52. Conversation Among President Nixon, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Moorer)1

[Omitted here are greetings and an exchange of pleasantries.]

Nixon: Let me come, maybe, directly to the point, because I want—Admiral Moorer has heard me speak in this vein before. I want you to hear it, too, because Packard,2 of course, was quite familiar because he was at WSAG meeting and so forth and you’re not. And, first, I think there has to be a very clear understanding that—of a matter which I have discussed with the Admiral on occasion before, and that is that I am Commander in Chief, and not Secretary of Defense. Is that clear? Do you understand that?

Moorer: I do indeed.

Nixon: Now, I ordered a briefing on Vietnam this morning, yesterday, and to be over here by about 7 o’clock. It didn’t come until 9:00–8:30.3 That’s a direct violation of orders, and I want somebody who was supposed to be here to be demoted or reprimanded. That’s to go in his file. Is that clear? I ordered that, and I was told he would be here at 7:15, and I understand well the Secretary of Defense said he couldn’t come until 8:30. Now, I’m not going to have that kind of crap any more. From now on, that man is to have his ass over here in this office at 7 o’clock every morning. Is that clear?

Moorer: Yes, sir. He’ll be here.

Nixon: All right, no more crap. The second point is I ordered the use of strikes, you know, in this zone above the DMZ. There were 500 sorties that could have been flown; they flew 100 yesterday—125—

Moorer: 138, sir.

Nixon: 138. Yeah. The excuse is weather. I understand.

Moorer: No, sir. In all fairness, you see, we got that directive, Mr. President, at mid–day and they, as they will tell you, they had their schedules laid on, their LORAN laid on—

[Page 172]

Nixon: That’s right.

Moorer: I asked Abrams last night and we started right way.

Nixon: I understand. Now, let’s come to Abrams. Why didn’t he think of that? What is—what is his job out there? Just to do it in the numbers or is it his job to try to see that this kind of offensive is stopped? Now, I want you to understand, there’s some talk of Abrams going to Chief of Staff of the Army. I want you to know that I don’t intend him to have to go to Chief of Staff of the Army because of his conduct in this business. He’s shown no imagination. He’s drinking too much. I want you to get an order to him that he’s to go on the wagon throughout the balance of this offensive. Is that clear?

Moorer: Yes, sir.

Nixon: Totally. The other thing that’s going to happen is that he is going to start coming up with some ideas as to the use of the Air Force and so forth and as to the planning here, rather than just sitting back on his ass waiting for things to happen. Now, I have read the reports that came from Defense on this thing, on Friday, on Saturday, they’ve—that’s from out there.4 They did not—they were not accurate. They did not explain what the facts were adequately. And what is happening here is that at Defense, in its usual way, is temporizing with the situation which is serious, but which can be turned to our advantage. But it can only be turned to our advantage with the massive use of all of our assets, and also in terms of our air power by not waiting until it’s ceiling-unlimited before we get out there and clobber them where they are. Now, from the moment you leave this office, I want somebody to get out there have out there, and I want everything that can fly, flying in that area. And good God! In the Battle of the Bulge they were able to fly even in a snowstorm. Now what in the hell is the matter with the Air Force that they are unable to, to, to conduct offensive operations in this area? So they’re going to fly down and drop it over a cane field in Cambodia? Sure, they’d get another Purple Heart—I mean an air medal for that. But I want this Air Force, and I—that includes the Navy—you’ve only got, as I understand it, that instead of having the four carriers we ordered in, we got two. Is that right?

Moorer: No, sir. There are three there. The fourth one will be there very shortly, sir.

Nixon: How shortly?

Moorer: About—I would say they have 50 hours.

Nixon: All right. That’s too long. Too long. We shouldn’t have left it. When those four carriers are there—now, we have got to use this air power in a way that will be as effective as possible. The other thing is [Page 173] an immediate study is to be made of the use of B–52s in the—a study and I need the recommendation within eight hours, and I don’t want to go through the—I’m not going to crap around with the Secretary of Defense on this either—I need the use of B–52s if it will be helpful in that 40 mile—5

Moorer: 45 miles.

Nixon: That’s right. If it will be helpful. Understand? The idea that if, if we don’t have the assets that can do it otherwise, we’ll use ’52s. Now, if the reason for not using the ’52s is because they are vulnerable, I understand that. If, on the other hand, the use of B–52s, after you’ve taken out the SAMs, would be helpful, we’d better use them. Because the thing that I am concerned about here is that—well, first, I don’t like this business of not getting information when I ask for it. I was on the phone all day yesterday and couldn’t get a goddamn thing out of the Department of Defense. I got one half-assed memorandum,6 which was so disgraceful in terms of it being inadequate, that I really don’t, I’m really ashamed to have it in my file. I have it in my file, but I’m going to keep it personal and I hope I don’t have to write a book. But from now on, we’re to have the truth and that guy is going to be over here. Incidentally, not just in the morning; he should be here at 7 o’clock at night. Let him work a little overtime over there. Is that clear?

Moorer: Yes, sir.

Nixon: Get him over here. And I want the plans—I want what he’s done and I want what has been done to carry out these orders. Now as far as this, as the—and then Abrams and that MACV staff and all the rest, they’re to knock off all the parties. Is that clear?

Moorer: Very much, sir—

Nixon: There isn’t to be anything out there. And from—until they get this thing contained, they have got to have what we need from them. What we need from them are some ideas on their part as to what they’re going to do, rather than we’ll run the same numbers, you know, we’ll hit same targets here, here, here, here, here, here and here. The idea that we could have been surprised by this, the idea that we didn’t—I mean, we thought the B–3 thing was coming and so forth. Well, they had more tanks there than we expected; and they had more forces there than we expected, and all that sort of thing. I don’t buy that.

Moorer: Our reason—

[Page 174]

Nixon: Now, it isn’t we being surprised. I mean it’s—this is ARVN being surprised. That’s what they said, that MACV was pissing on the ARVN. We’re the ones that are supposed to have the intelligence. The ARVN doesn’t have much in terms of intelligence. But my point is that, I know we don’t have many assets out there in terms of ground forces. And we’re not going to have any. This is not going to be said, but we’ve got some very considerable assets in terms of air power. But those assets have to be, they have to be concentrated, concentrated in areas that will provide shock treatment now as we did in the B–3 area.7 Remember? We had a couple day strike; it did a little good. Now, we’ve got to concentrate in these areas and give it some shock treatment. And, incidentally, rather than 25 miles, you’ve got to go up to 30 miles in order to do the job.

Kissinger: We have that Dong Hoi area.

Nixon: Take out the Dong Hoi area right now. Now, the 48-hour strike is not going to wait ’til Friday;8 it’s got to go Wednesday. Is that clear?

Moorer: Yes, sir.

Nixon: Yeah. Unless—is the purpose of waiting ’til Friday weather?

Moorer: Well it’s not—it’s not too bad—

Nixon: You can’t get it ready?

Moorer: No, sir. It’ll go—

Nixon: [unclear]—

Moorer: Nothing, no problem if the weather is satisfactory it can go—

Nixon: Well, don’t go if it isn’t; the weather—

Moorer: There’s no restriction on it ’til Friday, sir. There’s no order to go Friday—

Nixon: What’s the problem you said about Friday?

Kissinger: Laird told me last night it wouldn’t go ’til Friday—

Moorer: Well, he was just guessing at the weather.

Kissinger: Oh.

Nixon: All right—

Moorer: There’s no, no—

Nixon: Weather is one thing. But let me say the decision has been made. We need it Wednesday. We need it Wednesday for a number of reasons, not the least of which is military. There are other reasons, too, that are supplemental, but the military is the most important one. And [Page 175] we may not get a chance to whack some of those supplies up now, and they might be coming in September and October. So, let’s get that damn strike off, I mean, if the weather is reasonable. I don’t want to go off in bad weather.

Kissinger: It shouldn’t go if they can’t do a good job.

Nixon: No, no, no, no. I don’t—

Moorer: We’ll deal with it—

Nixon: There’s absolutely nothing. If they can’t do an adequate job there’s no reason to go over North Vietnam. It’s got to be an effective job in the North. But right now, right now when the ARVN is under a very serious attack the Air Force has got to take some goddamn risks, just like the Air Force took some risks in World War II in the Battle of the Bulge because we were under serious attack. If the Air Force hadn’t taken some risks, we’d have lost the battle. Now, that’s really what it boils down to—

Moorer: Yes, sir. Well, the Air Force is not reluctant in any sense to take risks, Mr. President. The problem is that north of the DMZ is that in these—with these missile sites, they’re moving them around all the time and you need some kind of visibility in order to get the—

Nixon: Yeah.

Moorer: —sites themselves. Now, in all fairness to General Abrams you should know that he and CINCPAC, Admiral McCain, have repeatedly asked for authority to, to attack these missile sites north.9 And we hadn’t been given the authority, because you just gave it to us here yesterday. But we knew that they were accumulating these forces in tanks and mobile artillery and so on north of the DMZ. And with—the way the weather is this time of year, the only way to do that right is for the man on the scene to be—to have the authority to go make it. You might get fours hours a day, or two hours all of a sudden. It’s just the—

Nixon: That’s right.

Moorer: The flow shifts back and forth. And it’s very difficult, almost impossible, to run that from Washington. And so far as the reports to you are concerned, let me tell you right now, that if I am directed to give the reports you will get them precisely when you ask. But I am not running this reporting business. And I am passing the information up to the Secretary of Defense and it’s being run from up there, but it’s—

Nixon: Right. I am directing you—

[Page 176]

Moorer: If you want me to do it, I can do it—

Nixon: I am directing you, and if the Secretary of Defense raises the questions, I am directing you. I have to have them directly, and they must be unsanitized. And also when an order goes, it’s got to go from me. The Secretary of Defense is not Commander in Chief. The Secretary of Defense does not make decisions on these kinds of things—

Moorer: I understand that, Mr. President—

Nixon: He’s a procurement officer. That’s what he is and not another goddamn thing. And from now on this has got to be done this way. So under these circumstances we can go. Now, getting back to this thing, let’s see what kind of an excuse is being developed here. You say that—

Moorer: I’m not giving excuses—

Nixon: No, no, no. What Abrams was dropping. You—I thought I asked you about this earlier, Henry, about this authority with regard to hitting. You said they had it already in the DMZ area?

Kissinger: Well, you gave—well, they—you gave the authority in February.10 Then it was stopped during the—

Nixon: China thing.

Kissinger: —during the China thing.

Nixon: That it hit North Vietnam, no?

Moorer: Yes, sir—

Kissinger: That’s right. In the DMZ—they have had authority to hit in the DMZ, but then the authority was never implemented after you came back from China for this 19-mile area that we had agreed to because the offensive didn’t come. Then when they asked for it again, we gave it and you actually ordered a wider belt than the one they asked for—

Nixon: When was that?

Kissinger: This weekend.

Nixon: Yeah.

Moorer: But we asked, sir, on the 8th of March for this authority to go north of the DMZ and it was turned down and—

Kissinger: It was never really discussed in here—

Moorer: —then we asked again, and we finally got the authority yesterday. But he cannot handle a threat, such has accumulated north of the DMZ, unless you really work on it—

Nixon: That’s right.

[Page 177]

Moorer: —when you have the weather.

Nixon: Fine.

Moorer: When you have the weather that’s the way that works—

Nixon: All right. I understand—

Moorer: You’ve got to see the target—

Nixon: I understand. Now, the situation, though, is now is that as far as sorties and so forth are concerned, they’ll go to 500 a day. Will they at least? You can—you can at least do something in this area at this time can you not?

Moorer: Yes, sir.

Nixon: All right.

Moorer: Now we are, Mr. President, putting all of the B–52s, every one we have, up there.

Nixon: Good. Where? Where? In the DMZ area?

Moorer: In the DMZ area. Yes, sir.

Nixon: They can—they can go above that stuff, can’t they [unclear]—?

Moorer: Well, we’re going up to the DMZ. Now, we’ve got to get up there and get out to some of those missile sites to make it viable—

Nixon: Is it possible?

Moorer: To make is feasible so we won’t—

Nixon: Yeah. I understand that we can’t lose B–52s.

Moorer: Yes, sir. Now, we’re working on that—

Nixon: I’ll tell you what I want now. From now on, you get those reports in to me. And the second thing is, I want Abrams braced hard. His promotion depends upon how he conducts himself. Now—just—you weren’t here at the time. He screwed up Laos.11 He’s not going to screw this one up. Is that clear?

Moorer: Yes, sir.

Nixon: All right.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation 700–5. No classification marking. The editors transcribed the portion of the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting was held from 10:06 to 10:20 a.m. and Rush was also in attendance. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  2. Nixon confused David Packard, former Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Rush, the current one.
  3. See Document 51.
  4. Nixon was referring to the daily situation reports from MACV in Saigon.
  5. The length of the DMZ from Laos to the South China Sea was 39 miles.
  6. Not found.
  7. See Document 17 and footnote 3 thereto.
  8. April 7.
  9. See Documents 35, 42, 44, and footnote 7, Document 44.
  10. See Document 15.
  11. A reference to Operation Lam Son 719.