33. Memorandum for the President’s Files by the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig)1
- Meeting between President Nixon, General Westmoreland, and General Haig, at 10:00 am, October 20, 1972 (The Oval Office)
President Nixon stated that he had asked General Westmoreland to visit him2 so that he could get General Westmoreland’s views on the [Page 218] current state of negotiations related to a possible settlement of the conflict in South Vietnam. It was only appropriate that General Westmoreland, who had contributed so much to this effort, should have an opportunity to participate in what may be the final days of the war. No one was as familiar with the situation in South Vietnam as he, and it would be most helpful to the President to have the General’s assessment of both the military and domestic situation.
The President noted that General Haig had briefed General Westmoreland on the broad outlines of the proposed settlement. General Haig interjected that the briefing had been rather abbreviated but that General Westmoreland had had an opportunity to get a grasp of its overall framework.
General Westmoreland stated that in his view the major difficulty with the settlement was the ceasefire in place3 and the lack of any mention of specific commitments with respect to the North Vietnamese divisions in the South. He pointed out that the political framework provided for a ceasefire in place without withdrawal commitment, and this amounted to a de facto cessation by Thieu of sovereignty over substantial portions of South Vietnamese territories.
General Westmoreland stated that in his view President Thieu could not accept such a settlement and would likely reject it. One of Thieu’s major problems was the requirement that he at least retain the image of being the master of his own fate. Any inference that this was an imposed settlement could prove fatal to Thieu’s own political base. General Westmoreland had known Thieu personally and officially for a number of years. He was probably better acquainted with Thieu’s idiosyncrasies than any other American. Thieu was an extremely suspicious man who was devious, capable of sharp turns, and had a conspiratorial outlook that had enabled him to survive through many difficult years. It was essential that the United States work patiently with Thieu and recognize the difficulty that the relinquishment of his territory would pose. Further, the international control mechanism contained in the plan appeared to be without teeth, and contained no specific provisions for insuring that violations did not occur.
The President stated that in his view no control mechanism would ever provide assurance against cheating if the will existed to do so. General Westmoreland agreed but stated that he was concerned that the plan was not adequate for the realities of the situation. In effect, the [Page 219] United States was now in a strong position which had been brought about by the President’s courageous decision to bring the war to the North. Had it been done six years earlier, the war would have been long since over. Now that the North was hurting, we should not move precipitously to take their first proposal.
President Nixon emphasized that he had no intention of being stampeded in this situation and that he recognized the strength of our position. Above all, he would do nothing which would dishonor the sacrifices of the 45,000 American dead. However, he had reviewed the plan and if President Thieu could wrap himself around it with confidence and in an air of optimism and victory, he felt it offered a fair chance to the people of South Vietnam to retain their freedom. Within this framework, the United States would do all that was necessary by way of support, including strong military action if required, should violations occur.
General Westmoreland stated that he agreed with these provisions but noted that he was very skeptical that Thieu would receive the plan optimistically. The President thanked General Westmoreland for his views and informed him that he would keep him apprised of the situation. General Westmoreland indicated that he was greatly reassured and very much appreciated the opportunity to discuss the matter with the President.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 996, Alexander M. Haig Chronological File, Haig Chron, October 1–23, 1972. Top Secret; Sensitive.↩
- In a briefing memorandum sent to Nixon before the meeting, Haig wrote: “General Westmoreland has great symbolic importance with regard to Vietnam and is one of the few key figures who potentially could be somewhat disaffected. A preemptive discussion with him would help ensure that he views a possible settlement in the most favorable light possible. It also would be valuable to have his professional judgment on both the internal political situation and military aspects before you make a final decision.” (Memorandum from Haig to Nixon, October 18; ibid., Kissinger Office Files, Box 7, HAK Administrative and Staff Files, Memoranda Dispatched from WB, June–October 31, 1972) Westmoreland had retired from the Army in June.↩
- Commenting on this meeting, Kissinger recalled that the General had “suddenly surfaced objections to the very concept of a cease-fire in place. This was amazing, since a standstill cease-fire had been part of our position since October 1970 and had been endorsed then by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, of whom Westmoreland was one.” (White House Years, p. 1377)↩