13. National Security Council Meeting1
Nixon: We have this meeting for purposes of one subject, which we have discussed individually with several of you here, but never in an official group. I’ve talked with Bill, Mel, John, and others numbers of times. I have also [unclear] I thought it would be well to pull all together at this time to see where we stand and what we can do in terms of responding to the enemy’s actions over the next three months, three months or four, at least through the dry season. The intelligence community has a, I was going to say, not a divergence, but there’s a shading of views on this, as there always is, as to what to expect. But they all agree that the enemy wants [unclear] in this period, so I think we would start with the intelligence analysis of how we’re going to [unclear],2 then we’ll go to Admiral Moorer for his briefing on ARVN capabilities, our capabilities, enemy capabilities, what we see from the standpoint of the services. And then we’ll go to what we want to do.
[Omitted here are Helms’s briefing and subsequent discussion, and the initial portion of Moorer’s briefing on the situation in Laos and Cambodia.]
Nixon: Could I ask one question there? Perhaps Ambassador Bunker could comment upon it. I indicated a couple months ago that Thieu might consider the possibility, rather than just, you know, just a nitpicking kind of operation, of some major action in the Cambodian [Page 45] area in order to divert the enemy’s attention. When you see the fact that the South Vietnamese ground forces are, in terms of numbers, three times as strong as the North Vietnamese, and you see the fact that the South Vietnamese have air support and a navy, and the North Vietnamese have neither, it would seem that they might consider the possibility of blunting the enemy’s offensive by some action on their own. Is that—as I understand, the South Vietnamese have rejected that idea due to the fact that they want to be in place for the expected enemy attacks. Is that—
Nixon: Do you think that’s the case—?
Bunker: Yes, I think that’s true, but they were, as you know, in Cambodia.
Nixon: What I was referring to, of course, now, here we sit and we see three divisions there, we see this, that, and the other thing. Everybody’s worried, well, what are the North Vietnamese going to do? Well, here are the North Vietnamese have ⅓ of the forces, with a long supply trail, with no air force, no navy; and here’s the South Vietnamese. I’m just trying to put it in terms of—is that accurate at the moment?
Agnew: To follow on that, because the same thing was going through my mind, except that between modifications, is it feasible or possible to consider an initiative on the part of the South Vietnamese, possibly on a reserve unit of the North Vietnamese in North Vietnam, instead of in Cambodia? Mainly looking at the propaganda effect of a South Vietnamese initiative in response to all this, where they actually go into North Vietnam, where there’s a large concentration of reserve troops or matériel, and maybe another parachute operation will stop them. Just knock the hell out of them eventually. Give the papers something to write about.
Nixon: Have they considered those kind of actions, commando raids, anything of that kind—?
Bunker: Well, yes, they’ve considered that. I think that’s one thing that Thieu thought that they might be able to do is small raids. But not anything on a large scale like Lam Son, for example, last year. They won’t take—their view is, I think, and I think we agree with them, is that the defense against this sort of thing is better on their territory than it is trying to move into, into Laos, which is very difficult territory to fight in.
Laird: Well, their military people, though—isn’t it true, fair to say, Ellsworth—are more apt to be willing to do some of these things presently. Now, the President [Thieu], when I discussed this matter [Page 46] with him, this was very firm and as frankly as I could.3 You remember—
Bunker: Yes, yeah.
Laird: —on this operation, and also on raids to the North, and went into these things in some detail with him. He is a little reluctant. He was reluctant in Lam Son. He didn’t personally put the, the hold on Lam Son when [unclear] up there would have done a—would have gone a little further, and Tom might be well to comment on that, because he really feels that his primary responsibility is not to Cambodia. He’ll help Cambodia if he thinks it helps him.
Bunker: Well, I think that’s true, and I think he’s not willing to risk the destruction of his own forces. That’s the main thing, and this is the—this is why he didn’t go further in Lam Son.
Nixon: Given Napoleon’s biography—
Nixon: —during Napoleon’s earlier years, the way which to avoid the destruction of your own forces is not to sit in place and get your ass beat off. The way to avoid it is to go in with inferior forces and knock hell out of the opposition. We’ve seen that. In fact, I just, without getting into the strategy, but I—it seems to me that the long range of communications, no air force, no navy, and here they all say sit there and say: “Gee whiz, we’re going to have an offensive.” Well, I wonder. I can understand that, but I understand that you can’t do anything that he will not approve. I mean, he’s been, he’s been fine, and he stands up brilliantly in this political thing and the rest. And I’m not suggesting that our people are [unclear]. We aren’t engaged in his activities on the ground, but—and I know Mel didn’t raise this because we discussed it before.
Laird: You told me to and I had that.
Nixon: The thing that I’m concerned about is that—well, it’s probably too late. They’re just not going to do it. Isn’t that right? They’re going to wait and take the blow, is that correct?
Moorer: In this particular [unclear]—
Nixon: As regards the enemy, the enemy’s going to take the play and they’ll just play the defense.
[Omitted here is a continuation of Moorer’s briefing that deals with the North Vietnamese order of battle and infiltration to the South, their [Page 47] logistics network, and their anti-aircraft system, and with the South Vietnamese order of battle and their intelligence on the North Vietnamese for the offensive.]
Moorer: At the same time, we have moved out on several precautionary actions. The first three I’m going to talk to separately. Additional air authorities have been granted. We have developed plans for a certain amount of air capabilities. We have carefully reviewed our helicopter assets. We have planned for increased CV and naval gun fire support, we have allocated all the CV using munitions that we have. These are the small anti-personnel type weapons, Mr. President, that have been very effective recently.4 We’ve sent over—we’ve made certain that all we have in inventory is available for this operation. We have developed a plan for strikes against the LOCs in North Vietnam. I mentioned the airlift augmentation. And General Abrams has talked about the security of our forces. He has formed 28 teams. He sent them to examine the defense plans and the alertness of every U.S. unit in South Vietnam. He reports to me that the oral reporting received so far is good, that they are—that all our people are aware of the threat and they are not going to be surprised. And in addition to that, we’ve developed plans to increase P–3 offshore patrols in the event that the sea infiltration is kept up during this crisis.
Now, I’d like to talk about these first three: the air authorities, the plan to develop the surge of air elements, and the availability of the [unclear]. First, the air authorities, I’ve listed here with the red dots. This is what General Abrams requested. Next to it, the black square shows the authority he’s been granted so far.5 Now, the first thing he asked for air support for the Vietnam forces that might be in pursuit across—to conduct cross-border operations. This has been given to him. Across the Lao and Cambodian borders he can’t use U.S. air assets to support the South Vietnamese if they conduct operations across the border. Secondly, he asked for authority to release the sensors North of the DMZL. Heretofore, we had only been supplying the operating sensors south of the DMZL. This will give us a readout on the activity along the northern part of the DMZ, both lateral and vertical activity, and will, I think, provide more warning and permit a better counteraction can be taken.
Next, he asked for authority to strike the GCI radars in North Vietnam that are directing the fighters, the MIG fighters. He was given the authority to fire the anti-radar missiles, mainly the Shrike and the [Page 48] Standard ARM, against these GCI sites when they locked on or when there was MIG activity and the GCI site was operating. In addition to that, so far, he was not given authority to attack these radars whenever one was located, but rather we have directed CINCPAC to prepare contingency plans for this purpose. So, if it’s directed from here, he can in fact do that.
Nixon: How many? What are we talking about there in terms of numbers of strikes?
Moorer: No, there were five radars, sir. Of course, we were given five of these large [unclear] type radars. I have them on this other chart—
Nixon: It’s all right. I don’t need it. I’ll explain to you something: what I’m trying to get at is the magnitude of the authority he’s requested. He wants authority to go in and hit the five radar sites, and—?
Moorer: Yes, sir.
Nixon: —we have said only, basically, hit them only if it is really protective reactions? That’s in effect what he asks?
Moorer: No, that isn’t what we said there. That’s a little different, Mr. President. You have noticed that whenever they’re using—directing MIGs up in that particular area, he wouldn’t hit them.
Nixon: Look, I understand. But that—but the—
Moorer: They’re already in there.
Nixon: Yeah. The authority he wants is to what, to hit—?
Moorer: Once he locates one, he wants to go get it, when the weather permits, regardless of MIG activity. In other words, he does not want to wait for protective reaction situations.
Nixon: How many would it be? What does it require? How many strikes and where to do that?
Moorer: Well, he wants, he asked for authority for those south of 20 degrees—
Moorer: Five, sir. There are five sites, I believe.
Nixon: Okay, I got it.
Laird: Well, we asked him to develop a plan, Mr. President, how many strikes it would take to do it and we haven’t got that plan back yet.
Nixon: Yes, well [unclear].
Kissinger: And also, as I understand it, there are three different states that one could talk about that one. One is that if the radar locks on the airplane that then they can fire a strike against that radar, which—
Nixon: Sure—[Page 49]
Kissinger: The second is that while the radar is locked they can also use other explosives that are not focused on the radar, that do not depend on being—on homing in on the radar. Third, is what he’s asked for, namely to attack it outside the engagement, but even while the engagement’s going on, he does not now have authority to use anything other than homing beacons.
Moorer: That’s right.
Kissinger: Isn’t that correct?
Kissinger: So, then he would—
Nixon: But he would like authority, he has asked for authority, to strike regardless, regardless of engagement.
Moorer: When he finds it. [unclear] You have to understand, Mr. President, that one strike might not necessarily, although he may demolish [unclear] they would bring it—they would put it back in action a week later, so what he was really asking for was the authority to—
Nixon: To keep it up?
Moorer: —any time he found one, to go knock it out—
Nixon: Yeah. Okay. I was just wondering.
Moorer: Now, the same thing he—was requested with respect to the SAM sites. As you know, he already had authority to fire the anti-radar missiles against the SAM sites, and we have been doing this with increasing regularity as the SAM activity increases. He would advise that once the ground offensive starts, that this authority would be considered on a case-by-case basis. And we would go ahead and prepare contingency plans for the one-time strikes against SAM sites. I should point out that we have authority today to strike those four sites in Laos, and we have struck the four sites, parts of them. What they do is they—these are mobile, and they move them around all the time. And consequently, you may know where one is today, and it may not be there tomorrow.
Nixon: Do I understand, that what we have, in effect, said to them that after the enemy launches its massive attack, that he then, on a case-by-case basis, has got to get authority to take out [unclear]?
Moorer: Yes, sir, that’s what we’re talking about.
Laird: Well, what we’ve asked him—
Nixon: Change that.
Laird: —we’ve asked him, Mr. President, to come in with a plan to do it now. And that plan is to be submitted. [unclear]—
Nixon: Well, I just—I’m just trying—I know that there’s been some disagreement as to what should be done and so forth.
Laird: I don’t think there’s any disagreement.[Page 50]
Nixon: Well, [unclear] what I meant is that I just want to be sure that there’s a clear understanding here as to the two different phases: what do we do now, what do we do when it starts. Now, without, of course, giving commanders in the field the right to start a nuclear war, once their major offensive has begun the situation totally changes, in my opinion. We’re not going to go through this crap of saying, well, we have to approve every goddamned thing. It’s not going to be done that way and I want to—
Laird: I don’t think there’s any question.
Nixon: No, there is. That’s exactly what we’ve been talking about in both places. If they start an offensive, we’re not going to go through this nonsense of saying that we’ll wait until a SAM shoots and then we’ll knock it out. That’s what the real argument’s about?
Moorer: Yes, sir.
Moorer: Well, we will have plans to strike these sites and these radars subject to the authority.
Moorer: Also, he requested permission to strike those airfields that I showed you, that—
Nixon: Now, here the argument is also, though, the question—what has been granted here? The authority, that’s to be done on a case-by-case basis, right?
Moorer: We have told him to increase his airfield reconnaissance and to make certain these reconnaissance aircraft are heavily supported with bombing aircraft, and if these aircraft are fired upon, which they always are, he was to then attack the airfield, and so we have been doing a series of operations of this type, sir.
Nixon: You’ve got all the intelligence ready, you know how to hit ’em, and so forth and so on?
Moorer: Yes, sir. Now, we have not attacked the Haiphong airfield, which is the one right up on the edge of the 20-degree parallel, but we’ve attacked Dong Hoi, Binh, and Quan Lang. [unclear] And, incidentally, they’re very effective. Usually what happens is they have one reconnaissance plane, two fighters protecting against MIGs, and eight attack planes. And when the reconnaissance plane goes over the airfield, and as machine AA fires, they target their weapons on the—openly on the AA or on the support facilities at the airfield. But here again, Mr. President, I’d emphasize that this has be done continually in order to make certain that the airfield is not restored to operation.
Nixon: Go ahead.
Moorer: Well, he’s also been told that, again, that once the battle is joined, so to speak, that any aircraft south of 18, as Secretary Laird [Page 51] just said, is hostile and they can be attacked at any time in A–1. I should add to this that we have stationed two tail cruisers, with an awful big pulse radar in the vicinity of Binh, and they also have authority to fire at these MIGs that are indicating hostile intent. And we are interpreting hostile intent very broadly.
Laird: I guess we’ve had one firing hit.
Moorer: We had one, one firing so far. Right.
Laird: A hit, but they’re standing off. They’re ready to fight.
Connally: Mr. President, may I ask if the later discussion will bring out the objections to granting these authorities that he’s asked for?
Nixon: Let’s be particular and we’ll see at the next one. The last one is against—go-ahead—logistics.
Moorer: Yes, sir. He asked for authority to strike stockpiles and transshipment points, and conduct all reconnaissance against trucks moving down the LOCs leading into Laos, mainly through the, primarily through the Ban Karai and the Mu Gia passes. I have a chart here. We have—
Nixon: The point here is, the point here at issue, is that this authority to hit such logistic places in North Vietnam?
Moorer: Yes, sir. South of 18 degrees. Again—give him the first chart, Mel. Yeah, that’s all right.
Nixon: How close is 20 degrees to Hanoi?
Moorer: Well, it is—20 degrees, sir, is right here, and it’s—that’s about—
Moorer: —60 miles, one more degree.
Nixon: 18 is—?
Moorer: A little over 75 miles, let’s say.
Nixon: I don’t understand this. What’s that? [unclear]
Nixon: Now this logistics business, tell us what that’s all about.
Moorer: Yes, sir. [unclear] Here, we—I drew up a concept of the plan, have sent it out to the field to get them to flesh it out in terms of the exact numbers of sorties, the exact—some of them—they’ll take it apart and so on, and we have the candidate plan available, sir, which would authorize General Abrams to make these attacks on these logistics activities taking place, feeding into Laos.
Nixon: What’s the weather situation at this point? Will it be—?
Moorer: Well, during the month of February, sir, of course, is about—in January–February, as we found out last year, is the worst [Page 52] part of the year in the panhandles. Actually, there are six days out of February that have 10,000 feet altitude for a period of three hours, and there are three days that have a period of six hours wherein you have 10,000 feet. So, this is one of the reasons that General Abrams has asked to go when he has the opportunity so that—
Nixon: Whenever there’s a window?
Moorer: Whenever there’s a window is what we talked about. Yes, sir.
Rogers: Tom, these are all based on what General Abrams requested. How about the Joint Chiefs? Are there things that we should be doing now that aren’t included here? Because it seems to me that because of the importance of this new offensive we ought to take every possible action. I don’t think we have anything to lose. The American people don’t understand all this stuff. [unclear] The only thing it seems to be, the only question we have, is what can we do that will be effective?
Mitchell: Well, that kind of brings up the point that the one airfield with the seven MIGs is above the 18th parallel, and the other airfield with the one MIG is the one that below which he has the authority.
Laird: Mr. President, I’d just like to make a comment about what we can do. Because I think that’s the important question as to what we can do as far as the offensive is concerned. The offensive, I think, if it takes place, will be in the B–3 Front. I think that that’s indicated by all of the activities that that’s where the attack will be made. Now, we’ve got to concentrate on limiting that attack, it seems to me, and do everything we possibly can with all the airpower we have, because this inasmuch it gives the South Vietnamese a much greater advantage than any kind of artillery or anything else the other side can have. The activities in the North will not have anything to do with B–3 activities because every bit of logistic support, if the activities that are going to take place in the next three weeks have already gone through these passes and is already in place. Anything that needs to come down to support that operation now won’t be available until March or April. So everything that for this attack that we’re concerned about is in place and has been, including the people that are involved, as far as the B–3 Front is concerned.
Now, as far as an attack may be in March or April, I think these logistic strikes should be authorized, and I hope that the contingency plan, as finally approved, gives the latitude to General Abrams to go three or four times for letting him pick the particular day that he goes, based upon the weather conditions that exist. I think it’s better to give him either 24 or 48 hours two or three times that he can make the choice, because that’s the most effective way to limit a possible offensive in the March–April period, because those would be the supplies that would be used in March and April, not the February offensive. In [Page 53] that way, we can live with it as far as the country is concerned. I think it’s understandable in a short period that if we go for five, six, seven, or eight days in a row, there is a certain amount of political pressure that people get over a long period of time. And I am sure that General Abrams would be more effective with the use of his assets if he has the authority himself to go 24 or 48 hours in the North in these areas to hit logistics. Now, I don’t want to mislead anybody at this table. That is not going to have an effect upon the B–3 Front offensive if it comes. It will have an effect upon a possible future offensive that might come in April–May period, but it takes at least that long. Now that’s not true of Military Region 1, but it is true of Military Region 2 and in the highlands area. That stuff is already in place.
Moorer: I suppose, Mel, you have—
Moorer: —you have a built-in restraint in terms of the weather. [unclear]—
Laird: Well it is—the weather is going to be lousy all month, so that this idea that we’re going to have great weather out there—it’s going to be lousy weather.
Nixon: In February?
Laird: Yeah, the weather—the weather in December, January, and February is lousy, and it probably will be lousy into March.
Moorer: Yes, sir. The point I’m making is you’re not going to have a seven day good weather period.
Moorer: So, we don’t have to worry whether you make it seven days or not—
Nixon: What is the situation—let me come back to that DMZ, the possibility of their moving en masse across there, at the sanctuary they have where the line is drawn? The authority—has he asked for authority to hit above that line now to knock those roads out? [unclear]
Moorer: That would be part of this logistics plan.
Nixon: That’s—that’d be fine.
Moorer: Yes, sir—
Nixon: That’s fine. He’s not asked for that authority yet?
Moorer: Yes, sir. He has authority for [unclear]—
Laird: One pass area there goes through the upper part of the DMZ, and that he has asked for.
Moorer: And the road runs right parallel to the DMZ—
Nixon: How many—that’s one road. How many roads are being built? You said several roads are being built across the DMZ? That they’ll come, they thought, potentially might come down those roads.[Page 54]
Laird: There are two roads, two roads being built; one major road and the start of another—
Nixon: We bombed part of it, but not the other part now? Is that correct?
Laird: Well, the road is not in use now, but we are—it goes in to South Vietnam—and we are, presently, are bombing it.
Moorer: We bomb all of it south of the DMZL.
Nixon: I understand.
Laird: But it has not been used and there hasn’t been much to hit there. They just reconstructed it.
Nixon: He wants the authority to be sure. Well—
Laird: He wants the authority to use that target area if there is a logistic buildup there. He won’t go up and just hit it if there isn’t a logistic buildup—
Laird: But if there is a logistic buildup there, and he has a good weather window, and there are supplies there, he’d like to hit it.
Rogers: Mr. President, can I ask a question to Tom? It seems to me that in view of the fact that we’ve only got two weeks before the President leaves for Peking, and I don’t—I think the American people feel the President’s gone so far now to try to work out an equal settlement that they’ll support it, [unclear]. It seems to me that if this offensive takes place while the President is in Peking, and even if it’s reasonably successful from their standpoint, when we all try to second guess the plan, then we should, the President should, seriously consider giving the military any authority that it wants—within reason, of course, not nuclear authority, but anything else. Because short of that, it seems to me we will—that this is, this is the key play. It could well be that this could be the turning point of the whole battle for South Vietnam. [unclear] So, I would—what I was wondering about, in addition to what General Abrams is asking for, are there other things that the military thinks the President should consider and authorities that they should have to prevent this offensive or to deal with it successfully? In other words, is everything being done that can be done? Or are there other things that we should be thinking about, too—?
Agnew: I’d like to expand on that if I might. Listen, what you said really anticipated what I was going to say to some extent and that is this: that it seems that all of the military preparations and the carefully defined limits of what can be done prior to any strike are pretty well—have pretty well been anticipated and explored. Where—the point I’m worried about is what happens to us after this strike? And I’m not talking about, necessarily, actions that are of grave military importance. I’m [Page 55] talking about the psychology of the war and the fact that the North Vietnamese have now responded to, not only to the President’s peace initiatives, but to his three times or four times repeated warning that any escalation of the war on their part that jeopardizes the success of our troops there will be responded to immediately in a very affirmative way. So, now it seems to me that military considerations aside, we have to look at the psychology of what’s going to take place in the United States the minute that they launch these attacks. That there’s going to be cries of the failure of Vietnamization, and we should have been out by now, and that it’s all lost, and the only thing that’ll overcome that, as I see it, is something that should be very carefully planned now that represents a punch action by the United States with the South Vietnamese in an area that we’ve never gone. And then, let them call it a widening of the war, but some place where we can go in there and hit ’em in the gut real hard. Maybe, I don’t know whether you could think about doing something to Haiphong Harbor or anything else? I mean, maybe that’s an unmentionable subject, but the point is that they’ve been warned three or four times not to do this. They’re going to do it anyhow. They’re going to do it for political reasons more than military reasons, because they think they can drive us out through the pressure of public opinion. And it seems to me that it’s time when they do it, the President having issued these warnings on four occasions, not to make ’em idle, but to move in there and hit ’em a good one in the gut somewhere where they’ve never been touched before.
Connally: Mr. President, may I add one thought to what the Vice President said? I think both from the standpoint a public voter sees it and actions over there that a good part of it ought to precede your departure from the United States. We ought to be preparing our own propaganda offensive now, that you’re going to China didn’t precipitate all this, ’cause this is the posture which our enemies here are going to play it, “If you hadn’t gone to China, they wouldn’t have launched this offensive.” This, the propaganda offensive that ought to be launched here at home now, is that this is another Tet. Westmoreland’s the only man that I know of that’s really made a point of it. Look, we ought to be saying it tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day, long before people are conscious that you’re leaving on whatever day it is in February. And so that when you do react, you’re reacting to an offensive on their part that parallels what they did in the Tet offensive in ’68. It ought to be tied back in [unclear], so they’re prepared and they’re going to do it and so forth. Otherwise, I think the American press, our enemies in the press, are going to, frankly, lay it to your door and just say, “Well, if you hadn’t, prior to this Peking trip, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Laird: Mr. President, can I add something to that? I want to make a point here that I think is overlooked, and that is that I am confident [Page 56] that this will be a success as far as the South Vietnamese are concerned, and I am confident that our program will hold. Now, they’re going to lose the battle or two, but they’re doing nothing differently than they did last year or the year before. The numbers are the—about the same. Now, they’re going into a different area. They’re going into the B–3 Front and they will conduct a battle there, but let’s not forget that we have done certain things for the last three years to build up the South Vietnamese, to build up their capabilities. And I don’t believe that we’re going to be in a position where the South Vietnamese are going to get such a bad, bloody nose that it’s going to be any kind of a defeat, interpreted in that way here in the United States.
Agnew: But, no, if it looks like a failure—
Laird: It doesn’t help—
Agnew: —it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference how successful it is—
Laird: It’s very important, this one, but as far as the B–3 Front battle is concerned, we’ve got all the authorities we need for the B–3 Front battle. I’m concerned about the next battle, maybe on down the road in two or three months after you get back. We’ve got everything in place to handle the B–3. When I got back in November, I made the report to the President that, in that report, I anticipated the B–3 Front as the battle site, and at that time I went to the Joint Chiefs and asked them to prepare the plans to defend on the B–3 Front. And we’ve been planning for this since November. Now, we—everything that we have on the B–3 Front is in place right now. You can’t do a hell of a lot more on the B–3 Front. We’ve got a surge capability on our ’52s, we have a surge capability on our tactical air, we have a surge capability as far as our naval air is concerned. And if the President’s—while the President is in China that could be the major area of concern. Now, as far as the next offensive is concerned, that’s a different problem, and that’s why I believe that some standby authorities given to General Abrams in the area of logistics support, knocking out these particular areas. I would limit those authorities to him to go for a 24–48 hour period, but three or four times that he can do it, because then you can start the attack and you can announce when it is over. He should choose the times when there are logistic buildups up there so we can actually hit something, and you do have to have good weather. I think that is needed and necessary. That isn’t going to help the problem while you’re in China, necessarily, Mr. President. I think that should be understood around the table. Because the—that battle is pretty well-drawn, and if it comes—
Nixon: [clears throat] Well, you have a week then. That’s only a week that we’re there, so the point is that—
Laird: But I just don’t want people to get too panicky about the period of time that you’re gone in China because those particular supplies [Page 57] and the combat personnel—I think Dick would have to agree with that—that they’re in place on that front—
Connally: Look, Mel, I can’t understand, if all the supplies are in place, all the personnel are in place, we obviously know that, we have to know where they are—
Laird: And we’re hitting ’em—
Connally: —are we hitting ’em now?
Laird: All right. [unclear] what we’re doing there with the B–52s and with the Tacair right now. We’ve got the best all-source intelligence operation going on in the B–3 Front that we’ve ever had in the whole history of this war. And I think it would be well to explain to you exactly what we’re doing as far as hitting in there right now to—you’ve got some—
Moorer: Here, take these—
Rogers: While they’re getting the charts out, though, Mel, your comment doesn’t—is not inconsistent [with] what John said—
Connally: No. Not at all—
Rogers: We can make this, if we do what John suggested, and I think we should, then if doesn’t come off or is not successful we can say, “Well, hell, we anticipated it and we guarded against it and that’s why it was unsuccessful.”
Laird: But I don’t want anyone around this table to think that by hitting those places [unclear exchange] something to do with that fact, because it will not.
Rogers: Everybody [unclear]—
Laird: And the problem that you have here is, you know, there are a lot of people who seem kind of panicky around here each time that you roll for four or five days. I happen to know. I sit down and I, I, I love to take the heat for this stuff; it doesn’t bother me a bit. I’ve always said, Mr. President, publicly and all over, that I would recommend—that never committed you—but I would recommend that we blast hell out of them if they come across the DMZ.
Nixon: Oh, well, we’ve said that, too. The point that I make is that you have that period when we’re back from China, the 28th of the month or something like, that’s plenty of time to get that March and April buildup. Don’t you think?
Laird: Oh, yes, sir.
Moorer: If I may make a point, sir? They’re always hard sell. The problem of hitting these fleeting targets is nothing more than weather. And so, it won’t be a matter of General Abrams discovering a supply build-up or something of this kind. Anytime during the next three months there will be targets, and if he has the visibility—if Tacair has the visibility, so they can strike these trucks, these moving trucks, these [Page 58] temporary stockpiles, and so on—they will find productive targets any time that the weather was suitable.
Connally: And they have authority to strike?
Moorer: And they have authority. Yes, sir. If they have the authorities.
Connally: I’m asking, do they have the authority to strike—?
Nixon: They have it. They have it outside of North Vietnam. The authority we’re arguing a bit, we’re discussing now, is the authority to go into North Vietnam—
Laird: The authority—
Moorer: That’s correct, sir—
Laird: The authority we are discussing is an authority which would grant him, below the 18th or maybe up to the 20th in those pass areas, to go after any logistic buildups. We’ve gone after them before.
Nixon: In the period, for example, in the five-day period after Christmas, between Christmas and New Year’s. That was originally authorized as a, basically, a two-day operation. Weather was lousy, so they took it for two days and we extended it finally—well actually, it was four days in turn, it was in total, but we extended it for two more days.6 The—what we’re really talking about here is rather than having the—rather than having these authorities in which you hit four days at a time, which each day escalates the news story, is to have the authority. If we give the authority, it might be extended over, say, what as I understand it, is they want the authorities over a 30–day period to hit for 24 hours, whenever the weather is good. In other words crack ’em, crack ’em, crack ’em.
Laird: And that’s what I’d like—
Moorer: That would be more effective, sir—
Nixon: That’s a different—rather than—rather than attempting on ad hoc basis, to say, “Well, now you can go for five days.” Well, those five days may be the lousiest damn weather there is, so you wouldn’t want to do it. And also the difficulty is that, again, when it’s continued over a period of time, unless there is enormous provocation, you see, that’s more of a problem. On the other hand, if you follow your intelligence reports, we’re having correct protective reaction strikes every damn day right now, so you’re hitting things. Incidentally, and I understand, and I just want to be sure, that that’s being interpreted very, very broadly.[Page 59]
Laird: I don’t know if they can, because they can’t interpret it any—I’ve gone out and talked to Tom. Haven’t we given them the broadest interpretation—?
Nixon: You see, the thing is they, they—there was a story here in The New York Times to the effect, first, that after the period after Christmas that we ordered these strikes for no military reason,7 which was not true, because as you remember, Mel, you came over, and some of the Joint Chiefs said, “We’ve got to hit ’em now.” Right?
Nixon: And because you were anticipating the B–3 buildup, right?
Nixon: Right. And that’s what we were trying to hit. And the second point was that it was extended beyond the time that it was useful, for no good reason. Well, the reason it was extended was because you said the weather was bad, right?
Moorer: Yes, sir. [unclear]—
Nixon: The story was totally inaccurate.
Moorer: Those strikes were effective—
Nixon: It shows you the problems you’ve got. Huh?
Moorer: Those strikes were effective. We—
Nixon: Well, of course they were—
Moorer: We made the equivalent of 750 truckloads of supplies were destroyed—
Nixon: That’s very—
Nixon: That’s very worthwhile—
[25 seconds not declassified]
Nixon: When people ask, “What should we do to bear out the indication of a practical use of a five-day strike?” We got through to ’em pretty tough and all of our intercepts indicate that. They’ve arranged to hit ’em. We should put in some more, too. You have to see to it some more—
Moorer: Yes, sir. I’ll tell you, sir, what we have laid on an effort here, not only against trucks coming down, but also against the infiltration by foot and bicycle, et cetera, that have been taking place, the [Page 60] several thousand that I indicated. And the B–52s near the An Khe area, in the base areas that they are going to use, would use against the highlands, have been laid on quite heavily using these CBUs, which I mentioned to you is equivalent—I think that one B–52 strike would be about 130 hand grenades—130,000 hand grenades going off at one time. And we do have indications, I believe, that everything’s effective against the forces that are moving into the B–3 Front. So we’ve—we’ve been, been working on those all right. I think an answer to add to the Vice President’s question, the authorities that General Abrams has requested would give him the latitude, certainly south of 18, to do something that we haven’t done before. Of course, they think it would require some action north of the 20th.
Nixon: How many—how many B–52s do we have at the present time operating in this area—?
Moorer: 47, sir.
Nixon: 47? How many—how many do we have in the world?
Nixon: How far away—?
Moorer: They aren’t all equipped. Some of them are renewed, silent.
Nixon: Well, I know that they’re silent [unclear] anyway. What is the situation with regard to the—where the rest of those are? How far away are some of them? How many of them in Europe and other places?
Moorer: Well, sir, the aircraft like this are currently operating in Laos—in Thailand.
Nixon: [unclear] No, what I mean, is if we wanted to supplement the forces.
Laird: We have additional in [unclear] now.
Moorer: And, additionally, it would be the bombing and [unclear].
Laird: Right now, we’re not flying as many B–52 sorties as we could. Now, General Abrams has the authority to surge now. He has chosen not to surge at this particular time. But he can surge now, and he could surge from three to thirty days.
Nixon: Yeah. Yeah. To a certain extent, Mel, to a certain extent, though, I just want to be sure I understand where the real danger it. Is it the SIOP? Not now? The other danger is here—
Laird: You go there—
Nixon: We already have 40 regiments against 400, and I want to see something on that. I know you’re looking into it, but [unclear]. Because you talk about saturation up there, you have to hit everything [Page 61] that moves out there. You might, you might, you might get another four or five hundred. When we really come down to it, I think we have to make sure that the South Vietnamese are taking some casualties, but their casualties are down this year as compared to last also. But, when you really come down to it, when you look at the North Vietnamese—I know we can’t agree on them, but they’re at least—when you look at the North Vietnamese casualties, their numbers are probably exaggerated, but a great, great number of those are due to our military—our air operations this spring.
Rogers: Tom, what if we operated our B–52 strikes from Thailand? Would that be helpful in deterring this offensive?
Moorer: Well, that would certainly broaden the capabilities, particularly if we have problems here with—up in Long Tieng. The problem is it would push a couple of people to put in Thailand, for one thing. But we’d have to increase the numbers, [unclear]. And, in addition, we have been—
Nixon: Put it in temporary duty?
Moorer: And we could run the number of sorties up. We could do 1,200 a month now for one month, and then when the month runs out then he’s—he can go back to his previous [unclear]—
Rogers: What I was thinking about is getting—getting a signal to the enemy: we’re getting ready, if you start something we will, we will really move massively.
Laird: We can move, Bill—and I looked at this—we can move ’52s off of Guam into Thailand to carry on the surge now, and he can’t surge now, but we’re not at that point yet. But we have the capability to take some of those aircraft and retrofit them in Guam. You see, we have to retrofit the aircraft and change them from nuclear weapons into this type of bombing, which can be done. But we have aircraft in Guam now that could be used at this particular moment.
Nixon: What about your carrier aircraft, Admiral? How many—I mean, could you bring some down from the Sea of Japan to supplement them? I mean, how many carriers do you have now operating with Tacair?
Moorer: Three, sir. Let me run through this, if I may. Currently, as this chart indicates, we have available more operating—5,000 South Vietnamese sorties a month. The U.S. Air Force is programmed for 6,700 and the Navy for 3,300. That gives us a total of 15,000 Tacair sorties and 1,000 B–52s, 33 a day. Now, in-country we have the capability to assume we take certain actions for 60 to 90 days to stay, by increasing the numbers this much, up to 17,540, and surging the B–52s to 1,200. Now, this 540 is the result of a plan I made, which would move [Page 62] aircraft from Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines down to Thailand. It would give us 18 additional—
Nixon: Are they A–1s? A–1s?
Moorer: No, sir. They’re F–4s. F–4s—
Nixon: Oh, F–4s, that’s okay. Right. Right. You mean the small planes?
Moorer: Yes, sir. Now, for 30 days where you would make an all-out effort, but of course subsequent to those 30 days you’d have to drop down considerably—
Moorer: Now, we have the capability of about this many with the three carriers that are there. Now, I’ve issued instructions for none of those carriers to go north of Hong Kong.
Nixon: Where are those? You’ve got three carriers there in the area now.8 How many are other carriers do you have? How many are over in Hawaii and others [unclear]? Could you get three more carriers out there, for example? I’m just thinking.
Moorer: Yes, sir. Well, we’ve got the next one we’ve had on standby is the Kitty Hawk. And she could—and we’re giving her 10 days to get out. She could move out and be out there in—by the end of the month, sir.
Nixon: We’re into this month. The end of which month?
Moorer: The end of this month, sir. Yes.
Nixon: The Kitty Hawk? Where’s the Kitty Hawk now?
Moorer: The Kitty Hawk is stationed on the West Coast.
Nixon: That’d give you four?
Moorer: That would give us four, and that would—
Nixon: What about the one that’s up there around Korea?
Moorer: No, sir, we have all three of them down south.
Laird: All three, yes—
Moorer: Three of them on—
Nixon: So, if you had—you could—you couldn’t do—I’m just trying to—
Moorer: Yes, sir. We could send one more. We could send one more carrier, and—
Nixon: And have this, particularly the Kitty Hawk. I’d like to see a, see a contingency on that one.
Laird: Yes, sir.[Page 63]
Moorer: Yes, sir. And then of course the next step would be, if we needed more tactical air, would be to take the F–4s from either Okinawa or South Korea and move them down. And, so those are the alternatives we have. But we have right now, subject to making this call to deployment from the Philippines, a surge capability of 21,500 for 30 days. At that point, we would put all three carriers in the Tonkin Gulf and run them up to 5,300. The Kitty Hawk will add another 1,600 sorties to this number.
Laird: We probably wouldn’t ever use that many sorties, Mr. President, but we do have the capability. I think it’s—
Nixon: You’d have to get a real break on the weather.
Laird: We could double.
Nixon: Or—let me put it this way: when we think in terms of 24-hour strikes, you get just as much heat for 50 as you do for 5,000, if it’s for 24 hours. If you expand it to five days, then the heat is enormous. In other words, the point that I would like, what I think we need a contingency plan after all, because I—remember we once talked about this before, the contingency plan, I remember, Henry, we talked about earlier—I said: “Be ready that when there’s a window you can give them a hell of a sock. Then get in, get out, and then say it’s over.” Remember, we talked about this? Mel, you’ve got to have it there ready to give ’em the hell of a sock, rather than just dribbling it out, you know, and running over and dropping it on the combat troops, if the weather’s bad. That happens, too.
Laird: We can do that—
Nixon: More Air Medals are made that way.
Laird: We can do that, Mr. President. [unclear] And I just—I don’t think we’ll ever go as many sorties even on a good day as we can find on a surge basis. But we can do it. The B–52s are the ones that are limited as far as their surge to 30 days. The others can surge up to 60 to 90 days.
Moorer: Incidentally, [unclear]—
Nixon: The ’52s can move from what, from 42?
Laird: Well, we can go up to about 40 sorties a day.
Nixon: Right now, the number of ’52s?
Kissinger: Unless you increase the total number of planes there, you cannot reach the point that the President is making for 24 to 48 hours.
Laird: We can with three carriers there. We’ve never had three carriers there before—
Kissinger: The way you get the surge capability is to increase the daily average and then that gives you a higher total at the end of the month. But if you want to put everything into one day or two [Page 64] days you need more airplanes there, because there’s no way you can [unclear]—
Nixon: The possibility of a one-day mission. If we think about the real problems of this war, public relations-wise and the rest, I suppose many books will be written about it in the future, I hope that perhaps maybe—maybe it will come out all right. But, if you look at the problems we must remember that—and I don’t think it’s a criticism of people who have to take care of all of the decisions, but it was the gradual escalation, day after day, failing to use maximum force at a maximum point in time, that gradual escalation takes away all the strength that we had. It didn’t have the effect. It—it had, like water dropping on a rock, it destroyed the American support for the damn war. Now, as far as the American people were concerned, if we do something and do it not gradually—to them the theory of gradualism in war has always been wrong, totally wrong. It’s this tit for tat crap. The only—the only thing to do if the other guy gives you a, you know, a slap on the wrist, is you kick him in the groin. That’s, that’s one theory. You know, that’s what we’ve got to do here—
Agnew: Mr. President, Henry, you’re talking now—you were talking about flexibility, but you’re limiting your flexibility [unclear]. But the point I was trying to make before is that the flexibility that is really going to be valuable is the flexibility—
Nixon: That’s a plus—
Agnew: —[unclear] something new that’s going to shock these people.
Nixon: Well we have a few places [unclear] and yet they were surprised. But I know exactly what you mean there. We—we wanted—
Moorer: Incidentally, it’s the first time we’ve been up to 20 degrees since the November ’68 stand-down—
[Omitted here is discussion of inhibiting the flow of supplies to the Communist forces in South Vietnam, South Vietnamese morale, and President Thieu’s appointment of new division commanders to improve ARVN performance.]
Nixon: The point that you should make, of course, that everyone should make out there, is that putting it in its coldest terms: South Vietnam should get demoralized if they concluded that the peacenik portions in this country led to not just an American withdrawal, but led to withdrawal of our aid programs—
Bunker: Oh, yes.
Nixon: —military and economic, in the future, which is their real objective.
Bunker: Yes.[Page 65]
Nixon: Now, the revelation of our peace initiative has bought a little time in that respect. The Congress, I mean the jackasses who are ready to go off on another one of their kicks, not just a withdrawal date, but to cut aid, cut sorties, and cut everything else. I think if the point could be strongly made, that public support at the moment, which is reflected in Congressional support, support which is in turn reflected in the appropriations, is more solid than it has been for a long time—
Bunker: Yeah. Yes.
Nixon: And therefore they can have confidence that they’re going to continue to have economic and military aid so that they will be able to fight the enemy. That’s the key point—
Bunker: Yes. Yes.
Nixon: —if they take the long view.
Nixon: Then, of course, you have the short problem, the short view problem. That’s what you’re addressing [unclear]. There you say they think they’re ready for it.
Bunker: Yes, sir.
Nixon: They’re not frightened to death of them, huh?
Nixon: I don’t think they would feel ready if, as I say, if I had an air force and a navy, and short communication lines up against an enemy with a long communication line, no air force, and no navy. Good God, if they aren’t building morale now, what can? They never, they can’t make it alone, can they, if they cannot at this time? Do you agree Admiral?
Moorer: Yes, sir. I think this is a critical test of leadership—
Nixon: Good. It’s pretty good, pretty good odds on their side.
Laird: They’ve gone from 2—a little under, about 200 attack aircraft to over 1,000 that they’re operating, in a period of 24 months.
Nixon: Who? The South Vietnamese?
Laird: The South Vietnamese.
Nixon: On their own? On their own. That’s right—
Laird: No, I—I, I just feel that, Mr. President, that we have accomplished something here in giving these people this capability, and I don’t want them to get into a panic situation. I want to do everything we can to protect them, but I don’t want to give the impression, as far as this country is concerned, particularly in view of the—I’ve got to testify before the Congress. Maybe everything is all right, but I’ll tell you it’s not going to be easy to get that economic aid through for Vietnam.[Page 66]
Laird: It’s a tough damn problem right now. We’re $300 million light right at the present time. Maybe others think that the atmosphere has changed and that we can get these—this money through easily, but it hasn’t changed as far as the damn gut questions in those committees. Look at this last action of the Senate, just this last week. Those people are in there and sometimes I think our people aren’t being tough enough on this thing, but by God, they’d gut us. On the—they really gave us a gut shot this week on economic aid on Vietnamization. We’ve got to get that money back somehow, and it’s not easy.
Nixon: That’s right.
Laird: It’s going to be a tough, hard, rough fight, and they’re trying to take everything out of my budget and put it over in the AID administration, now, up there on the Hill; the Fulbrights, the Mansfields, and the rest of them. I’ll tell you, if it gets out of this Defense budget, the Vietnamization program is down the drain in ’73 and ’74, because the only thing that keeps us going is that it’s in the Defense budget, not over there in the AID budget. That’s the only thing that keeps it going. You know that, don’t you?
Rogers: Yeah, for sure. Yeah. We all agree. You bet.
[Omitted here is discussion of strengthening and enlarging the South Vietnamese Air Force and the augmentation of U.S. air and naval forces in the theater.]
Nixon: The thing we have to bear in mind is that, the point that was made earlier, that if this offensive is one that was as far as the North Vietnamese is concerned, it isn’t about China and it isn’t about Russia. It’s about South Vietnam.
Nixon: It was going to come, it was inevitable, and they’re going to try to get on top. From the standpoint of the offensive, it will have—if it’s a failure—it will have a massive effect on them. It will have a massive effect on them because they will have failed not against the United States, although we will, of course, have helped a great deal in the air, but they will have failed against the ARVN, for whom they claim to have great contempt. Under these circumstances then, they then have to look at their hole card. And, so, as we see this offensive, the one that will come in February, or at least that’s anticipated, then the one that will come later in March and in April, we must realize that this—must know the North Vietnamese will come if they feel, after we’re out, they can make it. And, if they fail they’re going to have to look very, very closely to what their options are. If they succeed, [unclear]—
The other point that should be made is this: That we don’t want to do anything that is stupid. We don’t want to do anything that unnecessarily exacerbates our public in this country, the ugly youth. We must [Page 67] realize that as support for what we’re doing—or, shall we put it, as the level of criticism of what we do escalates, it encourages the enemy. And therefore we don’t want that to happen, to the extent that we can mitigate it. On the other hand, we must also realize that in terms of a—of getting ourselves into a position where we can react very strongly to enemy offensive action, we have not been in a better position to do so for a long time. The American people will understand for two reasons: one, because American ground forces are not involved, and therefore we won’t have all that on television; and, second, because of the peace proposal having been made, and having been rather generally supported, and having been reacted to by a step-up in the military. So under these circumstances, we’re now in a position for a period of time which could pass. It might pass in 60 days, it might pass in 30 days. It will last for a period of time where the action we’ve taken, we can take, or the level of activity, is in the air. That’s what we’re talking about.
Moorer: Right, sir.
Nixon: It would be much greater than it otherwise would be. Now, we’ll look—do you want to look at the contingency plan in terms—because it is well to give enormous discretion, because there may be a day or a time when something very sensitive may be discussed on the diplomatic front. It might be, for example, one of the reasons you don’t give them just a blank [unclear]in this thing is that who knows? Maybe not too good a chance, but it could be. But who knows whether or not, perhaps, there can be some nibble in the negotiating. If there is—I’m just using that as an example—you have to be in a position to know whether you want to do it at that time or at another time. That’s what we have to do; we can’t go flat-footed. On the other hand, when we see other contingency plans, let’s see not only what the North, but the South Vietnamese we’ve got, who have been trained, but they’re still somewhat ignorant in terms of modern warfare is concerned, what they have asked for, what General Abrams asked for, but also what the CINCPAC, the Joint Chiefs, and the rest have come up with as to what we can do to that we are not doing. That’s why I want to see the Kitty Hawk, we want to see more B–52s, we want to see A–1s, anything that you think.
Nixon: Just a minute. Maybe, maybe, maybe we won’t do any of them, but maybe we’ll do all of them. And, also, in terms of the targeting thing, we’ve gone over this before. I think we’ve got two or three plans I know on that issue. I think we’ve got a pretty good range of targets, including the ones you mentioned, but we’ll take another look at the targets, too. Because [unclear]those—if the level of enemy activity is such, and the timing is right, and the weather is dry, we can do quite a bit.[Page 68]
Moorer: Yes, sir, and the most—
Nixon: And we thoroughly intend to do so. The main thing we all have to understand here, is that the greatest miscalculation the North Vietnamese make is that we will pay, on our part, an exorbitant price because of the political situation in the United States. That’s not true. Because there’s one determination I’ve made: we’re not going to lose out there. I determined that long ago. We wouldn’t have gone into Cambodia; we wouldn’t have gone into Laos, if we had not made that determination.9 If politics is what was motivating what we were doing, I would have declared, immediately after I took office in January of 1969, that the whole damn thing was the fault of Johnson and Kennedy, it was the “Democrats’ War,” and we’re ending it like Eisenhower ended Korea, and we’re getting the hell out, and let it go down the tube. We didn’t do that. We didn’t do it, because politically, whatever, it would have been wrong for the country, wrong for the world, and so forth and so on, but having come this long way and come to this point, the United States is not going to lose. And that means we will do what is necessary. But we can’t do it in terms of pusillanimous planning and options that are inadequate. So, we want to see what you have. [unclear]
Agnew: Don’t just write it for the record.
Nixon: No, I know we’re going to write all of this stuff out. We’ll ask for all this, you know, turn down this story that appeared in The New York Times.10 [unclear] I don’t think anybody else sitting in this chair would have ordered Cambodia or Laos. If we hadn’t had Cambodia or Laos or our casualties would be a hundred a week today rather than—
Helms: At least.
Nixon: —five. So my point is, even with the election facing us, even with the diplomatic initiatives we have, we, we have to win it. We have to be sure we don’t lose here for reasons that affect China. They affect Russia. They affect the Mideast. They affect Europe. That’s what this is all about. Now, having said all that, we—we don’t want to be dumb about it; that’s really what it gets down to, because we have a very delicate public opinion situation in this country. And the—at the moment, it’s a little quieter, but they’ll stir up again.
Rogers: Mr. President, I’d like, on that score, also, I think if you could impress on President Thieu—he probably knows it, but, as Tom [Page 69] says, this is a critical test. And even if it looks, after this is over with, that we had to come to his rescue, it’s going to cause us trouble getting him additional economic and military aid for him. If he comes out of this looking as if Vietnamization is working, if he is successful, that’s going to help us in our future.
Laird: That’s going to help us a lot.
Rogers: It’s damned important for him to fully understand that—
Bunker: He understands that. There’s no question—
Nixon: He’s got to win this on his own.
Bunker: That’s right—
Nixon: That’s right. And, incidentally, as far as our own activities are concerned, do everything. But, fire every goddamn PRO officer in the Defense Department. Don’t talk about it, just do it. You know? Let them in there, but don’t say we had so many sorties and all this thing. Let the ARVN—if the ARVN pulls this off, let them have the credit. It’s very important that they get the credit. Not our B–52s, not our A–1s, not directly. Let’s do it, but let’s be sure that the ARVN in this instance gets the credit. We’ll get the blame if it fails, but we want them to get the credit. That, also, is very important in terms of your getting the dough for [unclear].
Moorer: At the same time I think we ought to be prepared for Ron Ziegler and the others to—
Moorer: —straighten out the record, because—
Nixon: Oh, I know—
Moorer: —I can already see the press is going to try to frame this, you know, pose this as a North Vietnamese victory, no matter how it comes out.
Nixon: I know.
Nixon: Yes. Every, every, every yard of ground that is lost, every hamlet that is captured, every provincial town that may fall will be—that’s part of it. That’s true. And you have the situation, the rather ironic situation—you think of World War I and World War II, and even Korea—remember the Inchon landing—whenever our side won, good God, it was front page and everybody was cheering. It was great. Now, whenever our side wins it’s with the corset ads, and whenever—any time the enemy does anything good, big, “Wow that’s great.” [unclear] We, we have that situation, you know. We all know. You’re absolutely right about that. But that’s all right. Let me say, the important thing in the long run, though, is to win. The important thing—I’m not going [Page 70] to—the propaganda will hurt for a while and, sure, there’ll be—what Mel has described as spectaculars and the rest, and we don’t want to be Pollyannaish about it. Say, “Yeah. This is a hell of a battle. Many battles have been lost.” And just to leave it in the proper context, the—all of you students of military history, I mentioned it before here, remember March 21st, the period of World War I was the greatest [unclear]. Let’s talk about it. It was supposed to be an enormous defeat. General Joffre was disgraced as a result of it and retired, and, yet, historically, when you look at the fact that in the week, in the two weeks of that battle, they lost 400,000 and the Germans lost 400,000. It was the first time they lost so many to the other side. The Germans lost the war because of that battle, because he put everything he had in there and it didn’t break.11 And so—and so the most important thing here is to remember the headlines may be bad but we will have lost—to hell. How many times have we lost Cambodia? Good God, I mean, if you look at CBS over the past year—I was looking at it—there have been at least 30 broadcasts that said Phnom Penh’s going to fall. It hasn’t fallen. Maybe it will, but the point is we, we’ve got to face the propaganda. But, we’re talking about just being sure that we’re doing everything we can to see that the ARVN comes through.
[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Nixon’s concluding statement.]
Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Cabinet Room, Conversation 89–1. 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, 10:05 a.m.–12:16 p.m. Kissinger noted in a 9:05 a.m., February 2, telephone conversation with Secretary of the Treasury John B. Connally that Nixon had changed the date of the meeting from January 29 to February 2 so that Connally could attend. (Ibid., Kissinger Telephone Conversations, Box 13, Chronological File, February 1–4, 1972) No other written record of this meeting has been found. In his memoirs, Kissinger noted, “I cannot find a record of the meeting.” (White House Years, p. 1100)
According to the President’s Daily Diary, the following attended the meeting: Nixon, Vice President Agnew, Rogers, Laird, Connally, Mitchell, Helms, Moorer, Bunker, Kissinger, Haig, Director of the Office of Emergency Planning Lincoln, and White House Press Secretary Ziegler. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files)↩
- A copy of Helms’s briefing is in the Central Intelligence Agency, Files of the Deputy Director for Intelligence, Job 79–T00862A. In the briefing, Helms concluded that recent intelligence pointed to two findings: “First, the Vietnamese Communist Party’s Politburo in Hanoi is still striving to establish political control over South Vietnam, plus some form of hegemony over the rest of Indochina. It is not yet willing to countenance any settlement of the struggle that does not virtually guarantee this result. Secondly, Hanoi believes its objectives can best be furthered by a sharp rise in military and political activity throughout Indochina—that is, a multi-faceted offensive which all available evidence indicates is on the verge of being launched.”↩
- Laird was probably referring to his November 3–6 trip to Saigon where he met with Thieu and his senior advisors, Bunker, and Abrams. (“Laird Concludes Visit to Vietnam: He Indicates U.S. Is Ready to Step Up Troop Pullout,” The New York Times, November 7, 1971, p. 11)↩
- In Navy terminology, CV meant aircraft carrier, CV munitions were what the aircraft on the ships carried, i.e. bombs, one kind being CBUs, or cluster bomb units, the “small anti-personnel type weapons” mentioned above.↩
- Moorer used charts as visual aids to his briefing.↩
- The President was referring to Operation Proud Deep Alpha, conducted December 26–30, 1971. During the operation U.S. aircraft flew 1,025 sorties against targets north of the DMZ but south of the 20th parallel.↩
- Nixon may be referring to the editorial entitled “Buying Time for What,” which stated: “But there is no reason to believe that the renewed bombing can prevent, or even long deter an all-out assault from the North.” (The New York Times, January 5, 1972, p. 36) At the same time, practically all of the almost 100 stories in The New York Times between December 25, 1971, and February 1, 1972, that report or editorialize on bombing North Vietnam did so within the context of the military intentions and impact of the air attacks.↩
- The USS Constellation, the USS Coral Sea, and the USS Hancock.↩
- Nixon was referring first to the Cambodian incursion and the American-South Vietnamese sweep into Cambodia that began on April 29 and ended on June 30 and then to Lam Son 719.↩
- It is unclear to which story in The New York Times the President was referring.↩
- Despite inaccuracies in his statement, the President was apparently making reference to General Sir Douglas Haig, Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, and to the Battle of the Somme (July 1–November 18, 1916). Because of the huge casualties suffered in the battle (420,000 British—almost 60,000 on the first day; 200,000 French; and as many as 600,000 German), Haig received heavy criticism then and later. Others, most notably U.S. Army General John J. Pershing, argued that the battle considerably weakened the German army and contributed substantially to its surrender in 1918. Haig was promoted from general to field marshal in 1917 and after the war became commander-in-chief of the home forces. In 1919 he was raised to the peerage as Earl Haig.↩