188. Conversation With President Nixon 1

[Omitted here is discussion surveying the economy and the federal budget. Also omitted is Shultz’s introductory presentation on the fiscal year 1973 Defense budget, during which he mentioned that, while he, Laird, Kissinger, Packard, and Weinberger had agreed on an initial fiscal guidance in the neighborhood of $79 billion, Laird subsequently had pushed for spending totaling $82 to $83 billion.]

Shultz: What we need to get is guidance from you about what we should strive for, basically with the domestic programs. We also have a tax discussion here. And if—I think we need to get a feel for what ballpark you want to shoot for [unclear]. Because if this, for instance, [Page 785] is going to go to [$]83 or 85 or 86 [billion] or something like that, then that’s just not inside the box as far as the—

Nixon: Well let me—first, in terms of Henry’s [Kissinger] question, of course we can wait two weeks, because we’ve got a couple of other fish to fry at the moment, so I—is that what you’re talking about? Two weeks?

Shultz: At least. [unclear exchange]

Kissinger: Look, I think the 83 billion is nuts.

Nixon: But now it may be—because I think you’re going to have—

Kissinger: We need about two weeks.

Nixon: Well, you think maybe we need to think a little differently too. Now, nobody’s done a better job on defense than Henry has over the past 2½ years, and it has been a big reason that—not because of Henry’s [unclear], but due to the fact that Henry has taken the Defense Department and shaken it up. We’re doing a hell of a lot better than we’ve ever done. But on the other hand, in terms of what we have, we have the DPRC, or whatever it is. They sit down there. The sons of bitches sit down there, and it’s the same old shell game. “Well, gee whiz, I can’t get rid of these wings, and the Army’s going to be all mad if they don’t have these nice slots and so forth. And I know the West Point [unclear].” They don’t tell you the number of people at West Point. The bastards have 4,000—1,000 new people at West Point, planned for the next year. They have 3,000 this year, which is too many officers to have right now. And the Air Force is worse. The Navy probably needs theirs for reasons of naval power that are going to be necessary as long as this nation is even a mini-power. We have got to shake up the goddamn Defense Department in a way that hasn’t been done. In a way, as you and I have talked—we’ve been too busy, you’ve been too busy, but I’m not too busy now. Those bastards are going to shape it down. If we don’t need air defense, and we don’t. We don’t need those goddamn air wings up there. We don’t need all those flyboys flying around. We don’t need those Air Force generals. We’re going to get rid of them. We’re going to get rid of air defense. And we’re going to get rid of some of this ground stuff. And we’re getting rid of some of the Navy crap too. They got a lot of crap too, despite the fact that they talk about other things.

Now, the real problem here is that defense is not what Defense really wants or needs. God, I’d fight to the death for them on ABM, on their missile strength, on divisions and so forth, you know what I mean. Who would fight harder? You would fight harder. We’re not going to let them cut into the real stuff. And it isn’t just a question that—you know, McNamara [unclear] running it more efficiently. He ran it inefficiently. And as a result, the United States has become a second-rate power in defense. And that was what inefficiency did. We’ve been [Page 786] trying to run it more efficiently and maintain some credibility through our ABM, through our SALT thing. But we have not gotten a hold of them. Laird has not touched it. Packard has not touched it. You’ve gotten to the fringes of it. I mean, they’ve come in here and I’ve seen—I know a snow job as well as anybody around here. The goddamn Defense Department, the more it changes, the more it remains the same. It’s the Navy, the Army, and the Air Force fighting for the slots for their generals and for their personnel and all the rest. So if it comes down, it must come down equally, rather than putting the emphasis where it needs to be put. As you and I both know, where it needs to be put where it’s going to count. And I can’t emphasize too strongly, I don’t want to go over to Defense and say, “Look, almost 83 is a crazy figure. Now can’t we compromise on 79½ or 81½?” Bullshit. We have got to make Defense now—but wait until you hear what I’ve got to say about revenue sharing and the environment, and family assistance, all of which are going to be trimmed right down to the bone or up, because I don’t believe any of the goddamn things. But on these things, on Defense, Henry, we have got to shake those bastards up.

Kissinger: I agree.

Nixon: Now, you’re the only man who can do it. I know you tried. But they haven’t gotten it from the top yet. You’ve got to shake them up. It may be that half the Defense budget ought to be in the Navy. I’m inclined to think it probably should. I don’t know. But, I—it may be that as far as the Army’s concerned, they say—I know, Westmoreland says his Army’s morale is terrible. I said, “Why’s your morale terrible?” Is it because of My Lai and all the rest? No, it’s not because of that. It’s because, for Christ sakes, they don’t have as many slots for as many generals and as many officers’ clubs. You know why that is. That’s [unclear] the Air Force. Why’s their morale bad? It’s because [unclear]. But for Christ sakes, we don’t need those flyboys anymore. They’re irrelevant. They’re obsolete. And they’re just obsolete as hell. All these guys, you know, the air defense—I’ve seen NORAD and I’ve seen all their planes out there. And, you know [unclear]. Are the Soviets going to come flying over the Pole with a bunch of planes? They aren’t going to come flying over the Pole with a bunch of planes. You know that and I know it. Why in the hell doesn’t somebody tell them? That’s my point. And that’s what we’re not getting in air defense. I don’t want it. That’s why, rather than in two weeks, let me say right now, take 30 days. I want you to take 30 days on Defense. I want you to take them in and shake that tree for once. And goddamn them, we want to do what this country needs, and we have got to cut in those areas where it’s really going to help. Now that’s what we’re not doing. Because, the DPRC—I—it’s basically a brokering deal. You have to broker in the [unclear] and look it over. Without that, we’d be doing nothing. We wouldn’t even have ABM because ABM was fought by Defense, [Page 787] as you know. The Air Force fought it because they wanted [unclear]—why’d the Air Force fight it? Well, they wanted a new fighter, or a new bomber. Screw them. They’re not going to get it. That’s the way I feel about it.

Kissinger: Well, the DPRC is [unclear]. Laird just ignores them and brokers his own little enterprises [unclear]. The trouble is, if we put a ceiling up, whatever it is, 83, 79—

Nixon: They’ll divide it three ways.

Kissinger: They’ll slice it three ways.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: And they’ll do it in terms—

Nixon: That we cannot do.

Kissinger: What we’ve got to get done in the DPRC and in the NSC is—actually, it’s got to be in the NSC, because until they hear you say it, none of us can really make them do it—is a statement of what missions you want before [you]. And then, hold them to those missions and scrap all the others. That we can get done. But if we give them a figure, even a pie figure, they’re going to split it up to protect their long-term slots.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: But if you tell them the only missions you’re going to consider are A, B, C, and D, and everything else goes, substantially goes, then we’ve got a handle to operate on. And that’s what I think. If you’re going to have one NSC meeting the first week of August at which—we have one DPRC meeting, one NSC meeting in which they hear you say, “These are the missions I think we put our money on, and we’ll scrap the others for a two [unclear] minimum.” Then I think George [Shultz] has a way of squeezing them. Budget ceilings won’t do it. They’ll kill us with budget ceilings. I don’t know what you think, John [Connally].

Connally: I’ve been [unclear]. First, they’ll slice it three ways to begin with. Then within the services, [unclear] themselves the threat. No program. They’ll divide up their one-third among all of their programs. They’ll threaten again. [unclear exchange] You’re going to have to scrap the missions.

Nixon: We have to determine at the highest level what the United States needs in the way of defense. Now, of course, all of this is complicated by the miserable problem we’re faced with. And the fact that it’s going to have, you know, [unclear] and the rest. But what I’m—what we’ve talking about here, you see, is the ‘73 budget. What we’re talking about is what we do frankly after November. We may think of a lot. We can put all this stuff in, in terms of base closings and the rest, and close those goddamn bases, half of them the day after the election [Page 788] in November. I understand that. You can’t do it before. You don’t have to put all that stuff out, and the damn Defense Department’s going to play ball. But believe me, I’m sick of those bastards because they are here squealing and squirming around, but when you finally scratch them enough, what do they want to do? Well, they want to keep a couple of acres down at Camp Pendleton, or they don’t want to give up the Presidio, or something. When in the hell are they going to start thinking of the United States? Now, the other thing—

Kissinger: They will never give up a gold mine voluntarily. You can bet on that. So no matter what ceilings you put on them, they’ll spread it over [unclear].

Nixon: Sure. [unclear] One place to start. This is going to be tough. For God’s sake, they got to start in terms of their three service academies. You can’t produce 4,500 officers every, without there having—1,000 graduates a year without expecting those poor bastards to want to have a command. Can you? We got too many college graduates and we got too many service graduates. Now, is the volunteer armed forces, is that thing too far down the road that we can’t scrap it?

Ehrlichman: Well, [unclear] pay increases, of course, are in conference now [unclear exchange]. The conference is on the extension of the draft, so the pay increases in the volunteer armed forces bill are way above what we asked.

Nixon: Well, the pay increases, of course, do not speak to the subject of [unclear].

Ehrlichman: No.

Nixon: They speak to the subject of higher payments put into places where, by God, we should not have them. I mean, [unclear]. The fact that you’re giving pay increases to a bunch of lieutenant commanders and majors and so forth, isn’t going to bring me any more privates. And they damn well know that. And here’s Defense again playing their goddamn shell game. [unclear exchange]

Kissinger: The pay increases in a way are killing us because it means that, I think 50 or 60 percent of the budget goes to pay. If we ever get into a war and have to expand it—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: And the cost of [unclear exchange].

Unidentified speaker: We would also have freedom between civilian and military pay so that whenever the civilian employees go up, even the military pay—even increased by the volunteer armed forces—

Nixon: We’re not going to go into that—we’re certainly going to try to avoid that. My feeling is, Henry, that I would prefer to take a month. Now [unclear] this is the crack that we need. We haven’t cracked them yet. Take a month. But believe me, we want to crack them. [Page 789] I don’t want to fool around with this same business of having Laird come back in here and I sit down with the Chiefs and we make them all feel good. I mean, too bad, they don’t feel good that night. But they’re going to be shaken up. There’s going to be change. The Air Force is going to be changed, by God. It’s going to be changed or else. Christ, they’re flying missions at the present time, as you know damn well. Even in Southeast Asia some of them. They don’t need a damn thing. Just have a new command. And, a lot of the Navy commands, a lot of the rest. Look, I’m for paying all those that had to go to the hardware, the people where we need them. Fine. But the Defense Department has got to take a hard look at what the country needs. And then, they put it within that. Now, it may still be 83. Listen, that isn’t what I’m talking about.

Kissinger: I know what you—

Nixon: What I am talking about is not [unclear]. To get it down to 78 is supposed to please the bastards. That’s what we’re talking about. We’re talking about that never has a country spent more for less defense than the United States of America. Now that is true. It’s just as true as it can be. It’s true of—you compare us to the Russians, you compare us to another great power. And here we are. We spend a hell of a lot, and all we do is we waste 300 pounds on a 150–pound frame. [unclear] Now I suppose everybody’s talked to this subject. But believe me, I know those—I love Moorer. I think he’s a great guy, but he’s got to broker. Laird and Packard aren’t strong enough to do it, but we are. Now, that’s why I want Henry to have the time to do it. But [you] must understand, Henry, what the job is.

[Omitted here is discussion of intelligence reform and the capabilities of the CIA.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Recording of Conversation among Nixon, Connally, Kissinger, Ehrlichman, Shultz, Weinberger, Cole, Harper, Haldeman, and Ziegler, Oval Office, Conversation No. 544–8. No classification marking. The editor transcribed the portion of the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume. The transcript is part of a larger conversation held from 10:25 a.m. to 1:03 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary)