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

I have covered the points I will be making in this memorandum for the most part in conversations with Henry and with you, but I simply want to put them in writing so that you will have guidance for the period that we are gone on our trip to Moscow.

With regard to Vietnam, it is vitally important that there be no abatement whatever in our air and naval strikes while we are gone. It is particularly important that any stories in the press indicating that we are letting up during this period be knocked down instantly, preferably in Saigon, if necessary at the Pentagon and if necessary even by you at the White House. There is nothing that could hurt us more in the minds of public opinion than some suggestion that we made a deal with the Russians to cool it in Vietnam while trying to negotiate agreements with them in Moscow.

Just to be sure that there is absolutely no misunderstanding with regard to my orders they include the following:

There should be a minimum of 1200 air sorties a day2 and with the Saratoga on station this might be increased to 1300. What I am saying is that the number of sorties should be at maximum level during the entire period we are gone, unless you receive orders to the contrary from me directly.
At least 200 of these sorties should be on targets in the Hanoi–Haiphong area. With the Saratoga on station that number might well go up to 250 or 300.3 In fact, it would be well to increase it just slightly in that period so that there can be no implication at all to the effect that [Page 624] we are letting up because of our trip to Moscow. The only restrictions to the air sorties in that area are the 15-mile area around Hanoi proper and the belt of 15 miles or whatever we have previously ordered next to the Chinese border. But otherwise I want a relentless air attack on our targets in North Vietnam during this period—particularly on rail lines, POL and power plants. Concentrate on those targets which will have major impact on civilian morale as well as accomplishing our primary objective of reducing the enemy’s ability to conduct the war.
On the propaganda front, I expect not only implementation of the orders I have previously given, some of which were covered in the memorandum you prepared for me,4 but I want some new ideas developed and implemented as quickly as possible. The entire effort should be to create pessimism in the North among the civilian population and pessimism in the South among the North Vietnamese forces there. What disturbs me is the routine way that CIA and USIA simply report the news of my speech rather than putting out reports with regard to more planes landing expected, riots in the streets of Hanoi and desertions in the troops in the South. This patty-cake method of handling the propaganda is typical of our conduct of the war on the military side, and I want it changed instantly to conform with my thinking as to how we are to act militarily from now on. As I have pointed out on several previous occasions, we shall have to admit that this is one of our major failures—not having an adequate propaganda and public relations effort going along-side what I believe is a superb foreign policy in most respects. When I get back I have some other ideas as to how we can correct this and we will probably set up a new office in the White House directly under Haldeman, similar to the one C. D. Jackson5 had under Eisenhower, so that we can finally begin to get the benefit we deserve from our foreign policy initiatives.
I want you to direct Abrams and Bunker to get out more information with regard to morale in the South. This certainly is something we should be able to do because it is true and also because it will help at home. If they say they don’t want to get out on a limb ask them what they think I have done. I also believe that that French report or any other reports that you have through secret channels of morale problems in North Vietnam must be leaked into the press—not in a column which is read by a few hundred people, but some way in to wire service or television stories. Colson will know what to do if you give him the material. Follow up.

[Page 625]

[Omitted here is discussion of how to deal with Congress over the SALT agreement. It is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 250.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 341, Subject Files, HAK/President Memos, 1971. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. An information copy was sent to Kissinger.
  2. On May 15, Nixon made the same point to Kissinger. In a telephone conversation between 9:29 and 9:35 p.m. the President said: “Now, with regard to Vietnam, you’re sure that Abrams is continuing to pound the hell out of them now? I don’t want any, any letup. I want 1,100 to 1,200 sorties a day. Right?” To which Kissinger replied: “Absolutely.” (Telephone conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, May 15; ibid., White House Tapes, White House Telephone, Conversation 24–126)
  3. On May 23, Moorer wrote to McCain, who was in charge of the air war against North Vietnam: “Higher authority desires that heavy air strike pressure be maintained on North Vietnam during coming week. Insure that at least 200–300 sorties daily are flown in Route Packages 4, 5, and 6 with emphasis on the Hanoi/Haiphong area and northeast railroad.” (Message 5988 (corrected by hand to 5675); ibid., RG 218, Records of the Chairman, Records of Thomas Moorer, Box 68, JCS Out General Service Messages, 16–31 May 1972)
  4. Document 162.
  5. Special Assistant to President Eisenhower responsible for international affairs, cold war planning, and psychological warfare.