187. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Ford
  • Secretary James Schlesinger, Secretary of Defense
  • Lt. General Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

Schlesinger: I am having to see whether there isn’t some other way to get some money. I looked at the 814 legislation—it looks tenuous and Nixon used it in Cambodia in 1970. The Hill wants to slither away from this. I say they won’t give us the money.

President: The odds are against us. But I want them to stand up to be counted. We have to stand up and keep pushing—make a public record that we meant what we said. The bad results are their responsibility—not ours.

Schlesinger: Another ameliorating factor is this: We have rechecked our records and we found two million. Using it will cause some flak—I didn’t want to do so without checking with you.

President: How did it happen?

Schlesinger: It was straightforward. In 1973 we built in an inflation factor which didn’t materialize.

President: Do you have a problem testifying to it?

Schlesinger: No. It’s only the appearance.

President: But if you don’t, word will get out that we had it and didn’t use it.

Schlesinger: Yes. But we will be accused of Pentagon shenanigans. I have put a hold on it for now. I would hold it until the votes are out. If it is negative, maybe we shouldn’t use it. I could go to Mahon, McClellan and tell them.

President: It never hurts to be honest, even in a tough spot like this. We want to make every effort. We ought to go ahead and use it and tell them what has happened.

Schlesinger: Khmer morale is deteriorating some. Tuol Reap is being attacked and there is some progress. Under these circumstances, if the morale cracks it could crack very rapidly.

You are trying to balance steadfast American support with the safety of American lives.

[Page 680]

President: How many are there?

Schlesinger: About 500. We have pulled the dependents. Dean recommends that when the vote comes, he pull out another 225. I think we can wait until the vote on Wednesday,2 but it is getting dicey. The foreign community is shrinking.

President: Supposing we ended up with 250 Americans there. What would happen?

Schlesinger: It’s like Harbin in China. They were held for two or three years and some were killed.

President: Are these military?

Schlesinger: Some. We are on the edge of the law. It is the verge of a combat situation. They are unloading ammo. Congress hasn’t complained yet, but it is risky.

President: I don’t think Congress knows which way to go. What do you recommend?

Schlesinger: I would be inclined to approve pulling the 250 out and such foreigners as we have on our list. Right now we have no dependents.

We should tell Dean the chances are poor. He has the responsibility. Also tell him from the President that if it’s a matter of stability of the American community, he should tell you immediately. You could also tell State to help surrender the city. Or you can tell the GKR that we are with them as long as they want to fight.

[Scowcroft notes: Get Patton quote, out amount—Americans hate a loser. Sending troops in. Did Truman make an address at the fall of Seoul at the beginning of the Korean War?]

President: I am strongly inclined to the latter. I think we must stick to them. But make contingency plans to withdraw the 250.

Schlesinger: We could also move the Marines to Ubon to increase our readiness.

We also plan to use tear gas.

President: As I recall, our reservations on the treaty [Geneva Protocol] provide for that.

Schlesinger: That is true.

Scowcroft: Gradual attrition might be possible.

President: I like that if possible. And to hold Marines from Ubon, with your judgment if you have to move them.

[Much discussion of contingency planning.]

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Southeast Asia.]

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, Box 10, 3/14/1975. Secret; Nodis. The meeting was held in the Oval Office. All brackets, with the exception of those describing omitted material, are in the original.
  2. March 19.