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A Priceless Memo from Richard Nixon:

Bonnie Goldstein links to a newly released 1970 memo by Richard Nixon to his Chief of Staff (and future Watergate jailbird) H.R. Haldeman. You just can't make up stuff this good.

The subject of the memo is Nixon's concern that the public didn't view him as a "warm" human being. This, in Nixon's view, was extremely unfair. For example, it ignored his kindness in calling sick people "even though they no longer mean anything to anybody." Moreover, Nixon complained, he didn't get credit for not treating his staff and cabinet members like "dirt under my feet." "No President could have done more than I have done in this respect," he boasted. Nixon whined that the press was ignoring "innumerable examples of warm items -the way we have gone far beyond any previous President in this century in breaking our backs to be nicey-nice to the Cabinet, staff, the Congress, etc,, around Christmastime." After listing these and other "innumerable examples" of his (or rather "our") good deeds, Nixon was careful to note that "one of the great factors that should be emphasized is that the President does not brag about the good things he does for people." (emphasis in the original). It's worth noting that Nixon uses the royal "we" to refer to himself throughout most of the memo.

However, the memo is not entirely unintentional self-parody. A few of the things Nixon said are scarily accurate. Nixon's desire to create an image of warmth to complement his reputation for "efficiency" was the result of his realization that "effeciency and competence have precious little effect in determining whether Presidents are re-elected" (pg. 1 of the memo). Presidents who want to stay in office, Nixon explained, must also create a positive "mystique" about their personality. This statement is an exaggeration, but has important elements of truth. Indeed, Nixon's own landslide reelection in 1972 despite the disastrous nature of his policies (detente, wage and price controls, policies that helped cause eventual defeat in the Vietnam War, proposing massive expansions of the welfare state that even a liberal Democratic Congress thought unwise enough to reject) is Exhibit A in the argument that good policy is often not the best way to win and hold on to political office.

And, though Nixon never quite succeeded in fooling the public into believing he was a "warm" human being, he did successfully pose as an opponent of racial preferences, while actually establishing the first large-scale affirmative action programs (which angry white voters blamed on the Democrats, as Nixon had intended). He also succeeded in portraying himself as a conservative despite pursuing the most liberal policy agenda of any post-World War II president (on both of these points, see historian Joan Hoff's book Nixon Reconsidered; on affirmative action see also Hugh Davis Graham's excellent book. Ironically, Nixon found it easier to deceive people about the nature and consequences of his policies than about his personal "warmth."

UPDATE: I have corrected some poor phrasing that made it seem as if I meant to say that the Vietnam War was already lost by November 1972. It was not, but Nixon's policies on the War had by then helped put us in a position where eventual defeat was highly likely.

UPDATE #2: To further clarify, my argument is not necessarily that Nixon was worse than Democratic candidate George McGovern in 1972, though it is far from obvious that he was better. Rather, my claim is that Nixon and others had succeeded in persuading the public into supporting a disastrous set of policies that, by 1972, were embraced by the nominees of both parties. The options before the public in 1972 were both deeply flawed. But that fact itself was in considerable part caused by successful manipulation of political ignorance during previous years.

UPDATE #3: Having thought about this post some more, I think the last part of it goes too far in attributing Nixon's political victories too exclusively to political ignorance. The situation during the Nixon era was more complex than that, too complex to try to analyze in a small part of a blog post. I still think, as Graham and other scholars have documented, that Nixon did try hard to manipulate ignorance and met with some success. And I still believe that Nixon's policies were severely flawed - probably more so than those of any other post-WWII president. However, the Nixon record is too complicated to attribute primarily to one cause, and definitely too complicated to deal with in a short fragment of a blog post.

DWPittelli (mail) (www):
Opinions differ as to who is to blame for "losing the Vietnam War," but I don't know of a coherent argument that it was lost before the November 1972 election.
7.16.2007 11:13pm
Ilya Somin:
Opinions differ as to who is to blame for "losing the Vietnam War," but I don't know of a coherent argument that it was lost before the November 1972 election.

The point is that Nixon's policies were a major contributing factor to the defeat, even though that defeat was not complete until after November 1972. Nonetheless, I will fix the unnecessary ambiguity in my original phrasing in order to prevent what I think is a reasonable misinterpretation of what I meant.
7.16.2007 11:18pm
Enoch:
As of election day 1972, not only was Vietnam not lost, but detente was not a "disaster".

Really, is the point of this post that voters in November 1972 were hopelessly deluded? That Nixon's first term was a "disaster" sure wasn't obvious to the voters then, nor is it obvious to any historian now who isn't blinded by partisan spite.
7.16.2007 11:25pm
Ron Hardin (mail) (www):
Comedian Don Novello, in his book The Lazlo Letters, wrote an enthusiastic letter of support to Nixon after he'd been retired to San Clemente, thinking to prod him like everybody else he wrote to, to making a fool of himself ; but Nixon sent back a genuine letter. Nixon and Nguyen Cao Ky were the only two in the book who came off well in their letters back. Nixon's :

Dear Mr. Toth :
A friendly letter in the mail bag is always most welcome, and that certainly was the case with yours of October 23rd.

It was thoughtful of you to take the time to write as you did, and I wanted you to know of my appreciation.

With best wishes,

Sincerely,

Richard Nixon

P.S. King Timahoe is with us and in the best of health; Vicki has been in the family since 1962 and is amazingly active and well for her years.
7.16.2007 11:26pm
Bah (mail):
"He also succeeded in portraying himself as a conservative despite pursuing the most liberal policy agenda of any post-World War II president."

I love how all unpopular Republican presidents are branded as liberals. First, there was talk about how Bush is not a real conservative and is more of a liberal. Now we start with the Nixon was a liberal refrain. How about we stick to the labels that the presidents self identify as?

Please don't put the conservative movement's failures on liberals.
7.16.2007 11:32pm
wm13:
But George McGovern and the Democrats were enthusiastic supporters of price controls, detente, racial preferences, guaranteed family incomes, withdrawal from Southeast Asia as a road to peace, etc. So anyone who opposed those policies would have voted for Nixon as the lesser of two evils. And the politically conscious and aware professoriate supported those policies even more enthusiastically than the Democrats in Congress. I really don't see where you come by your contempt for the judgment of the American people.
7.16.2007 11:36pm
Ilya Somin:
I love how all unpopular Republican presidents are branded as liberals. First, there was talk about how Bush is not a real conservative and is more of a liberal. Now we start with the Nixon was a liberal refrain. How about we stick to the labels that the presidents self identify as?

If those labels are inaccurate, why stick with them. What other president pursued policies as liberal as the combination of detente, nationalized health care, a guaranteed annual income, wage and price controls, the creation of affirmative action, the creation of the EPA, and quite a few others? Yes, Nixon self-identified as conservative. But the rest of us don't have to buy into his deceptions.
7.16.2007 11:37pm
Ilya Somin:
But George McGovern and the Democrats were enthusiastic supporters of price controls, detente, racial preferences, guaranteed family incomes, withdrawal from Southeast Asia as a road to peace, etc. So anyone who opposed those policies would have voted for Nixon as the lesser of two evils.

That is true certainly of McGovern. It was not fully true of the Democrats in Congress, who blocked many of Nixon's liberal policy proposals. Furthermore, had Nixon pursued a different set of policies, the Democrats might not have become as left wing as they did by 1972.

Lastly, the problem with the public in 1972 was not so much in assuming that Nixon was "the lesser of two evils" (though whether he was is disputable), but in endorsing a set of policies that were so dysfunctional to such an extent that the leaders of both parties were supporting them by 1972.
7.16.2007 11:41pm
wm13:
Prof. Somin, you never seem to explain the fact that your highly-educated, politically-informed colleagues in the academy support policies far, far to the left of the supposedly "dysfunctional" policies endorsed by the rabble of working class voters for whom you have such contempt. It's easy to project characteristics like ignorance on people you don't know. Why don't you explain the people you do know? What drives Jack Balkin and Mark Tushnet to be even stupider than the average American?

I guess life would be tough at cocktail parties if you started down that road. With your current tack, you can hold mildly heterodox political opinions and still fit in to the cozy self-flattering professorial guild: you're one of them in your contempt for your fellow citizens.
7.16.2007 11:51pm
Ilya Somin:
Prof. Somin, you never seem to explain the fact that your highly-educated, politically-informed colleagues in the academy support policies far, far to the left of the supposedly "dysfunctional" policies endorsed by the rabble of working class voters for whom you have such contempt. It's easy to project characteristics like ignorance on people you don't know. Why don't you explain the people you do know? What drives Jack Balkin and Mark Tushnet to be even stupider than the average American?

I have never argued that ignorance (which by the way is different from stupidity) is the only cause of support for flawed public policies. Moreover, I do not "project" ignorance on voters. Rather, that ignorance is proven extensive survey data.
7.16.2007 11:57pm
Reg (mail):

Nixon's policies on the War had by then helped put us in a position where eventual defeat was highly likely.


This is highly debatable. If I remember right, on reasonable argument is that the Easter Offensive in 1972 showed that the South Vietnamese could hold their own against the North with US air support. North suffered much greater casualties. It was the withdrawal of all US air support that ensured the defeat of the South.
7.16.2007 11:58pm
Ion:
I believe that you have poorly phrased your reference to Nixon's statement about calling the sick "even though they no longer mean anything to anybody". It appears to me that "they" does not refer to "the sick", but to the telephone calls. As in "the telephone calls no longer mean anything to anybody.

At least there is an argument here, and I'm not sure it is fair to assume from Nixon's poor phrasing that he was refering to the "the sick." Sure, it makes a great blog entry, creates a shock value, and gives readers what they want (to hate Nixon). But it might be slightly unfair.
7.17.2007 12:01am
Ilya Somin:
I guess life would be tough at cocktail parties if you started down that road. With your current tack, you can hold mildly heterodox political opinions and still fit in to the cozy self-flattering professorial guild: you're one of them in your contempt for your fellow citizens.

I have never expressed "contempt" for them. To the contrary, I have always argued that political ignorance, for most of the public, is rational and understandable, not a result of "stupidity." My argument, on this blog and elsewhere, has always been that ordinary citizens (and others) can be trusted to make good decisions in settings where they have good incentives to become informed and to use that information effectively. Unfortunately, the electoral process rarely works that way.
7.17.2007 12:02am
Harry Eagar (mail):
If the Vietnam War was ever winnable, which is doubtful, it was finished by Tet 1968.

The government of South Vietnam, backed up by the United States, had assured fencesitters that it could provide security.

Fencesitters who were foolish enough to trust that and put their heads up had them cut off in scores of towns at Tet.

The claim that Tet was a terrible defeat for the Communists is all backward. What did they care for their losses?

Tet destroyed whatever chance there ever had been that the South Vietnamese government could hold popular support.
7.17.2007 12:09am
Ak:
It's hard to get a grasp on the Nixon presidency. Watergate aside, sometimes the man comes across as extremely intelligent and one of the best analytical thinkers to ever occupy the White House. Then other times you read accounts like from Kissinger and the man comes across as perpetually drunk and deranged.

That being said, this comes across as a fairly accurate, if cold assessment of politics. Once the press gets a meme in hand (John Kerry = Flip Flopper, George Bush = Dumb) there is almost nothing that will refute it and every story will be viewed through the lens of it ("Is Kerry flip flopping on this?"). Plenty of Presidents have been cold - FDR was notorious for being friendly but ruthless. Nixon's problem was mostly public relations from a press corps that despised everything about him and was eager to frame him in the worst possible light. His typically tactless way of phrasing this notwithstanding.
7.17.2007 12:40am
Mark Field (mail):

If those labels are inaccurate, why stick with them. ... Yes, Nixon self-identified as conservative. But the rest of us don't have to buy into his deceptions.


I don't find this reasoning very persuasive. I still remember all the old Marxist apologists fervently denying that the Soviet Union represented "real" Marxism. Maybe "real" Marxism was China or Cuba or yet to be realized. But the fact that actually existing regimes called themselves "Marxist" always struck these purists as irrelevant.

Nobody else was very persuaded by this reasoning, and there's no reason for them to be persuaded about Nixon (or Bush, for that matter). In both cases conservatives loudly acclaimed them as their own. Pottery barn theory takes over from there.
7.17.2007 1:00am
Fub:
Ilya Somin wrote at 7.16.2007 10:41pm:
[quoting wm13 at 7.16.2007 10:36pm] But George McGovern and the Democrats were enthusiastic supporters of price controls, detente, racial preferences, guaranteed family incomes, withdrawal from Southeast Asia as a road to peace, etc. So anyone who opposed those policies would have voted for Nixon as the lesser of two evils.

[Ilya Somin replied:] That is true certainly of McGovern. It was not fully true of the Democrats in Congress, who blocked many of Nixon's liberal policy proposals. Furthermore, had Nixon pursued a different set of policies, the Democrats might not have become as left wing as they did by 1972.
Just a factual note here. The "guaranteed family income" was a nothing more than a limited duration social experiment on selected sample populations. The experiment began in the Nixon administration. It was designed, performed, data collected, analyzed, and reported to the Congress. That is all it ever was at conception, and all it ever became.

Overview of the final report is here. If nothing else, it provided a controlled experiment to statistically estimate specific welfare effects on the labor market, family stability, and the like.
7.17.2007 1:08am
Harry Eagar (mail):
'despised everything about him and was eager to frame him in the worst possible light'

Nixon's treatment of Vorhies and Helen Douglas had a lot to do with that. He was a creep, and reporters dislike creeps.

I'm a reporter.
7.17.2007 2:08am
Jeek:
He was a creep, and reporters dislike creeps.

Unless the creep is a Democrat, in which case the creep somehow gets a little more slack...
7.17.2007 9:58am
Fub:
Harry Eagar wrote at 7.17.2007 1:08am:
He was a creep, and reporters dislike creeps.
And he sometimes had a monumentally tin ear for catchy political acronyms.
7.17.2007 10:19am
Atlantic06 (mail):
By 1972, it was obvious that victory in any meaningful sense was not in the cards for the U.S. in Vietman.

To argue otherwise is to assume that either 1) the North Vietmanese could be militarily defeated to the point they surrendered, 2) we define victory down to a meaningless level for face-saving purposes, or 3) that we continue to keep American forces involved in the conflict for many years into the future.

In the final analysis, and clearly by 1972, the American people had come to the conclusion (correct, it seems, in the light of history) that cost of the war in Vietnam was not worth the loss of life and treasure and national prestige it was causing.
7.17.2007 10:55am
David Cohen:
The memo itself is well-worth reading. First, to remember what a boon word processing has been. Second, because it so nicely illustrates what a psychopath Nixon was.
7.17.2007 11:37am
keypusher (mail):
I still remember all the old Marxist apologists fervently denying that the Soviet Union represented "real" Marxism. Maybe "real" Marxism was China or Cuba or yet to be realized. But the fact that actually existing regimes called themselves "Marxist" always struck these purists as irrelevant.

Nobody else was very persuaded by this reasoning, and there's no reason for them to be persuaded about Nixon (or Bush, for that matter). In both cases conservatives loudly acclaimed them as their own. Pottery barn theory takes over from there.


That is quite superficial. In the case of the Soviet Union, if you were genuinely curious, presumably you would figure out what Marxism was and what the Soviet Union was. Once you'd done that, you could decide whether the Soviet Union was Marxist or not. Same with China and Cuba. But, if you didn't give a damn what Marxism was, you'll just say all three countries are Marxist and be done with it. This seems to be your approach to conservatism.

In both cases conservatives loudly acclaimed them as their own.

That is nonsense.
7.17.2007 11:51am
Jeek:
By 1972, it was obvious that victory in any meaningful sense was not in the cards for the U.S. in Vietman.

Nothing of the sort was obvious. What was obvious was that the North could not overthrow the South except through conventional invasion, and that such invasions could be defeated with the assistance of American airpower and logistics support, as was demonstrated during the Easter Offensive.

The continued existence of a South Vietnamese state, even if it relied on massive US support, would have been a meaningful victory. After all, North Vietnam relied on massive Soviet support.
7.17.2007 12:09pm
Jeek:
I still believe that Nixon's policies were severely flawed - probably more so than those of any other post-WWII president.

In what way were Nixon's policies "more flawed" than those of LBJ? LBJ created a lot of the disasters that Nixon had to deal with.
7.17.2007 12:13pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
'Unless the creep is a Democrat, in which case the creep somehow gets a little more slack...'

Ever hear of Gary Hart, jeek?
7.17.2007 1:12pm
Q the Enchanter (mail) (www):
"If those labels are inaccurate, why stick with them."

Just so. Carter, for instance, commingled religious language with official pronouncements, and unilaterally approved military action in the Middle East, so he's no liberal. And Bush courts the Latino vote and expanded the federal government; so he's no conservative. Kennedy, well, he was a hawk on Cuba, plus, he cut taxes, so he was no liberal. And Reagan of course compromised w/ the Soviets on arms control, raised taxes, and even came to Social Security's rescue in 1983; nope, definitely not a real conservative.

So God yeah, we really should reserve these labels only for cases of authentic ideological purity.
7.17.2007 1:14pm
Atlantic06 (mail):
Jeek: "The continued existence of a South Vietnamese state, even if it relied on massive US support, would have been a meaningful victory. After all, North Vietnam relied on massive Soviet support."

Continued massive U.S. support, with the resulting casualties, was not a realistic option. You might as well say that we could have won if had dropped nuclear bombs on Hanoi and Haiphong; it may be true, but there was no chance it was going to happen (nor should it).

As for the North's "massive support" from the Soviets -- there weren't tens of thousands of flag-drapped coffins coming back to Moscow.
7.17.2007 1:32pm
a knight (mail) (www):
It seems to be that this Nixon Tape Transcript indicates that they had indeed given up South Vietnam by August, 1972.

Oval Office Conversation #760-6 Transcript

August 3, 1972
8:28am - 8:57am
Location: Oval Office


President Richard M. Nixon: Let’s be perfectly cold-blooded about it. If you look at it from the standpoint of our game with the Soviets and the Chinese, from the standpoint of running this country, I think we could take, in my view, almost anything, frankly, that we can force on [South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van] Thieu. Almost anything. I just come down to that. You know what I mean? Because I have a feeling we would not be doing, like I feel about the Israeli, I feel that in the long run we’re probably not doing them an in—uh, a disfavor due to the fact that I feel that the North Vietnamese are so badly hurt that the South Vietnamese are probably gonna do fairly well [unclear—overlapping voices]. Also due to the fact—because I look at the tide of history out there, South Vietnam probably can never even survive anyway. I’m just being perfectly candid—I—

Henry A. Kissinger: In the pull-out area—

President Nixon:[Unclear—overlapping voices] got to [unclear—overlapping voices] that we can get certain guarantees so that they aren’t, uh, as you know, looking at the foreign policy process, though, I mean, you’ve got to be—we also have to realize, Henry, that winning an election is terribly important. It’s terribly important this year, but can we have a viable foreign policy if a year from now or two years from now, North Vietnam gobbles up South Vietnam. That’s the real question.

Kissinger: If a year or two years from now North Vietnam gobbles up South Vietnam, we can have a viable foreign policy if it looks as if it’s the result of South Vietnamese incompetence. If we now sell out in such a way that, say, within a three - to four - month period, we have pushed President Thieu over the brink—we ourselves—I think, there is going to be—even the Chinese won’t like that. I mean, they’ll pay verbal—verbally, they’ll like it—

President Nixon: But it’ll worry them.

Kissinger: But it will worry everybody. And domestically in the long run it won’t help us all that much because our opponents will say we should’ve done it three years ago.

President Nixon: I know.

Kissinger: So we’ve got to find some formula that holds the thing together a year or two, after which—after a year, Mr. President, Vietnam will be a backwater. If we settle it, say, this October, by January ’74 no one will give a damn.

It was all about making sure they didn't get the blame. They knew damn well that the war was a lost cause. A Bob Haldleman's diary entry from December 1970 shows that by that time they had already given up S. Vietnam, but that 'realism' regarding Nixon's upcoming '72 election caused them to continue bleeding out American GIs, South Vietnam, North Vietnam, as well as two more determined at a later date countries, Cambodia and Laos.
December 21, 1970
Personal Diary of H.R. Haldeman


Henry was in for a while and the President discussed a possible trip for next year. He's thinking about going to Vietnam in April [1971] or whenever we decide to make the basic end-of-the-war announcement. His idea would be to tour around the country, build up [South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van] Thieu and so forth, and then make the announcement right afterwards.

Henry argues against a commitment that early to withdraw all combat troops because he feels that if we pull them out by the end of '71, trouble can start mounting in '72 that we won't be able to deal with, and which we'll have to answer for at the elections.

He prefers instead a commitment to have them all out by the end of '72 so that we won't have to deliver finally until after the [US presidential] elections [in November 1972] and therefore can keep our flanks protected. This would certainly seem to make more sense, and the President seemed to agree in general, but he wants Henry to work up plans on it.

The date is worthy of extra note here, because it predates the VVAW's Winter Soldier Investigation by just over one month; January 31, February 2,3, 1971.

This becomes an even more compelling argument now that an official memorandum of Kissinger's secret Beijing meet with Chou En-lai has been declassified and made available for pulbic acccess through the NSA Archives: "Memorandum of Conversation with Zhou Enlai, 20 June 1972". Pages 27-37 is the part germane to Vietnam. Kissinger exhibited a particularly brutal form of 'realism' on this, which by his own words was "A Particularly Loquacious Day" for Dr. Kissinger. He explained to Prime Minister Chou why a previous attempt to make peace with the North had failed, and it wasn't because the US Government had any problem with a unified Vietnam under the North's control, but instead, it just wouldn't be proper if the US were to publicly betray its long term South Vietnamese ally. From page 29:
"They have asked us...there's only one demand they have made we have not met and cannot meet and will not meet, no matter what the price to our other relationships, and that is that we overthrow ourselves the people with whom we have been dealing and who, in reliance on us, have taken certain actions. This isn't because of any particular personal liking for any of the individuals concerned. It isn't because we want a pro-American government in Saigon. Why in the name of God would we want a pro-American government in Saigon when we can live with governments that are not pro-American in much bigger countries of Asia? It is because a country cannot be asked to engage in major acts of betrayal as a basis of its foreign policy."

When Chou queried Kissinger about the likely US response to a North Vietnamese takeover of the South, Kissinger responded with a rough acceptable time line for what Jeffrey P. Kimball, Professor Emeritus, Miami University Department of History described in his books prior to the public release of this document as "A Decent Interval" disengagement from Vietnam: "Nixon's Vietnam War", University Press of Kansas (November 1998), The Vietnam War Files: Uncovering the Secret History of Nixon Era Strategy", University Press of Kansas, November 2003. From page 31 of the memorandum:
Prime Minister Chou: If after you withdraw and the prisoners of war are repatriated, if after that, civil war again breaks out in Vietnam, what will you do? It will probably be difficult for you to answer that.

Dr. Kissinger: It is difficult for me to answer partly because I don't want to give encouragement for this to happen. But let me answer it according to my best judgment. For example, if our May 8 proposal were accepted, which has a four-month withdrawal and four months for exchange of pri­soners, if in the fifth month the war starts again, it is quite possible we would say this was just a trick to get us out and we cannot accept this.

If the North Vietnamese, on the other hand, engage in a serious negotiation with the South Vietnamese, and if after a longer period it starts again after we were all disengaged, my personal judgment is that it is much less likely that we will go back again, much less likely.

In the end, Kissinger explained why the Nixon Administration was willing to give up South Vietnam in back-alley negotiated chicanery. The reason was because the Vietnam War interfered "with countries with whom we have much more important business". That's a fine example of the Nixon Dark-Evil slap upside your head realism. Kissinger also expressed again why the USA could not be actively involved in the overthrow of South Vietnam, but was willing to wash their hands of it in a most Pontius Pilate sort of way. From pp 36,37:
And therefore, we believe that the war must now be ended for everybody's sake. If the war continues, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam will surely lose more than it can possibly gain. Its military offensive has stopped; its domestic situation is difficult; and we are forced to do things to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam that go beyond anything that is commensurate with our objective. We don't want them to be weak. And I see no prospect for them to reverse the situation. And we want to end the war because it requires now an effort out of proportion to the objectives and because it involves us in discussions with countries with whom we have much more important business.

If we could talk to them the way we talk to you, Mr. Prime Minister I don't mean in words but in attitude -- I think we could settle the war. As a practical matter, we think the quickest way to end it now is on the basis of ceasefire, withdrawal, and return of prisoners. That's the least complicated and leaves the future open. We are prepared in addition to declare our neutrality in any political contest that develops and in terms of foreign policy we are prepared to see South Vietnam adopt a neutral foreign policy.

We can also go back to our proposal the President made last January 25 and which was formally presented on January 27, and perhaps modify this or that provision and that involved political discussions also. But in practice, political discussions take forever. And the practical consequence of any political solution is either it will confirm the existing government in Saigon, which is unacceptable to Hanoi,. or it will overthrow the existing government in Saigon, which is unacceptable to us. And it is almost impossible to think of a possible compromise between these two.

So we should find a way to end the war, to stop it from being an international situation, and then permit a situation to develop in which the future of Indochina can be returned to the Indochinese people. And I can assure you that this is the only object we have in Indochina, and I do not believe this can be so different from yours. We want nothing for ourselves there. And while we cannot bring a communist government to power, if, as a result of historical evolution it should happen over a period of time, if we can live with a communist government in China, we ought to be able to accept it in Indochina.

The Prime Minister caught me on a particularly loquacious day. (Laughter)

Also of note here is that Jane Fonda's ignoble trip to Hanoi was yet one month in the future of this meeting. Given the content of this conversation, It seems evident that if Fonda is a traitor, then so is Dr. Kissinger and Nixon. A probable traitorous star would also need be given to one John D. Negroponte, as he was the one of two NSA Staff members listed as present for this conversation.

Do not misunderstand, the Democratic Party is still blameworthy for the nightmare of Vietnam; in its origins and on through the eventual fall of Saigon, but what is reprehensible is how persons of power and in possession of classified knowledge within the right-side of the political bipolarity have for over three decades perpetrated the lie: that South Vietnam's fall was all the fault of the Democrats. This is a Machiavellian ploy well worth remembering as conservative pundits have already begun heaping misplaced blame for this present-day debacle and unrighteous War Upon Iraq solely upon the Democrats, in arrogant disregard of their own claimed philosophy's core value of accepting personal responsibility for one's actions.
7.17.2007 2:09pm
Anon1ms (mail):
a Knight is spot on.
7.17.2007 3:35pm
Jeek:
Ever hear of Gary Hart, jeek?

Ever heard of JFK? His transgressions greatly exceeded those of Gary Hart, yet somehow only Nixon's creepiness made the press.

Continued massive U.S. support, with the resulting casualties, was not a realistic option. You might as well say that we could have won if had dropped nuclear bombs on Hanoi and Haiphong; it may be true, but there was no chance it was going to happen (nor should it).

That's ridiculous. US casualties during the Easter Offensive were negligible - especially when compared to the punishment we inflicted on Hanoi. No reason we couldn't have kept providing air support of that sort, and we probably would have if Watergate hadn't intervened.

As for the North's "massive support" from the Soviets -- there weren't tens of thousands of flag-drapped coffins coming back to Moscow.

That's not the point. The point is South Vietnam could not fight the North plus the USSR without US support, and it is not at all obvious that the South's defeat was inevitable if that US support had been forthcoming.
7.17.2007 3:58pm
LM (mail):

You just can't make up stuff this good.

No kidding.

It takes the squirmiest qualities of two fictional legends of misanthropy, Captain Queeg and David Brent, to approximate one Nixon.
7.17.2007 5:48pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
'South Vietnam could not fight the North plus the USSR without US support'

S. Vietnam couldn't fight anybody, because the government never had any popular support. Why anybody expected a corrupt gang linked to colonialism and Christianity to find popular support among masses who were nationalist, Buddhist and fleeced is beyond me.

The same principles could be usefully applied in Iraq.
7.17.2007 7:21pm
Enoch:
S. Vietnam couldn't fight anybody, because the government never had any popular support.

The ARVN suffered 275,000 combat deaths from 1960 to 1975, so obviously somebody was fighting.
7.17.2007 9:01pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Being killed is not the same as fighting.

In any case, the ARVN was incapable of fighting effectively, with or without US support.
7.17.2007 11:52pm
Enoch:
Well, the ARVN sure did kill a lot of Communists for a force that was "incapable of fighting" and just sat there being killed.

In fact, the ARVN fought, and fought well, both with and without US support. This has been amply demonstrated by serious historians.
7.18.2007 1:45am
michael i:
Nixon is America's penance for failing to elect Barry Goldwater President in 1964.

Oh, and between Jeek and Harry Eagar, Jeek won -- game, set, and match.
7.18.2007 2:30am
DWPittelli (mail) (www):
Perhaps, after and in comparison with LBJ, Nixon does deserve more credit for not treating his cabinet as "dirt under my feet" -- although of course a direct comparison of Presidents, to be rigorous, would require a single neutral observer of both Presidents. (And I don't think the White House domestic staff should be expected to tattle on such matters.)
7.18.2007 9:49am
DWPittelli (mail) (www):
michale i,

No, President Nixon was America's penance for failing to elect Nixon President in 1960. Counterfactual history of course can only go so far, but I think it more than plausible that much of Nixon's paranoia, and his embrace of campaign dirty tricks, was due to his at least somewhat justified belief that the 1960 election was stolen from him. It will/would be interesting to see how a President Gore will act.
7.18.2007 9:53am
Randy R. (mail):
I cant' wait until the Bush memos become public 30 years from now. I'm sure we will see defensive statements like, George Bush isn't nearly as delusional as many people see him. Sometimes, he actually walks outside the Oval Office and see real things, like birds and trees. And he doesn't talk to God and obey him about everything, just the really important stuff.
7.18.2007 10:44am
a knight (mail) (www):
My attitude towards LBJ was tempered a great deal after listening to many of his phone calls. It turns out that in a game of wits between Johnson and a fence post, the smart money got laid down on the post. He truly believed that both the Vietnam War was unwinnable and that if Vietnam fell it would be the beginning of an inexorable domino effect.

LBJ did have honed political reflexes and instincts which were razor sharp as many survivors who emerge from the swamp of Texas Electoral Darwinism do. Maybe we will have learned our lesson after two Texas Presidents, and not take the chance to elect a third.

Ever seen an Alligator Gar?
7.18.2007 4:06pm
a knight (mail) (www):
Many of the posters on this thread have turned this into partisan pettiness, and are missing the underlying point. Exactly what is an argument which is a variant of, "So's JKF's moustache", supposed to be driving at? From my point of view, all it means is that in this modern world, two wrongs now make a righty. Do not react like palovian trained partisans. Instead think clearly. I am not some sort of atavistic marxist, or a limp-wristed center-leftist who is afflicted with waves of debilitating hand-wringing self-doubt, whenever time has come to traverse the momentous, and I cannot escape, but instead must choose.

I am a free human, able, as well as possessing a preponderate will, to think for myself; and I have chosen to be a 4th dimensional political vagrant; existing without the flatworlders' imagined dungeon of a linear polity. I'll not take part down on that filthy plane in the perpetual tug-o-war competiton of vacuity, as a member of either Party's Rank or Defiled. Bush/Gore-2000 extinguished the last ray of hope I still had, that the two-party system was salvageable. It is not, and need be demolished completely, the rubble pulverised to dust for dispersal across the whole seven seas, and the earth upon which its foundations once stood then be salted to assure that the monstrous slug which was intent upon destroying the garden of liberty is dead.

I was not taking a gratuitous partisan shot at a dead president, I was laying out with citations, what I believe to have been fact, that if honestly examined and understood would properly attribute in real measure the blame. Do not worry, the blame is pervasive; it runs fast and deep, like bovine blood in an abbatoir's gutters, there is plenty to spread around, including to each and every American who lived during that time period, for if America is a government by and for the people, then we all must accept our own culpabilities.

Nixon was the Dark/Evil; he was pure pro politik, who would have sold his own daughters to white slavers, if they had ever been willing to meet his price. Believe me, the price he had set on your mom's head was much less. Still Nixon was a black belt ball-buster, took great pride and pleasure when he used this ability, and does not get the cred he deserves for delivering the death blow to the Soviet. It wasn't Reagan, the Soviet was by that time a cardboard bear which was going to collapse under its own weight, having been constructed out of the inferior product produced in a State Controlled factory. The fat lady begin to sing in Moscow, the day that Nixon successfully pitched Coca Cola Factories and McDonalds franchises to Brezhnev. At that moment the Kremlin's testicles were put into a vise they could never be free of, and Nixon knew it.

A bit of this comes through in a Nixon tape transcript from during the India/Pakistan War in 1971. Nixon believed he had to intervene to stave off Sino/Soviet nastiness. India was at that time a virtual Soviet client, and Nixon simply told them to call off their dog:
We have, as you know, the India-Pakistan thing is rolling along to its inevitable conclusion. East Pakistan, they’ve caved, which they had to. That was inevitable, but we have put it- I have put it to the Russians yesterday- the Russian agriculture minister [Vladimir M. Matskevich] and [Soviet embassy chargé d’affaires Yuli] Vorontsov were in here . . . that India’s action against West Pakistan must cease immediately or they risk a confrontation with us, that we have a commitment to Pakistan just as they have a commitment to India.
[. . .]
So, I told the Russians, and it was a very tough conversation, I said, "Look," I said, "You’ve got to." I said "I’m being very direct." I said, "India-you’re on the side of India," I said, "You’re going to win. I mean 600 million can always beat 60 million. You’re going to embarrass the Chinese and you can, of course, finish off Pakistan."

I said, "However, you have got to weigh that, what you’re going to gain from that, winning in that area, you’ve got to weigh your relationship with the United States." I said, "As far as we’re concerned, we’re now preparing for an agreement on SALT, and we’re preparing more for an agreement on trade, we’re preparing for a settlement on the Mid East, we’re considering a European security conference. This could be an entirely new [unclear]. The United States and the Soviets may have the relationship we had during the great war."

I said, "You must know that if you move here that you will confront us, and you can risk all those things for what you get here. And you’ve got to choose. Are you going to continue to let India decimate Pakistan, or are you going to support the proposal of a cease-fire and let West Pakistan survive." That’s where it stands today. I think it’ll work. If it doesn’t work we’ve got to find out, because if the Russians will not agree with us on a matter as collateral to their interests as this damn place, hell, they’re not going to agree with us on something like the Mid East.
[. . .]
So, we’re playing all the cards we can, but clearly apart from that, whether we can do something or not do something, Brezhnev is very, very interested, he seems to be, in having a good relationship with us at this time for other reasons. And he damned well has got to-I just told him, I said, 'You risk all that if you do this,' and that’s the way we’re going to play it with him. . . . But, beyond that, it has an enormous effect on our relations with the Chinese. They doubtless see that. If we let them into West Pakistan, if we let the Russians gobble them up without protesting, it just will embarrass the hell out of the Chinese. And we don’t want to-that doesn’t mean we want to suck on the Chinese tit, but we don’t want to be sucking the Russian tit.
[. . .]
And it’s really very important to play both of these devils the same way. In other words, we’ll sort of play one off against the other. That’s where we got where we are. So, we shall see.

Richard Nixon, Conversation: Oval Office 636-8, December 10, 1971, Between 4:18 p.m. and 5:11 p.m.

This comes close to amusing me as much as contemplating the CIA's use of Coltrane and Motherwell sprinkled with a bit of Pollack evil genius ontop in the Cultural Cold War. I've always wondered just when the politburo actually realised that their defense of Rimsky-Korsakov and the drab artistry of worker realism was going to be buried by American improvisation and expressionism, and just what they thought about it.

There was nothing, short of genocidal action, which could have furthered in Vietnam. It was nothing but needless death. To believe Air Superiority can defeat a popular insurgency is to prove you have not been paying attention these last few years. Vietnam was, because of hive-minded Maoism much less susceptible to conventional warfare that is Iraq. Most GIs would rather go waist deep into a stagnant rice paddy that to step upon a human carcass, even one formerly known as an enemy. ARVN felt the same way if the dead had been one of theirs or American, but the did not feel that way toward the North. The VC did not have these moral concerns, and would have been willing to expend thousands of their own to construct a human bridge to simply cross a river. That we were there was not Nixon's fault. His blame is found in his willingness to use the blood of American GI's, S. Vietnamese allies, N. Vietnamese opponents, and any Laotians and Cambodians who happened to live in the carpet bombs' path, as a re-election strategy; found in his lies to the American people about the war. Just like Mr. Libby, he could have instead chosen a path of honour, and spoken the damn truth.
7.18.2007 5:24pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Oh, yeah, the NVA lost, because the ARVN fought so well. How could I have overlooked that?

Sheesh.
7.18.2007 5:25pm
Enoch:
So, Harry, is an army that lost necessarily composed of incompetent cowards who didn't even fight? Or is it possible for an army to fight hard and well and still lose? To anyone who does not have a completely simplistic view of military history, an army (like the ARVN) that took a lot of casualties and that inflicted a lot of casualties is an army that fought hard and well, even if it ultimately lost.

South Vietnam held out for fifteen years against Hanoi's aggression, and the US was only directly involved in combat for about seven of those years. Not bad for a regime that supposedly had no popular support, with an army that was "incapable of fighting effectively, with or without US support", faced with an enemy that supposedly did have popular support and that received massive military aid from the USSR and China.
7.18.2007 9:14pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
I did not say the South Vietnamese were cowards. I said they did not want to fight.

You could say the same of the Italians under the Mussolini government and I could give many other examples.

Why would anybody want to die for Madame Thieu's race horses?

Why would anyone in America tbink it a good thing that they should?
7.19.2007 1:29pm
Jeek:
You said they could not fight and did not fight. Now, apparently, the claim is that they didn't want to fight. How do you explain the fact that the ARVN actually did fight for fifteen years, both taking and causing significant casualties, if they didn't want to fight? Either they actually wanted to fight, or they fought in spite of not wanting to, so your claim is wrong or irrelevant.

One can question whether Hanoi's conscripts and America's draftees actually wanted to fight in Vietnam. But one cannot question that, like the ARVN, they did.
7.19.2007 1:50pm