169. Memorandum From President Nixon to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) and the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig)1

I am thoroughly disgusted with the consistent failure to carry out orders that I have given over the past three and a half years, and particularly in the past critical eight weeks, with regard to Vietnam. It is easy, of course, to blame the bureaucracy for failing to carry out orders. But we always have the problem of the bureaucracy. It is our responsibility to ride the departments hard to see that when I give an order it is carried out faithfully, or that I am told as quickly as it is known that the order is not being carried out, and why that is the case.

I refer specifically to the fact that I have ordered, on occasion after occasion, an increase in the quantity and quality of weapons made available to the South Vietnamese. All that we have gotten from the Pentagon is the run around and a sometimes deliberate sabotage of the orders that I have given. I want it clearly understood, that from now on the moment that I find another instance where there is such insubordination the man who will be held responsible, and whose resignation will be requested, will not be the one down the line in the woodwork but the man at the top, whoever he is.

The performance in the psychological warfare field is nothing short of disgraceful. The mountain has labored for seven weeks and when it finally produced, it produced not much more than a mouse. Or to put it more honestly, it produced a rat. We finally have a program now under way but it totally lacks imagination and I have no confidence whatever that the bureaucracy will carry it out. I do not simply blame [Page 618] Helms and the CIA. After all, they do not support my policies because they basically are for the most part Ivy League and Georgetown society oriented. On the other hand, the Pentagon deserves an even greater share of the blame. After all, they are supposed to take orders from the Commander-in-Chief. The trouble is that we left too many of the McNamara people around in high places and they are constantly sabotaging everything we are trying to do.

Finally, I have told Henry today that I wanted more B–52s sent to Vietnam. I want this order carried out, regardless of how many heads have to roll in carrying it out. Even though the bomb load is smaller until they can be remodeled, the psychological effect of having 100 more B–52s on the line in Vietnam would be enormous. I either expect this order to be carried out or I want the resignation of the man who failed to carry out the order when it was given.

The crowning insult to all this injury is to have the military whine around to Agnew that they were not getting enough support from the Commander-in-Chief in giving them targets they could hit in North Vietnam.2

I want you to convey directly to the Air Force that I am thoroughly disgusted with their performance in North Vietnam. Their refusal to fly unless the ceiling is 4000 feet or more is without doubt one of the most pusillanimous attitudes we have ever had in the whole fine history of the U.S. military. I do not blame the fine Air Force pilots who do a fantastic job in so many other areas. I do blame the commanders who, because they have been playing “how not to lose” so long, now can’t bring themselves to start playing “how to win.” Under the circumstances, I have decided to take the command of all strikes in North Vietnam in the Hanoi–Haiphong area out from under any Air Force jurisdiction whatever. The orders will be given directly from a Naval commander whom I will select. If there is one more instance of whining about target restrictions we will simply blow the whistle on this whole sorry performance of our Air Force in failing for day after day after day in North Vietnam this past week to hit enormously important targets when they had an opportunity to do so and were ordered to do so and then wouldn’t carry out the order.

The examples I have given above are only a small number of those that I could point to if I had the time. What I am saying is that I want [Page 619] some discipline put into our dealings with the State Department, with the Pentagon and with the CIA, and I want that discipline enforced rigidly from now on out.

I want you to convey my utter disgust to Moorer which he in turn can pass on to the Chiefs and also convey it to Abrams and Bunker in the field. It is time for these people either to shape up or get out.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 341, Subject Files, HAK/President Memos, 1971. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only.
  2. During Agnew’s visit to Saigon (see footnote 4, Document 165), in the afternoon of May 17, with only senior Americans present, he received a briefing from General Abrams. At the end, Agnew asked if there were anything militarily that was not being done that should be done. According to the report: “General Abrams responded in negative and said that he had plenty of air including that now enroute.” (Message Vipto 28 from CINCPAC, May 18; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 27 VIET S)