165. Editorial Note
As Soviet leaders gathered in Moscow for the 24th Party Congress, President Richard Nixon and his advisers assembled at the Western White House in San Clemente, California for a less formal session on domestic politics and foreign policy. H.R. Haldeman, the White House Chief of Staff, wrote that Nixon spent much of the afternoon on March 30, 1971, in “general conversation” with Henry Kissinger and John Ehrlichman, his Assistants for National Security and Domestic Affairs, respectively. “He discussed with John the problem of working out who K sees and spends his time with, especially in the press,” Haldeman noted. “Also the point that we’ve got a very delicate period coming up now on our relations with Rogers and Laird, as we get into the SALT Agreement and the follow-up to it. So it’s terribly important that K lays low in his media contacts and lets them be out in front.” According to Haldeman, the President was “obviously in kind of a retrospective mood.” Haldeman was reflective in his diary entry for March 30:
“Some general thoughts as of the end of March. Our position, looked at objectively, would appear to be at an all-time low at the present reading. The polls show us the lowest we’ve been: Gallup at 50, Harris showing a drop just the other day from 43 to 41. The credibility figure is way down; the rating on handling the Vietnam War is the lowest it’s been; the magazines did one of their periodic ‘this week Nixon’s in trouble’ sort of orgies. The Laos withdrawal effect is at its peak, or bottom, and there is a considerable base for feeling that we’ve really gone down substantially. In spite of this, the general attitude of all of the staff people, and certainly of the P, as well as most of the Cabinet members, seems to be very much upbeat, positive, and optimistic. The reason probably is best expressed by the phone conversation I had with Bill Rogers yesterday in which he reported on a talk he had with (Chicago Daily News Washington Bureau Chief) Peter Lisagor earlier in the day. Lisagor had raised the question with him that he couldn’t understand why he seemed so happy and optimistic, and why everybody in the White House seemed to be the same way when it appeared to Lisagor that we were in serious trouble and getting worse. Rogers answered that the reason in his mind was that we know what we’re doing and where we’re going and, therefore, are not concerned about the outlook. On the other hand, the press and, perhaps, the people at this point don’t know, and won’t for a little while, so they take a more pessimistic view. This is really pretty much the case.
“Rogers went on to say that when we came in here two years ago, we inherited a number of monumental problems and didn’t know for sure how to solve them, although we had some ideas. We’ve put our ideas into practice, modified some of them and now have a clear idea [Page 480] what we are doing, and see that we’re on the road to solution and know how we’re going to get there. With this in mind, we have no great concern about the temporary setback situation, because we realize that it is temporary. All of this may be overoptimistic, but on the other hand, there are all kinds of potential optimistic factors that aren’t even taken into consideration in it. At the very least, it would appear that the economy has bottomed out and is gradually inching back into a sound position, and that in any event, we’re going to get out of the war one way or another, and we have a pretty fair chance of getting out honorably.
“Looking beyond that, there are a number of monumentally optimistic possibilities. Henry definitely feels he’s got the SALT thing lined up, and that we can announce that in a couple of weeks; that will lead to a Summit and a four power meeting [on the Middle East] after that in the fall. We know that at some point not too far off, we’ll be able to announce that no more draftees will be serving in Vietnam. Henry feels, and now the P concurs, that there’s a 50/50 chance at least of getting a Vietnam settlement this summer and ending the war completely. The Berlin negotiations appear to be reaching some sort of productive possibilities. The economic situation could turn out to be substantially better than we think it is at the moment. Then of course, there are all sorts of unforeseen possibilities on the bright side, as well as many on the dark side, that could come up.
“All in all, the outlook appears to be strongly balanced in our favor, and I think all of us feel it both rationally and intuitively, and that provides the basis for the optimism that everybody seems to have. Overall, the conclusion would be that probably this week, or this period of two or three weeks, will mark the low of the first term, and also that probably the troop announcement next week will be the basic turning point from which things will start moving upward.” (Haldeman, Haldeman Diaries, pages 262–263)
Nixon and Kissinger met several times on March 31 to discuss various foreign policy issues, including the Soviet Party Congress. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) Although no records of their conversations have been found, Haldeman described in his diary the following exchange on Soviet-American relations:
“In the conversation in the P’s office today, Henry got into the general position we’re now in. He says that he really has the feeling now that he smells some good moves coming up. He’s convinced that the USSR wants a détente, and this is pretty much confirmed by Brezhnev’s conciliatory speech at the Party Congress. He thinks that this is just one more indication that they do want to take a much lower-key position from here on out. The P tends to concur in this view.” (Haldeman, Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition)