2. Editorial Note
President Richard Nixon met with General Andrew J. Goodpaster, USA, Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, at 11 a.m. on February 15, 1973. The meeting took place in the Oval Office at the White House. Pool reporters were present for Nixon’s opening remarks on the state of U.S.-European relations:
“I have said this is the year of Europe. . . .This is not to say that we are not placing enormous emphasis on completing the settlement in Southeast Asia and on continuing to build our relationship and dialog with the PRC and the Soviet Union, and our policy in this hemisphere—in Latin America. But the year of Europe becomes very impor[Page 4]tant in both the economic context, which was brought home by the recent monetary situation, and also in terms of the national security context, because of the fact that MBFR—mutual balanced force reductions—will be a subject on our agenda this year, not only first with our European allies but also with the Soviet Union, and also because of the European Security Conference. It will not be specifically military matters. . . .”
Nixon commented that U.S., European, and Japanese officials planned to devote additional time to discussing MBFR and the European Security Conference, predicting that such deliberations would lead to an examination of American global relationships and responsibilities:
“We must not overlook the fact that tied into all this are the security arrangements that we have with Europe and Japan. The United States at the present time, after going through Vietnam, will hear, understandably, voices raised, very sincere voices, that ‘After Vietnam, let’s throw up our hands, turn inward, and withdraw from our obligations in the world.’
“One of the reasons I considered it vitally important that the war in Vietnam be ended in what I think was the right way, peace with honor, was that it was essential to demonstrate both to our allies in Europe, the Japanese, and other allies, the Thais and so forth, and to potential adversaries, that the United States is a dependable ally. All the power in the world lodged in the United States means nothing unless those who depend upon U.S. power to protect them from the possibilities of aggression from other powers—which they themselves would not be able to do—all the power in the world here means nothing unless there is some assurance, some confidence, some trust that the United States will be credible, will be dependable.” (Public Papers: Nixon, 1973, page 103)
After the reporters departed at 11:20, Nixon and Goodpaster continued their conversation. In a memorandum for the President’s files prepared by Brigadier General Brent Scowcroft, the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs, Nixon further commented on the allied relationship:
“The President said that the U.S. always turns the other cheek, but in this case, what had been an alliance of interest and friendship is now just an alliance of interest. Why were we in Vietnam, after all? The issue was not a small strip of land but the credibility and dependability of the United States to its allies and friends. We will not bear grudges, but when an ally is so presumptuous that it attacks us without waiting, for its own political purposes, we will henceforth base our relationship solely on the national interest, not on friendship.”
Nixon and Goodpaster also discussed the future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and current proposals related to MBFR:[Page 5]
“The President thought that the principal problem was psychological. We need to work out, he said, what we can do and still preserve confidence in the alliance. General Goodpaster felt we should not be afraid to put out proposals simply for fear that the USSR would not accept them. He mentioned, as examples, ideas for a common ceiling on troop strength and mixed package reductions of elements which were of the most concern to each side. General Goodpaster observed that the opening of negotiations by the President with the USSR and the PRC had been one of the most constructive developments in the world today, that we must continue to negotiate, and that we should not let the USSR play one ally against another. Some force reduction was possible, even though the military were generally opposed.” Nixon and Goodpaster concluded their meeting at 12:02 p.m. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Staff Member and Office Files, White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, President’s Meeting File, 1969–1974, Box 91, Memoranda for the President—Beginning February 4 )
The President then departed for the Pentagon for a meeting with Secretary of Defense Elliot Richardson, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Scowcroft. According to a memorandum of conversation, Nixon commented on the isolationist sentiment permeating American society:
“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, 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. 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 Suharto 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. [Page 6] 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 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 then. We have made strong moves in such crises as Jordan, Cienfuegos, 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.”
The remainder of the conversation focused upon ways in which the military could recognize the returning prisoners of war and ease their reentry into American society. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 279, Memoranda of Conversations, Presidential File Jan.–Mar. 1973) The full record of this conversation is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXV, National Security Policy, 1973–1976.