58. Conversation Between President Nixon and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

[Omitted here is discussion of political leadership in the Pentagon.]

Nixon: He’s2 got to realize, Henry, that—everybody around here has got to realize—we aren’t going to lose this damn thing. Look, you know that when he says that if the weather doesn’t break in 48 hours we lose I don’t believe that. I just—

[Page 199]

Kissinger: I don’t believe it either.

Nixon: If it doesn’t—I don’t think battles are won or lost that soon. But God Almighty, there must be something, something, something that son-of-a-bitchin’ Air Force can do in bad weather. Goddamnit!

Kissinger: That’s what kills one. That’s what really kills us.

Nixon: Huh?

Kissinger: That’s what kills us.

Nixon: Well, the [B–]52s can certainly drop them in bad weather, can’t they?

Kissinger: I have—

Nixon: Now, incidentally, he said that it isn’t wise to use ’52s above—in the above area. Now—

Kissinger: Mr. President, basically he—

Nixon: And he also pissed on the naval gunfire thing. Now, what the hell? Who’s right and wrong?

Kissinger: I trust Moorer on the naval gunfire a hell of a lot more than I trust him—he told you seven kilometers. The range is ten miles, which is sixteen kilometers.

Nixon: All right. Use it. Use everything we can.

Kissinger: Well, the worst is it doesn’t hit anything. It doesn’t hurt anything.

Nixon: No. Okay. All right, you’ve got naval gunfire in.

[Omitted here is further discussion of political leadership in the Pentagon and of how to utilize the President’s reputation for risk-taking to achieve policy goals. A portion of the omitted section is printed as Foreign Relations, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 82.]

Kissinger: And we’ll, we’ll escalate it. And it is—that’s why we’ve got to pour things in there. All these guys who say, “What’s effective?” Hell, nothing is going to be. [unclear] pure cost-effectiveness. If we start shelling Dong Hoi with naval gunfire that’s something we haven’t done yet. And—

Nixon: Is Dong Hoi a city?

Kissinger: Yes, sir. Well, I mean, they have supplies outside of Dong Hoi.

Nixon: I see. We’ll hit those, though.

Kissinger: That’s right. If we stop and the air—if we start hitting with B–52s north of the DMZ, that’s a signal. When we start pouring more airplanes in there, that’s a signal. You can’t have approved of every one of them, and if we start getting hit on the B–3 Front he’ll need every airplane he’s got.

[Page 200]

Nixon: Out there. Yeah.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Well, it would work there, too, won’t it?

Kissinger: Yes.

Nixon: On the B–3 Front?

Kissinger: Actually where they are now we ought to be able to cream them, because in the B–3 Front they are out in the jungle—

Nixon: Yeah?

Kissinger: —but, so we won’t be able to see so well. But in the other front it’s a classical infantry battle, and if we can ever get a good day in there, we just ought to wreck them.

Nixon: Goddamnit then. I can’t believe the weather could hang on like this. I can’t believe it. Do you think—does the weather sometimes hang in for weeks at this time of year?

Kissinger: It doesn’t normally but those—it’s, of course, a disgrace, Mr. President. They have to fight—if they—in China, in Russia, in any one of our major enemies, we’re going to have weather like this. This is not unusual weather around the world if you look at conditions, so why design an airplane in which you can only bomb visually? It’s not only visually, they’ve got to be 5—4,000 to 5,000 feet. Well, hell, I don’t know, this is probably 5,000 feet. Commercial aircraft can land—

Nixon: Mel doesn’t know—when he’s talking about the Battle of the Bulge, he says the weather cleared; it did in the movie, but it didn’t actually out there. Those bombers went in and bombed through the snow, didn’t they—?

Kissinger: That’s right, and Al Haig tells me that in the early stages of the Vietnam war when they still had the old planes, he was never worried about air support, it was always there.

Nixon: Is that right?

Kissinger: Yeah. And, hell, commercial planes can land with 300 feet. Here they require 4,000 feet. It’s ridiculous.


Nixon: What did Helms say?

Kissinger: Helms

Nixon: He’s a bellwether.

Kissinger: He’s a good bellwether. He said this was exciting, this was the first positive thing he has heard. He said keep it up. He said that’s the only way to do it. He used almost the phrase—not as eloquently as you—but he in effect said they won’t blame you for succeeding and they won’t give you credit for failing. I mean he didn’t use exactly those words but that was the sense of what he used.

[Page 201]

Nixon: But, on the other hand, suppose the goddamn line breaks? Suppose they take Hue. Then all we’re left with, we’ll then—then we’ll have to go to the—we’ll go to the blockade.

Kissinger: Mr. President, I don’t think Hue will fall that quickly. They’ve got their best division in front of it, and the weather has got to clear by then.

Nixon: No, we—we’re not going to borrow trouble [unclear].

Kissinger: I think this is, this is our Battle of the Bulge.

Nixon: With no Patton.

Kissinger: With no American troops, so we’re dependent on a bunch of—

Nixon: I know.

Kissinger: —Vietnamese.

Nixon: Goddamn it, we trained these troops. They have our equipment.

[Omitted here is brief discussion of political leadership in the Pentagon and a press conference.]

Nixon: Henry, let—the 38th parallel is fine. Is that what it is? 38th—?

Kissinger: 18th.

Nixon: 18th. I’m sorry. I’m thinking of Korea. All right, the 18th. What does that matter?

Kissinger: I’m sort of torn on that strike up to the 19th. I—I’ve got nothing against it, I just thought the more we can say it’s geared to the battle the better off we are here.

Nixon: Well, we don’t have to do that right away anyway.

Kissinger: No. Why don’t we get the other one started?

Nixon: Hmm. [clears throat] Let’s let them concentrate on getting the—that one and then have that as the next option.

Kissinger: That’s, I think, if we do the other one—

Nixon: We’ve got to have something in reserve, so we’ll just knock the hell out of everything right up to the 18th. And the 19th, I want plans to have that as one of the contingencies. And also, I want this mining plan ready [unclear]—

Kissinger: The mining—

Nixon: They’re loading mines, are they?

Kissinger: They’re loading mines in the Philippines.

[Omitted here is discussion of Great Power politics, crisis management, and the Moscow Summit.]

Nixon: So, so your view is, as far as the Russians are concerned, they’ll [unclear]—

[Page 202]

Kissinger: In fact, I told State. State got—

Nixon: Let me say it. Let me say, if the Russians—if the Russians knock off the summit as a result of this—

Kissinger: They won’t.

Nixon: Well, let me say, if they do, I’m simply going to say I, that we are not going to have the Russ—the Communists determine our foreign policy.

Kissinger: They won’t.

Nixon: We’ll hit them right in the nose.

Kissinger: Inconceivable, Mr. President. They will not do it—

Nixon: What’d did you say at State? What’d you tell them—?

Kissinger: Well, State got a question yesterday about, “What do we think of that Russian military mission in Hanoi?” And he avoided it. I told them today if the question comes to say, “Let’s not forget, the Russ—we’re not saying the Russians are planning these operations. We are saying it’s Russian equipment that’s making them possible.”

Nixon: Well, be sure that that’s in Mel Laird’s statement Friday, would you? The Russian equipment point.

Kissinger: Mr. President—

Nixon: It’s the Russian tanks, Russian planes.

Kissinger: And Russian tanks—and Russian trucks.

Nixon: And jeopardizes—this just jeopardizes Soviet-American relations.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: That’s it. Isn’t that a good idea?

Kissinger: Excellent.

[Omitted here is discussion of Kissinger’s meeting with Joseph Alsop.]

Kissinger: I like your phrase, Mr. President: “No one will blame us for success, and no one will give us credit for failure.”

Nixon: Hmm.

Kissinger: If we—if we can get them back behind the DMZ, we can crow all over the place.

Nixon: All right. You think that’s possible?

Kissinger: Yes. I think—

Nixon: I assume only if the North—if the South Vietnamese will charge. They just ought to charge.

Kissinger: No, they just have to hold. I do not believe—This may go like Khe Sanh in ’68.

Nixon: Did they go back?

[Page 203]

Kissinger: They just melted away. So, we’ll have to take several weeks of heat here with liberals screaming for peace and everything else.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation 701–17. 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, 1:17–1:32 p.m. Portions of the transcript are printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 82.
  2. The President was referring to Laird.