

Nixon: The disadvantage of bombing is, as you put it so effectively yesterday, is that they expect it—

Kissinger: But—

Nixon: —and in their thought it’s already been discounted.

Kissinger: The disadvantage of the bombing is that it will trigger every goddamn peace group in this country.

Nixon: So will a blockade.

Kissinger: And—

Nixon: Either does that, Henry. It’s the line—“major escalation”—that they’re all talking about. Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: And either the blockade or the bombing will—they’re going to trigger the peace groups, so have no doubts about that.

Kissinger: But it’s hard to turn off a blockade.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: I mean, for you to turn off—you can always stop bombing for a day or two, or a week, or—

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: —or two weeks, and therefore—

Nixon: So, and then it would be ineffective.

Kissinger: The bombing?

Nixon: We cannot have a stop—a stop and start thing again. We’ve been around it—

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: —and around it and around. I understand the problems with the blockade.

Kissinger: No, I just wanted to put it—

Nixon: Not only—not only—there’s that problem. It confronts a lot other than the Soviet Union—the Indians, and the Chinese—

Kissinger: Those are no problem. But, the Chinese are a problem, too.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: But in a way, of course, it’s always been a question of degree. A prolonged bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong—

Nixon: They have to react.

Kissinger: —will do the same thing. It will send the question—

[Page 436]

Nixon: The other thing is that the bombing has been done before. It’s the same old routine: “He’s back to bombing, bombing, bombing, bombing, stop the bombing, stop the bombing.” So, they’re going to say, “Lift the blockade, lift the blockade.” On that point, it isn’t as strong of a case for it. The blockade is not as—is not as good a target as the bombing in terms of the riots.

Kissinger: You can, well, of course, say there’s got to be bombing, too, with a blockade.

Nixon: Oh, I understand, but the people are going to look at the blockade. The blockade is going to be so overwhelming in terms of its—

Kissinger: And you—

Nixon: —public relations.

Kissinger: And you—

Nixon: I can understand. Look, Henry, the main point is that we ought to raise these points, which you’ve got to raise. There are no good choices.

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: There are no good choices. Sure, there’s a choice of a two-day pop, and then, then, then go back and then hope to Christ that they’ll then negotiate about something. And it isn’t going to happen. Hmm?

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: You have no other evaluation of the war situation, do you, that’s any more encouraging—?

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: What is it this morning? Anything new—?

Kissinger: Well, it’s quiet again—

Nixon: Well, then they’re building up again. That’s—

Kissinger: In terms of—

Nixon: —what always happens when it’s quiet—

Kissinger: That’s—oh, yeah. That’s—

Nixon: It’s ominous.

Kissinger: Well, what it is proves two things. One is, they’re weaker than we think. I mean, take Kontum. It shouldn’t have taken them two weeks to go from Dak To to Kontum. If they had really a lot of stuff they would have just rolled into it. But they’re sort of inching up to it again and taking a lot of casualties. On the other hand, they’re doing it methodically, and they’ll certainly attack again. And it’s a, a tragedy. Of course, they wouldn’t do it. If we had one American division to go into the panhandles, they’d be finished. That’s—the problem is we can’t do it—

[Page 437]

Nixon: Hell, if we had an American regiment to land, for Christ’s sakes, and then it would finish this damn thing. It’d frighten them to death.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: You know? They, they—they’d call off two divisions off the attack, and the South Vietnamese then might inch forward, even.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Oh, I know. I know. I know.

Kissinger: But—

Nixon: I know—I’ve got that, about that the—Henry, the, the, the arguments. I mean, you can—we’ve been around this track about 18 times. But I must say it’s very compelling to me when you say that if we go the bombing route, we’re going the same way. It’s expected, and, frankly, there’s—it’s almost a certainty it isn’t going to work. The blockade may not work either.

Kissinger: Well, the blockade has got to work.

Nixon: It’ll work in the end—

Kissinger: It may not work fast enough. I mean, there’s no way the blockade cannot work. It’s already—even that one bombing of Haiphong, incidentally, they’ve got such a congestion in the port now, that there’s one Polish freighter that has to wait a month in Hainan to be able to get into the port. I, in fact, have to say, Mr. President—you keep talking about your instinct—I think your instinct was right. We should have hit soon after that first strike began. And, on the other hand, we have positioned what we have to do now.

Nixon: [laughs] We sure have.

[Omitted here is discussion of what Kissinger should say to the press.]

Kissinger: No, I’m strongly for the bombing, too.

Nixon: Yeah? No, no, no. Do you know what I mean? Do you favor the bombing, followed by a blockade, which is the other line? That’s it.

Kissinger: Another advantage of the blockade is that you can go to the American people, while you can’t go to the American people—

Nixon: About bombing.

Kissinger: —about bombing—

Nixon: I’ve already—I’ve already presented that to the American people on April 26th.2

Kissinger: And you can rally the American people for a blockade, while you cannot rally them—

[Page 438]

Nixon: That’s right. That’s right.

Kissinger: And that’s not an inconsiderable—

Nixon: It’s a helluva considerable thing.

Kissinger: —factor.

Nixon: The bomb—the blockade has the advantage that it’s—first, it’s a total commitment; it’s decisive. I mean, in the end, let’s face it—in the end, we’ve got to figure, Henry, that probably that we may lose the election, and so forth, and so on, but in the end, with a blockade we’ll win the war.

Kissinger: Yep.

Nixon: And, by golly that’s—

Kissinger: Well, if you win the war you won’t lose the election—

Nixon: Yeah. If you win it soon enough and, you see, that’s the problem. The blockade, we know damn well that in 8 months we’ll have them at their knees.

Kissinger: Oh, I think that with bombing we’ll have them quicker—with bombing, before they can get alternative routes organized.

Nixon: So, my view is that the blockade rallies the people; it puts it to the Russians. I mean, the only advantage, as I told you earlier, as I said to you earlier, about the—which is the line that Connally came up with—is to start bombing again, and then, if the Russians still do not break off the summit, we’ll have it. You see, the bombing–blockade thing has this possible advantage, which I ran by you yesterday: you bomb, and after bombing, the Russians bitch, but they do not break off the summit. Then we continue to bomb them. Then, I suppose, we can go to the summit.

Kissinger: Well, if you bomb enough, they’ll break off the summit. There’s no question about it.

Nixon: Well then, that perhaps is the convincing reason, because we can’t bomb unless we bomb enough. We can’t bomb and then have—but you can’t bomb them and then have them kicking us around while we’re in Moscow. You see? That’s the point that you made which is tremendously compelling. I cannot be in Moscow at a time when the North Vietnamese are rampaging through the streets of Hue or, for that matter, through the streets of Kontum.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: So—[pause]. Well, let’s go by it again and give the case its best hearing that we can. If we bomb [unclear]. He’ll be gone [unclear] rather than Monday.3 With the bombing, we’d have to do it on Sunday. [unclear] we could Saturday night.

[Page 439]

Kissinger: Sunday—

Nixon: Or on Sunday. [unclear]—

Kissinger: That makes an overwhelming difference—

Nixon: Well, the main thing is to get it done, to get it going—

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: —so that it’s going to affect the battle and so forth. Hit ’em.

Kissinger: We’ve heard from Abrams, incidentally. I’ve had a—I wrote a cable—I wrote Bunker. I sent a cable to Bunker, saying that I thought that you were—we were beginning to lose patience with Abrams, that every time we want to do something we just want to make sure there are no confusing signals being given to Abrams, and therefore I want him to know that any authentic words from the President comes from me to Bunker to Abrams.4 There are no other authentic words. If anyone tells him that there are—that you want something, it is not true unless it comes from me to Bunker. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t carry out military orders. It’s that when they psychoanalyze you.

Nixon: Yeah?

Kissinger: Now, it turns out that he did get crossed signals. So Laird, that bastard, has been talking to him.

Nixon: Crossed signals of what? About bombing?

Kissinger: No, that you probably—I would not—I believe, and Moorer believes, that Moorer told Abrams that you would welcome a request from Abrams—that Laird told Abrams that you would welcome a request from Abrams that gave you an excuse not to bomb Hanoi and Haiphong.

Nixon: You think he did that?

Kissinger: Yeah. Moorer thinks it. Rush thinks it. And Bunker two-thirds confirms it.

Nixon: See, Laird is so tricky that he’s capable of that.

Kissinger: Oh, yes. Someone who’s clearly capable of that.

Nixon: But why does Laird want to say that? Because if Laird—why doesn’t Laird want to bomb Haiphong—?

Kissinger: I think Laird—why? Because Laird has got political ambitions, and he’s positioning himself on the peace side of this.

Nixon: He’s got about as much chance for a political future—

Kissinger: But that he doesn’t believe.

Nixon: —of being murdered.

[Page 440]

Kissinger: He doesn’t believe it. Now, I don’t want to drive you off what you’ve decided because I think we ought to keep on this course now. I just want you—

Nixon: To consider it—?

Kissinger: —to consider—we should go on this as if we were going all-out on it, and I’m saying this to you—I’m not saying it to Haig, or to Moorer, or to Connally, or to anyone else. I mean, we still have a few pieces that have got to come in. We still have to get the Russians’ reply.

Nixon: That’s right—

Kissinger: So, if it doesn’t come by the end of the day, it’s too late. But I—I’m sure it will come today.

Nixon: Yes?

Kissinger: See, another problem you face is you bomb Hanoi and Haiphong, and then the Russians do to you what they did to me, say: “Come, and we’ll talk about it.” And then you’ve got to stop again. Of course, you could say: “Fine, but I won’t stop now until—”

Nixon: You couldn’t—well, putting that case at its best, we bomb Hanoi and Haiphong and then the Russians say: “Look—look, you come, and we’ll have sort of a pause while we have the summit,” as we did at the Chinese summit. And, you remember, I said that it is a possibility. That’s one thing that could happen.

Kissinger: Of course, we shouldn’t look back to the Chinese summit. I suppose we weren’t bombing the North then, Mr. President—

Nixon: I know. Let’s suppose—let’s look at this and leave that out of it—

Kissinger: Every single raid to the North—

Nixon: Still, the Russians still might say, “We’ll—during this period of time, we’ll cool it,” and that’d be the condition of our going. Then we go, and when we come back, we start bombing again. [pause] The problem is, is that [will] bombing Hanoi and Haiphong do the trick, Henry?

Kissinger: Well, Hanoi isn’t so important except for these rail lines.

Nixon: I know that. But Haiphong, or the bombing of Hanoi—will it do the trick?

Kissinger: The great—the conclusive argument to me in favor of the blockade is that you cross the Rubicon. That—

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: —what they are trying to do to you, is that it’s obvious. They’re trying to kill you now. And I’m not sure—I said this to this group last night, I—they said, “What are the Russian intentions?” I said, “Look, there’s nothing that the Russians would rather do than to [Page 441] get rid of the President. He’s the only thing that stands between them and dominating the world.” I said, “Now”—

Nixon: You know, that’s quite true.

Kissinger: That is true. But, I was amazed by that group, because now—

Nixon: You said it well. That’s why they were [unclear] what was said, probably, rather than disagree—

Kissinger: So—so, I believe the only thing now—I don’t believe they started out trying to overthrow the President, but if he gets too vulnerable at home, then you people are—or, whoever starts nagging at him—is responsible. But what I think the—

Nixon: Those people are sensible enough, for Christ sakes, to think, to know that Humphrey or McGovern or Teddy would be patsies for the Russians, aren’t they?

Kissinger: Oh yeah.

Nixon: Aren’t they?

Kissinger: Oh yeah.

Nixon: Okay.

Kissinger: It was, I—I must tell you, I had a—these last two evenings have been amazing in this respect, because usually I get nagged at—

Nixon: Oh, Connally’s point, of course, he’s from Texas, but Connally talks to other people apart from polls and everything, he thinks that we’ve got—he said—he says, “You can count on the support of the country now, because now is the time to do something—”

Kissinger: You see, I don’t—I never, actually, you know, they—one question was, “How do you defend escalation?” I said, “I’m not going to defend escalation.” I said, “I’m—”

Nixon: Who escalated this?

Kissinger: I said, “That’s not the issue. There are only two issues. One is, does the United States put a Communist government into power and ally itself with its enemies to defeat its friends? The second issue is do we—can any President permit 60,000 Americans to be made hostages, and will the shame and indignity not wreck our whole domestic structure?” Those are the only two issues—

Nixon: And also, I think the issue [is] that, how can the United States stand by after offering peace in every quarter and do nothing in response to an enormous enemy escalation? We’re only responding to an enemy escalation. That’s the real point I mean.

Kissinger: See, I think what the Russ—what the North Vietnamese are saying to themselves is “all right.” They know we’re going to bomb. I mean they know—

[Page 442]

Nixon: There’s the problem—

Kissinger: And they say to themselves, “All right, we’re going to take this.” And—

Nixon: I think they’re prepared to take the bombing, Henry

Kissinger: Yeah—

Nixon: —and they’ve had it before. You see, I—look, Henry, there’s nobody that’s more aware, because I, like you, [unclear] one of the reasons [unclear] is that we both take the long view, which goddamn few Americans do. That’s why I said when we put out a little game plan if we wanted [unclear] canceling the summit first and then doing that, which I think we’re absolutely right in not doing.

Kissinger: No, that is certainly not—

Nixon: That was good advice on the part of Connally because—

Kissinger: That is certain—

Nixon: —he had seen something that I had not seen. And I led you into that. I led you into that—

Kissinger: No—

Nixon: Yes, I did. Because I—I remembered what Eisenhower did, but I had really forgotten that, well, it didn’t hurt Eisenhower when the Russians canceled the summit. It didn’t hurt him. Goddammit, the American people don’t like to be kicked around. It didn’t hurt Eisenhower when the goddamn Japanese canceled his trip. Remember?

Kissinger: Absolutely.

Nixon: All right, now, it didn’t hurt me as Vice President. I’ll never forget when I got stoned in Caracas. It helped me.

Kissinger: It helped you.

Nixon: People thought it was great.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Now, it depends on how you react to it. Here’s the problem. Looking at the long view, bombing might turn it around. It runs a better chance of keeping the summit alive. The Russians can live with bombing, where they might not be able to live with a blockade. All right, that’s the advantage of that. But, we constantly come back to the, basically, Henry, to the fundamental problem. And Connally, with his, you know, with his animal-like decisiveness, and which I also have, except I have through—

Kissinger: You’re much more subtle—

Nixon: —through many years, I’ve put much more layers of subtlety on it. But anyhow, but Connally comes quickly to the point. He says, “Look, the summit is great; I hope you don’t knock it off. I think you could do both, and I hope you can do both. I think you will do both.” “But,” he says, “even if you don’t, if you’re going to put first [Page 443] things first, you’ve got to remember: you can do without the summit, but you cannot live with defeat in Vietnam. You must win the war in Vietnam. Or, putting it another way, you must not lose in Vietnam.” That’s crystal clear. So, everything’s got to be measured against what wins or loses in Vietnam, and here is the weakness of bombing. Bombing might turn the war in Vietnam around. The blockade certainly will turn it around. Now, here, the blockade plus the bombing—you understand? What I’m really saying here is that I think that’s what convinced me—

Kissinger: And the blockade—

Nixon: —like I say: win the war.

Kissinger: The blockade gets you across the Rubicon. There’s no way it can’t be ended without the blockade—

Nixon: Well, everybody knows then, that I’ve thrown down the goddamn gauntlet, and there it is. And they want to pick it up? And, you see, that I’m going to live with the blockade as I’ve said. Well, it’s an ultimatum.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Bombing is not an ultimatum.

Kissinger: Bombing, they cannot do it. This is the argument for the blockade, now: it heightens the chance of a confrontation with the Russians.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: It will start the Chinese screaming.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: And you’ll be accused of having blown up everything of your foreign policy—

Nixon: I know—

Kissinger: —which is, on the other hand, a disadvantage—

Nixon: Now that brings sadness to me. It brings sadness to me. We’ve had a damned good foreign policy.

Kissinger: You haven’t been wrong, Mr. President—

Nixon: Even if it all goes down the tubes, we’ll just—we will be remembered, as Clare Booth Luce says, as the ones who went to China. And in the future, that’ll work out.

Kissinger: Mr. President, you—it would—actually, if you get reelected, it will make your foreign policy. It’s the same as the Laos operation.5 Everyone said that you’ve now, well, broken it with the Chinese, and three months later we were there. And a year later, you were there. So, I think it won’t—

[Page 444]

Nixon: Henry, if you come back to the fundamental point, I mean, as I took you up to that map yesterday and I showed you that little place, and we looked at it, and we think of this whole great, big, wide world, everything rides on it. If there were a way, believe me, if there were a way we could flush Vietnam now, flush it, get out of it in any way possible, and conduct a sensible foreign policy with the Russians and with the Chinese—

Kissinger: We’d do it.

Nixon: —we ought to do it. We ought to do it, because—because there’s so much at stake. There’s nobody else in this country at the present time, with the exception of Connally, in the next four years, that can handle the Russians and the Chinese and the big game in Europe and the big game in Southeast Asia. You know it, and I know it. And the big game with the Japanese five years from now. Who could help? Who else could do it? All right, so that’s at stake. I mean that’s why I—the only reason that I had doubts earlier in the week was that I had to face up to the fact because I saw the inevitability of McGovern, or Humphrey, or if they’d have him, the only other possibility is Teddy, who might be the worst of the three.

Kissinger: Certainly the worst—

Nixon: But any—in any event—

Kissinger: Well, McGovern is—

Nixon: —because I saw that—well, McGovern would be the worst for sure if he gets in, but Teddy would be so stop-and-start that he might get us into even worse trouble. Anyway, if you’re going to go for peace, you might as well surrender right off the bat, rather than the cost of it all in slaughter. So, my point is, Henry, that I had to put that into the, into the equation. And therefore, I had to go down the line of saying how in the hell can we save—how the hell can we save the, you know, the Presidency, and that meant, frankly, the present occupant. And that meant saving the summit. All right, I have considered it all, and I don’t think there’s any way you can do it. I don’t think there’s any way you can do it, and at the same time temporize in Vietnam. I have reached the conclusion that we’re in a situation where Vietnam is here and, and I assured Rogers and Laird, [unclear] let’s make another offer, and have we agreed to offer this. I don’t know whether we have. You know, and they’re whining and bitching about it. But, Henry, you know and I know it that it’s not true.

Kissinger: No. Mr. President, you and I know, perhaps as the only ones, if they had given us a face-saving way out—

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: —I was prepared to take it.

Nixon: Well, I told you before you left—

[Page 445]

Kissinger: You told me—because you told me that. They want us out in a humiliating way. They want us to put a Communist government into power. Goddamnit, let’s face it, if they had accepted our May 31st proposal last year, they would have taken over Vietnam within a year or two.

Nixon: [laughs] I’ll say. Thank God that I know. I still wish they had, but nevertheless.

Kissinger: Of course. But it isn’t that we’ve been intransigent in our offers. Not at all.

Nixon: You see, if we could survive past the election, Henry, [unclear] and then Vietnam goes down the tubes, it really doesn’t make any difference.

Kissinger: I agree with you. That’s been the whole—

Nixon: But we have no way to survive past the election.

Kissinger: Well, I think—

Nixon: You see what I mean—before we can go, given their—there’s the other, other argument for bombing. Maybe we could bomb, not blockade, and still have the summit—

Kissinger: No, I think they’ll—

Nixon: —we might survive past the election.

Kissinger: Mr. President, I think they’re going to kill you. They’re going to put you into the Johnson position. This is the other argument for the blockade.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: They’re going to have you as the bomber. The guy—when I looked at that DRV statement, they wanted you to break off the peace talks, Mr. President—

Nixon: That’s right. That’s right.

Kissinger: So you’re the guy who doesn’t talk.

Nixon: Well, I hope they know, but got across that they helped to break them off—did Porter make that [unclear]—?

Kissinger: Oh, yes, it got across. But all of this is minor because the—these peace groups are going to keep backing—

Nixon: Yeah. The headlines are that we broke off the talks.

Kissinger: So that six months from now—three months from now—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —it’s forgotten that there was an invasion, and therefore—

Nixon: Well, Henry, let me put it this way: I know that you’ve been thinking about this during the night as I have, but I’ve never—I come back to the fundamental point, leaving the President out and so forth. [Page 446] And who knows? Something could happen. Maybe the Democrats could get smart and draft Connally, so I could be defeated.

Kissinger: That’s impossible; inconceivable.

Nixon: Well, if they did, it would save the country.

Kissinger: But, Mr. President, they’re more likely to draft you—

Nixon: [unclear]—

Kissinger: They will not draft Connally

Nixon: But anyway, my point is, we have to face this fact: leaving me out, leaving McGovern out, all I care is that the United States of America at this point cannot have a viable foreign policy if we are humiliated in Vietnam. We must not lose in Vietnam. It’s as cold as that. Right?

Kissinger: I agree.

Nixon: And they have not given us any way to avoid being humiliated. And since they have not, we must draw the sword, so the blockade is on. And I must say, that I—I’m—and incidentally, but I want one thing understood, you said bombing that’s where Moorer is right. We’re—the surgical operation theory is all right, but I want that place, whenever the planes are available, bombed to smithereens during the blockade. If we draw the sword out, we’re going to bomb those bastards all over the place.

Kissinger: No question.

Nixon: And let it fly. Let it fly. [unclear]—

Kissinger: The only point I disagree is we can do all of this without killing too many civilians. I said, no way—

Nixon: I don’t want to kill civilians. You know that I—and don’t try to kill any, but goddamnit, don’t be so careful that you don’t knock out the oil for their tanks.

Kissinger: Oh, God, no.

Nixon: See my point?

Kissinger: God, no. Those have to go. And—

Nixon: You can—incidentally, would you please still study the dike situation?

Kissinger: Yes, sir.

Nixon: I need an answer on that. I don’t think it’s 200,000.6

Kissinger: Well, let’s—

[Page 447]

Nixon: I don’t—I don’t think that what really is involved in the dikes. I think I know that country, because I’ve been up to Hanoi. Have you ever been to Hanoi?

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: I have, in ’52.7 What is involved there is that it’s these low kind of things, you know, the purpose is really for the rice lands and the rest. The people could get the hell out of there. It isn’t—it isn’t a huge dam. The torrents of water will go down and starve the bastards. But it’ll do it. Now if that’s the case, I’ll take ’em out.

Kissinger: Yes.

Nixon: You see my point?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: I want that studied.

Kissinger: Well, we’ll, um—we’ll have an exciting week next week. That’s for sure.

Nixon: You see, we’ve got to come back. And I’m—I think you’re ought—you’re absolutely right to raise questions with me, and I know why you’re raising them, because I—

Kissinger: I’m raising them with you—

Nixon: It’s like when you raised them for the same reasons you raised questions before Cambodia.

Kissinger: That’s right. I’m with you on that—

Nixon: You did the same just before Laos because you know that I have to consider these things, and you know how much is at stake. And I think—I appreciate your raising them, but we come back to the fundamental point, and I ask this question before you go: isn’t there a serious doubt that bombing without a blockade may not accomplish our goal of preventing a loss in Vietnam? And second, is it not also true that a blockade, plus surgical bombing, will inevitably have the effect of bringing North Vietnam to its knees?

Kissinger: Unless the South Vietnamese collapse within that period.

Nixon: So the South Vietnamese collapse, but they still have to give us our prisoners. We’ve got something. America is not defeated.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: That’s my point.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: America is not defeated.

[Page 448]

Kissinger: That is right.

Nixon: We get our prisoners, and—there’s one other thing we have to think about if the South Vietnamese collapse—incidentally, I don’t know whether that collapse theory is going to hold out anyway. I’m not as—I just hope I’m not too Pollyannaish, but I think that those lines are tougher than—all the time there. Well—

Kissinger: They’re gonna lose Kontum. But to me what is so fascinating is that two weeks ago they were routed up there. They still haven’t moved against Kontum. Now, for all I know, they may take it next week. But if they take three weeks to build up from provincial capital to provincial capital, we’re going to kill them.

Nixon: Did you notice they set up a—a government in Quang Tri? That was inevitable. Remember, you always said that that’s what they would to do.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: What the hell is Quang Tri? So they have a government in Quang Tri—

Kissinger: Well the northernmost province of South Vietnam, so if—

Nixon: Well—

Kissinger: If they continue to take these losses, then every succeeding push in Military Region 3, either because they’re regrouping—

Nixon: Um-hmm. Um-hmm.

Kissinger: —or because they’ve run out of steam—

Nixon: Yeah. When you talk to the—yep—

Kissinger: That—

Nixon: But—but answer my question. Is it not true, is it not true, can you—is it not true that, insofar as our goal of preventing a loss in Vietnam—?

Kissinger: A blockade is better.

Nixon: It’s not only better, but it’s the only way that is relatively sure?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: What the hell else have you got?

Kissinger: That’s right. That’s right. I think it is right. I think that the other big advantage—

Nixon: If you would go in today and offer Thieu’s head on a platter, and—

Kissinger: They will not let us out, Mr. President, in a way that saves our dignity.

[Omitted here is discussion of the President’s schedule.]

[Page 449]

Nixon: Also, with the blockade, with the blockade plus the surgical bombing, I think you would agree, too, if psychology has anything to do with South Vietnam’s will to resist, and I don’t know whether it affects them at all, my God, it’ll be dramatic as hell, will it not?

Kissinger: Oh, it will affect them enormously.

Nixon: Because they’ll know that we’re in, and the die is cast.

Kissinger: Incidentally—

Nixon: And, also, John Connally makes the point: won’t it have some effect on the North Vietnamese?

Kissinger: Oh, yes. And if we drop leaflets and make it clear what happened. Mr. President, one other point—

Nixon: Oh, shouldn’t Al—he should be brought in, yes.

Kissinger: Yes. I don’t think we can send Haig over there. We need him here while this is going on. I think Haldeman agrees with this, too. The trouble is—while these things go on—

Nixon: Yeah?

Kissinger: First of all, you may want to send me off. I mean, supposing—

Nixon: Yeah? Can I send anybody over there? That’s the point. I need to send somebody over there as a cop to watch that son-of-a-bitch Abrams. I mean, Connally’s right. We should be firing him.

Kissinger: Well, I—I would consider sending [Lieutenant General William] DePuy who is a tough, mean, son-of-a-bitch—

Nixon: Where is DePuy?

Kissinger: He’s in the Pentagon now. He’s got the reputation of being a nutcutter. You get him in here and tell him what you want. And Haig and I’ll tell him—

Nixon: Well, could he do that—?

Kissinger: Sure, and he’s first—

Nixon: All right. I’ll do it. I want you to deal with it—

Kissinger: He was 1st Division commander—

Nixon: Look, I know DePuy from years back.

Kissinger: He’s—

Nixon: He’s a tough, little son-of-a-bitch—

Kissinger: And he would—

Nixon: —but I don’t want him to go over there and suck eggs.

Kissinger: Well, he was 1st Division commander—his trouble, he’s going to be—he’s going to be tactless. But let Bunker smooth that out.

Nixon: That’s right. But he’s got to go over there, and we—I mean, and he’s going to be a direct line of communication to us and report to us as to what the situation is. Send him over on a mission for two weeks.

[Page 450]

Kissinger: No, I think he could—ought to replace Abrams.

Nixon: Oh, good. Well, good Christ, if we can get Abrams replaced. Goddamn, I don’t know. Or is that—has he—hasn’t he got too many friends? Why don’t you call Laird in and say that we’re thinking of replacing Abrams. Do you want [to] bite that bullet for me?

Kissinger: Oh, certainly. Another thing, Mr. President, is—

Nixon: I’d much rather replace Abrams

Kissinger: —we ought to get Laird in on this. I know he’s a son-of-a-bitch. I know he’ll try to screw us, but that’s nothing compared to what he’s going to do to us—

Nixon: [unclear]—

Kissinger: —if this thing was cranked up without him.

Nixon: All right, when are you going to do it? Today—?

Kissinger: Tomorrow morning.

Nixon: Tomorrow morning. You’re authorized.8

[Omitted here is discussion of domestic politics and Vietnam.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation 720–4. No classification marking. The editors transcribed the portions of the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume. The transcript is part of a larger conversation, 8:55–10:09 a.m. Portions are printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 196.
  2. See Document 99.
  3. May 6.
  4. Document 122.
  5. Kissinger was referring to Operation Lam Son 719 in February–March 1971.
  6. In an Executive Office conversation on April 25, Kissinger averred that if the United States destroyed the dikes in the Red River Delta as many as 200,000 might be drowned. (Kimball, The Vietnam War Files, p. 217)
  7. Vice President Nixon visited Vietnam in late October–early November 1953. ( RN, pp. 123–126)
  8. Kissinger so informed Laird at a working breakfast at the Pentagon the next morning. See Document 126.