19. Telephone Conversation Between President Nixon and the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig)1
Nixon: Al, I wanted to ask you, how about that, the B–3 strike. Is it going to get off? Or do we hear yet, or what—?
Haig: Yes, sir. As of now, it’s on schedule and the weather is favorable, and that would be the only thing that would—
Nixon: Stop it. Right.
Haig: —cause it to be postponed.
Nixon: And that’d be starting tonight then, or—
Haig: Yes, sir—
Nixon: Or today?
Haig: At 6 o’clock our time.2
Nixon: Good. Good. Good. And you’re convinced now that they’re gonna carry that out and do—and, at least, do their—
Haig: They’re delighted with it—
Nixon: —do their best to concentrate, will they?
Haig: Yes. They want to do it because they want to first exercise the system completely to a max surge.[Page 87]
Haig; And to enhance their responsiveness.
Nixon: Are they—?
Haig: They’re in total agreement with it; they just think it’s great—Nixon: Have they—Al, have they been, do you think they have really now looked around to see if they’ve got any targets in the damn area?
Haig: Yes, sir, they do—
Nixon: I mean—
Haig: They have fixes—
Nixon: —being there must be if—there must be with all the infiltration. And if they’re expecting a thing, aren’t there—there must be troops, that’s what I mean. I realize those are secondary targets, but goddammit if you hit enough of ’em they’re not.
Haig: No, sir. I think they’ve got some good targets. General—I talked to Admiral Moorer last evening. He said they’re very pleased. They have communications fixes on regimental and division headquarters, and they’re just gonna just pour it in there for 48 hours.
Nixon: Yeah. What is the advantage of doing 48? You know, if you hit them, you mean that they will then try to—wouldn’t they, wouldn’t they move out? I’m just—I’m just figuring, trying to figure out how does it work.
Haig: Well, what they hope to do, sir, is to put this concentrated load in at max effort.
Haig: They are going to have to, to recycle a little bit—
Haig: And if they wanted to get a read from the communications—
Haig: —it’ll give them a sharp new communications [unclear]—
Nixon: Yeah, the intelligence. I see—
Haig: That’s right. And then they can do it again. And then, you know, I think General Abrams—
Haig: —wants to do this.
Nixon: Yeah. Well, that’s good—
Haig: I think it’s going to be a very effective psychological—if not even, if they miss, it’s going to be psychologically damn impressive.
Nixon: Because why? Because—?
Haig: Well, the enemy has not seen—they’ve been deceived, because as we’ve drawn down we have held down our sortie levels.[Page 88]
Haig: Laird’s done that for economic reasons, but—
Haig: —Abrams has actually gone along with it.
Haig: So, I think they have the impression that perhaps we’re a lot weaker than we are. And when they get hit with this kind of a massive firepower demonstration, they’re gonna know—
Haig: —at the outset what price they’re going to have to pay.
Nixon: When they start. I get it.
Haig: And they have picked up already that there’s a third carrier in the Tonkin Gulf, and a fourth on the way.
Haig: Now, this is—this is a hell of a [laughs]—
Nixon: The North Vietnamese know this?
Haig: Yes, sir. I’m sure they do—
Nixon: That’s good.
Haig: The press has picked it up.
Nixon: The press has? Good.
Haig: Yes, sir.
Nixon: That’s good. That’s good. That’s more of that psychological bull.
Haig: That’s right—
[Omitted here is discussion of enemy infiltration into Laos and operations of the South Vietnamese Navy along the coast.]
Nixon: Well, we’ll just hope for the best. Just hope that weather holds up, because, you now, just one time if the weather holds up and everything goes right, that Air Force and the Navy is likely to knock the bejeezus out of something, aren’t they?
Haig: I think they are, sir. I—I think this is a damn good thing to do. It’s something they should have come in with themselves.
Nixon: Yeah, it’s a concentrated smack. Well, I don’t know whether they should or not, but we haven’t done a dish yet and let’s try something that we haven’t done. That’s all. Now, there must be, you know, other, other things. I hope they—I hope Moorer begins to think of a few.
Haig: Well, if this pays off, sir, I think it’s the kind of thing that we can do—
Haig: —as soon as a threat develops.[Page 89]
Nixon: Yeah, in other areas.
Haig: That’s right, and—
Nixon: And just—
Haig: —just pour it in.
Nixon: Just mass it and hit it for a couple of days.
Haig: That’s right, sir.
Nixon: Okay, Al. Thank you.
Haig: Fine, sir.
Nixon: Thank you. Thank you.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, White House Telephone, Conversation 20–84. 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, 11–11:24 a.m.↩
- The airstrike did not take place until February 12–13. In a page 1 story, The New York Times on Monday, February 14, reported: “One of the heaviest American bombing campaigns of the war was concentrated over the weekend on base areas and infiltration trails west of the Central Highlands city of Kontum.”↩