82. Conversation Between President Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

[Omitted here is a discussion of the military situation in Vietnam and of political leadership in the Pentagon.]

Kissinger: Mr. President, our major thing now is to get across to the Russians, to the Chinese, and to Hanoi that we are on the verge of going crazy. This is how we broke the India–Pakistan situation last year.

Nixon: With nothing.

Kissinger: With nothing.

Nixon: With nothing.

Kissinger: By just giving the impression that you were just crazy enough to fight for West Pakistan. If we could make that one stick, we can make this one stick.

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: And we’ll, we’ll escalate it. And that’s why we’ve got to pour things in there.

[Omitted here is further discussion of the military situation in Vietnam and of political leadership in the Pentagon.]

Nixon: Have the Chinese and Russians warned us yet?

Kissinger: No

Nixon: Not to intervene, not to bomb?

Kissinger: Not yet.

Nixon: Well, they will. They would have to because the stories all indicate we’re going to.

Kissinger: Well—

[unclear exchange]

Kissinger: It’s dangerous to warn them if you do so, then it is ineffective. I think, the wilder we look the better it is for us. We will get—The worst is to look hesitant because then they’ll want to get a point for keeping us from doing what we might not want to do.

Nixon: Sure. We’re not [unclear]

Kissinger: No, no. I mean we’ve done it in Jordan. We’ve done it now. We did it in India–Pakistan. And we’ve got to play it recklessly. That’s the safest course.

[Page 259]

Nixon: Yeah, I see your point. Your idea, Henry, is the appearance of some recklessness here and the—

Kissinger: If—

Nixon: —the hell with the election and all the rest is the thing that’s going to make these bastards, they—You see, that’s the point I raised with you yesterday. Is there some possibility in the back of their mind, they might feel I was restrained—because of the damn election? You see my point? They might.

Kissinger: They, they might. You see, Mr. President, I think you will not trigger the Russians into this unless they think you might just blow the whole damn thing.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: they’re not doing the summit to do you a favor.

Nixon: Oh, no.

Kissinger: In fact, when they thought the summit was doing you a favor, they played a damn tough game.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: They gave you an answer only—They started coming the other way only when they started needing you. They need you now on the Berlin ratification. They have a big crisis—

Nixon: Does that make any, any imprint—

Kissinger: Oh, yeah.

Nixon: —on Mr. Dobrynin’s mind?

Kissinger: Well, and he knows it’s a fact. “If you start raising hell with us, that strengthens the enemies of ratification in Germany.” That’s a fact.

Nixon: I see.

Kissinger: And—

Nixon: You told him that?

Kissinger: Oh, yeah.

Nixon: Good. So, so your view is, as far as the Russians are concerned, they’ll—

Kissinger: In fact, I told State. State—

Nixon: Let me say, 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.

[Page 260]

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

Nixon: What did you say to State?

Kissinger: Well, State got a question yesterday about what do we think of the Russian military mission in Hanoi. And he avoided it. I told them today if the question comes to say, “Let’s not forget, we’re not saying the Russians are planning these operations. We are saying it’s Russian equipment that’s making them possible.”2

Nixon: Well, be sure that that’s in Mel Laird’s statement: Russian equipment, Russian tanks, Russian planes.3

Kissinger: And Russian tanks—and Russian trucks.

Nixon: And jeopardizes, jeopardizes Soviet–American relations. That’s—Isn’t that a good idea?

Kissinger: Excellent.

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

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 701–17. No classification marking. According to his Daily Diary, Nixon met with Kissinger in the Oval Office from 1:17 to 1:32 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The editors transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.
  2. See Document 81.
  3. During a news conference on April 7, Laird charged that the Soviet Union was a “major contributor” to the North Vietnamese offensive, providing military supplies rather than political restraint. Laird also promised that the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam would continue until Hanoi withdrew its regular troops from the South. (The New York Times, April 8, 1972, p. 1)