6. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Nixon
  • Elliot Richardson, Secretary of Defense
  • The Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • Major General Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
[Page 23]

President: You know, I am known as following a “hard line,” and in the Presidential campaign my opponent took a soft line.

Without the ABM, we would not have had a SALT agreement. In addition, there were many in Congress who wanted to “bug out” from Vietnam, and there were many close votes on that issue. Had those efforts succeeded, our POWs would have come home to a defeated country.

What I’m getting at is the growing strength of isolationism in the United States. This tendency is fed by the information media. But still, thank God we don’t have government television, putting out just one line.

Other countries have to have the support of the peaceniks to survive. During the recent bombing,2 the only ones to stand with us were the British, the Germans, and the Turks. All the others took a cheap shot at the bombing. Trudeau, Tanaka, Schmidt.3 The bombings in World War II killed millions but that was a “good war.” This is a “bad war,” so the bombing was “evil.” There is a real double standard, and isolationism is rampant.

Clinking glasses with the Chinese and the Soviet leaders wasn’t friendship but mutual interests. We talk to both countries, not to divide them but to seek sound relations with them. We must realize, however, that good relations don’t come simply from knowing other people better.

There is a tendency in the rimland of Asia and elsewhere to tell the U.S. to go home. But Indonesia and Suharto4 don’t. Should this develop in the NATO countries, or should they reduce their forces, the Congress will jump at the chance to cut all NATO forces. We are in danger of not getting enough from Congress, and Europe will encourage these forces which will want us to come home. We would like to be able to put the DOD budget into welfare, but if we did, the world would eventually fall under the Communist system. Despite the setback in South Asia and pressure from Congress, the situation is not hopeless. That is what the Chinese and Soviet initiatives were all about. Expansion is an article of Communist faith, but so also is caution.

The Korean War was not about Korea, but basically about Japan. The U.S. stand in Korea was a watershed. So it is with Vietnam, although the domino theory is rejected. Vietnam was important not for itself but because of what it demonstrated in terms of support for our [Page 24] friends and allies and in terms of showing our will to our enemies. We had to see it through. I could have “bugged out” free in Vietnam after the ’68 election, but we had to see it through—but not necessarily the way it had been fought up to them. We have made strong moves in such crises as Jordan,5 Cienfuegos,6 etc. All these were important in demonstrating our commitments to our friends and our determination to our enemies.

I understand what vilification you, the military, have gone through over Vietnam, but you should remember that the big issue in the war was the American spirit.

I will conclude by saying that we must regain the respect for our military or we will end up with a country and a world which is unsafe. We must also remember and honor our POWs, our MIAs, all those killed or all those who served honorably in Vietnam.

[Omitted here is discussion of returning POWs and aid to North Vietnam]

[President:] One other point. I also want to stress that this will be the year of Europe, and we should, within the next two months, review NATO strategy.

I want to emphasize that I want not just a consensus but a variety of views on ground [grand] strategy for the years ahead. The State Department knew diplomacy not strategy, and the Defense Department vice versa. Fortunately, Elliott combines the knowledge of both fields. The Defense Department is full of smart people. It’s important to let them know we need them and intend to use them.

There are a number of areas that need to be studied, such as our posture in Southeast Asia after Vietnam; Indonesia—military and or more economic aid; Korea; the Fleet; the Middle East, Indian Ocean, and the energy crisis, for example.

[Page 25]

I think the Nixon Doctrine7 has been largely misinterpreted. Mansfield, for example, thinks that it is a way to get out. It’s not; it’s a way to maintain our forces overseas but to get a decent effort from the countries supported, especially in terms of manpower. I want Defense involved, as well as State, in the upcoming study efforts.

Richardson: I have ordered a meeting to work out what we are doing, what are the gaps, and what we don’t need to do again.

President: We will pay attention to your views.

[Omitted here is discussion of claims resulting from the war in Vietnam.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Presidential/HAK MemCons, Box 1026, January–March 1973. Secret; Nodis. The luncheon meeting ended at 2:36 p.m. Also in attendance were: Clements, Warner, Seamans, Moorer, Zumwalt, Abrams, Cushman, Goodpaster, Foster, Ziegler, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Jerry W. Friedheim, Under Secretary of the Army Kenneth E. BeLieu, Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense Jonathan Moore, Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense Admiral Daniel J. Murphy, and General Horace M. Wade, Vice Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force, who was substituting for Ryan. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary)
  2. The “Christmas bombing” of North Vietnam from December 18–28, 1972.
  3. Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada; Helmut Schmidt, West German Minister of Finance until May 16, 1974 and Chancellor thereafter; and Kakuei Tanaka, Prime Minister of Japan until December 9, 1974.
  4. General Suharto, President of Indonesia.
  5. Reference is to the Jordan crisis of September 1970. This crisis confronted the Nixon administration with the possibility that King Hussein, a major U.S. ally in the Middle East, would not survive. President Nixon responded to the crisis by positioning the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet off the coast of Israel, near Jordan, and sent additional carrier task forces and the Marine assault ship USS Guam to supplement the Sixth Fleet. For more on the U.S. response to the Jordan crisis see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Vol. XXIV, Middle East Region and Arabian Peninsula, 1969–1972; Jordan, September 1970.
  6. Reference is to the Soviet decision in 1970 to build a submarine base on the southeastern coast of Cuba at Cienfuegos. Warnings were issued by U.S. officials that continued construction of the base would be viewed with the “utmost gravity” and as a violation of the 1962 agreement by which land-based missiles were withdrawn from Cuba. For more on the U.S. response to Cienfuegos see, Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Vol. XII, Soviet Union, January 1969–October 1970, Documents 207208, 210215, and 219226.
  7. See footnote 2, Document 2.