Richard Nixon and Henry A. Kissinger on 7 April 1971


Transcript

Edited by Ken Hughes, with Patrick J. Garrity, Erin R. Mahan, and Kieran K. Matthews

On 7 April 1971, President Nixon made a televised address from the Oval Office announcing that he would withdraw 100,000 more American soldiers from Vietnam by December of that year.[note 1] See “Address to the Nation on the Situation in Southeast Asia,” 7 April 1971, in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Richard M. Nixon, 1971 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1972), doc. 135.

President Nixon

OK.

White House Operator

Dr. [Henry A.] Kissinger, sir.[note 2] Henry A. Kissinger was U.S. national security adviser from January 1969 to November 1975, and U.S. secretary of state from September 1973 to January 1977.

President Nixon

Yeah.

Henry A. Kissinger

Mr. President?

President Nixon

Yeah. Hi, Henry.

Kissinger

This was the best speech you’ve delivered since you’ve been in office. I don’t—

President Nixon

Well, I don’t know. [Kissinger attempts to interject.] I think November 3rd was better, but [Kissinger attempts to interject] we’ll never have a moment like that again.[note 3] The President’s 3 November 1969, address from the Oval Office introduced the phrase “Silent Majority” into the American political lexicon and boosted his approval ratings. See “Address to the Nation on the War in Vietnam,” 3 November 1969, in Public Papers, Nixon, 1969, doc. 425.

Kissinger

Well, the November 3rd speech was not well delivered, Mr. President, if you remember. [President Nixon acknowledges throughout.] It was a powerful speech. This one was really movingly delivered. [Voices audible in background.] And I don’t know whether you saw the commentary afterwards.

President Nixon

[scoffing] Of course I don’t look at the commentary. [speaking over Kissinger] I don’t care what the bastards say.

Kissinger

Well, but this is so amazing. John [W. Chancellor]—first of all, no one was flyspecking it.[note 4] John W. Chancellor was a television news journalist who anchored the NBC Nightly News from 1970 to 1982. [President Nixon acknowledges throughout.] John Chancellor was very favorable. Everyone is saying "a strong man sticking to his guns. Carrying out his policy. Not being driven off." [Daniel I.] Dan Rather [Jr.], very positive.[note 5] Daniel I. "Dan" Rather Jr. was a television news journalist and White House correspondent for CBS News during the Kennedy and Nixon administrations. Marvin [L.] Kalb, very positive.[note 6] Marvin L. Kalb was a television news journalist and chief diplomatic correspondent for CBS and NBC. The only guy who was flyspecking it a little bit is the Pentagon correspondent who had been—

President Nixon

How about Howard [K.] Smith?[note 7] Howard K. Smith was a television news journalist and co-anchor of the ABC Evening News from 1969 to 1975. How'd he do? He wasn't on.

Kissinger

Well, at least I didn’t see him.

President Nixon

Yeah. I’ll tell you one thing, this was a—this little speech was a work of art. I mean, I know a little something about speechwriting. [Kissinger attempts to interject.] And by the time we got it done and that little conclusion, I think that was done and I—there isn't—it isn’t because—and it was no act, because no actor could do it.[note 8] At the close of his 7 April 1971 television address on Vietnam, Nixon dramatically set aside his written copy of the speech and delivered a seemingly ad-libbed conclusion that he had rehearsed with Kissinger earlier in the day. “We had an award ceremony in the East Room of the White House just a few weeks ago. And at that ceremony I remember one of the recipients, Mrs. Karl Taylor, from Pennsylvania. Her husband was a Marine sergeant, Sergeant Karl Taylor. He charged an enemy machine-gun single-handed and knocked it out. He lost his life. But in the process the lives of several wounded Marines in the range of that machine-gun were saved. After I presented her the Medal, I shook hands with their two children, Karl Jr.—he was 8 years old—and Kevin, who was 4. As I was about to move to the next recipient, Kevin suddenly stood at attention and saluted. I found it rather difficult to get my thoughts together for the next presentation.” See “Address to the Nation on the Situation in Southeast Asia,” 7 April 1971, in Public Papers, Nixon, 1971, doc. 135.

Kissinger

No.

President Nixon

No actor in Hollywood could have done that that well.

Kissinger

Mr. President—

President Nixon

I thought that was done well. Didn’t you think?

Kissinger

Well, first of all, no actor could have written it, to begin with. [President Nixon acknowledges throughout.] You couldn’t have done it unless you had meant it.

President Nixon

But did that come across? I mean, it was—

Kissinger

Mr. President, I had, after all, heard it before—[President Nixon acknowledges throughout] I had not—I had a lump in my throat when I heard it.

President Nixon

Well, you know, it brought a lump to mine, [chuckles] strangely enough. It—I always did. When I saw that little kid, I almost broke up, you know, in the room that day, and I’ll never forget, you know.

Kissinger

I watched it with [Alexander M.] Haig [Jr.] and [Winston] Lord [President Nixon acknowledges] and they—[note 9] Alexander M. Haig Jr. was military assistant to the president from January 1969 to June 1970; U.S. deputy national security adviser from June 1970 to January 1973; Army vice chief of staff from January to May 1973; and White House chief of staff from May 1973 to August 1974. Winston Lord was a member of the National Security Council staff from 1969 to October 1973, and director of the policy planning staff from October 1973 to January 1977.

President Nixon

What did they think?

Kissinger

Absolutely moved and overwhelmed. They said this was tremendous.

President Nixon

Haig—Lord, too?

Kissinger

Lord, too, and—

President Nixon

[speaking over Kissinger] He’s sort of an intellectual. But Haig would—

Kissinger

Well, of course, Haig—

President Nixon

Haig—did Haig—liked our defense of the armed forces, too, [Kissinger acknowledges] didn’t he? I really stuck it to them on that.

Kissinger

Very much. And the TV guys, who actually had treated me rather roughly in the question period—[note 10] Kissinger typically provided the media with a background briefing before or after a major foreign policy development. When a televised presidential address was involved, the TV news correspondents might be briefed separately.

President Nixon

Had they?

Kissinger

But gave back exactly what we gave them. [President Nixon acknowledges throughout.] These TV briefings pay off, but above all, you imposed on them a measure—a great deal of respect. This—I don’t know what others will tell you, but this was the most favorable commentary I’ve heard—the most respectful one, anyway. And it was—

President Nixon

But you thought—how did it come off in delivery? Did I—[speaking over Kissinger] I didn’t look up much, but—

Kissinger

It was by far the best delivery I’ve heard you give. It was dignified, strong. It was not ingratiating. [President Nixon acknowledges throughout.] If anything can do it—I don’t know what the results will be, Mr. President.

President Nixon

Oh, well, we won’t [unclear]

Kissinger

But if it will—

President Nixon

[Unclear]—when I met with—those leaders were a miserable lot, weren’t they?[note 11] The President had briefed House Speaker Carl B. Albert [D–Oklahoma], House Minority Leader Gerald R. Ford [R–Michigan], Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott [R–Pennsylvania], Senate Majority Whip Robert C. Byrd [D–West Virginia], and Senate Minority Whip Robert P. Griffin [R–Michigan] in the White House a couple of hours before his speech. The President would be unhappier still when all three senators he had briefed became sources for the next day’s front-page stories: “3 Senators Aver Nixon Said He Had Pullout Deadline,” ran the headline in the New York Times. “Three Senate leaders said today that President Nixon indicated at a private briefing yesterday that he intended to withdraw all United States troops from Indochina by a specific date, but the White House vehemently denied it.” The paper quoted Scott as saying, “I am satisfied he has a fixed date for ending the war” and reported that “Senator Griffin said that "in a practical sense, the date would coincide with the November, 1972, Presidential election.” Nixon was indeed timing the withdrawal of American soldiers from South Vietnam to keep it from collapsing prior to Election Day 1972. President Nixon briefed White House press secretary Ronald L. Ziegler on how to respond to the stories. “We’ve got dates in mind. We’ve got dates everywhere from July to August to September to October to November to December to January of 1973,” Nixon said. “Don’t say that.” See Conversation 476-007, 9 April 1971, 8:52–9:58 a.m., Oval Office; “3 Senators Aver Nixon Said He Had Pullout Deadline,” New York Times, 9 April 1971; David S. Broder and Spencer Rich, “White House, Scott Split on Pullout Date,” Washington Post, 9 April 1971.

Kissinger

Well, that Hugh Scott [R–Pennsylvania]—well, [Carl B.] Albert is all right but—[note 12] Hugh Scott was a U.S. senator [R–Pennsylvania] from January 1959 to January 1977, and Senate Minority Leader from September 1969 to January 1977. Carl B. Albert was a U.S. representative [D–Oklahoma] from January 1947 to January 1977, and served as Speaker of the House from January 1971 to January 1977.

President Nixon

Scott didn’t—well, I meant Scott. [Gerald R.] Ford's [R–Michigan] fine, but that goddamn Scott was—and [Robert P.] Griffin [R–Michigan], you know, sucking around.[note 13] Gerald R. "Jerry" Ford was a U.S. representative [R–Michigan] from January 1949 to December 1973; House Minority Leader from January 1965 to December 1973; and vice president of the United States from December 1973 to August 1974. Robert P. Griffin was a U.S. senator [R–Michigan] from May 1966 to January 1979, and Senate Republican Whip from 1969 to 1977.

Kissinger

Well, of course, Scott [President Nixon acknowledges]—anything you tell Scott, you might as well tell the New York Times.

President Nixon

No, but I was—but I stuck—but I—after you left I stuck it to them. I said, "Look, if"—you know, on that point—I said, “the Congress wants to take over, that’s fine, but then they take the responsibility for this going down the drain, and that is clear, gentlemen." [Kissinger acknowledges.] By God, I’m not going to let them get off this hook.

Kissinger

Well, it is a disgrace, Mr. President.

President Nixon

Yeah.

Kissinger

You are saving this country. It is a—

President Nixon

Well, incidentally, let me say, screw the Cabinet and the rest, though. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve made the speech now, and the rest of them, if they like it, fine, but no more sucking around. And from now on, they come to me.

Kissinger

Well—

President Nixon

I’m sick of the whole bunch.

Kissinger

[Unclear] with a speech that you can—that we can all be proud to have had the privilege to be associated with.

President Nixon

Well, I’m glad you feel that way.

Kissinger

It is—it was also magnificently delivered. It was the best delivery that—

President Nixon

The thing at the last was a good idea, wasn’t it? [speaking over Kissinger] To throw away the text and—did it—

Kissinger

And also the way you put it away was very effective.

President Nixon

You mean, put the—move the papers away?

Kissinger

Move the papers away, right.

President Nixon

Took a little time.

Kissinger

John Chancellor said [slight chuckle] you gave the whole speech without notes.

President Nixon

[Chuckles.] Yeah.

Kissinger

At the end.

President Nixon

[Unclear]—that’s right. Oh, I had no notes at the end.

Kissinger

No, no—

President Nixon

Oh.

Kissinger

He commented on [President Nixon acknowledges] the end of the program.

President Nixon

I see.

Kissinger

But he gave an absolutely favorable summary of it. [President Nixon acknowledges.] And as I said, Rather and—

President Nixon

They’re probably afraid [Spiro T.] Agnew will jump on them.[note 14] Spiro T. Agnew was vice president of the United States from January 1969 to October 1973. [Kissinger attempts to interject.] [Laughs.]

Kissinger

Well, no, [President Nixon acknowledges] this speech was hard to flyspeck, Mr. President.

President Nixon

Well, it’s a goddamn good little speech, actually.

Kissinger

Well, deep down, they all know you’re right. [President Nixon acknowledges.] That’s the hell of it.

President Nixon

And they know the other people are just—that’s right—[speaking over Kissinger] and the others are a bunch of goddamn cowards, and then they—

Kissinger

Cowards and publicity seekers.

President Nixon

That’s right.

Kissinger

And there isn’t—

President Nixon

Well, I’ll tell you this, though, Henry, you’ve convinced me the staff, except for [H. R. “Bob”] Haldeman and one or two others—[note 15] H. R. "Bob" Haldeman was White House chief of staff from January 1969 to April 1973.

Kissinger

[John D.] Ehrlichman has been—[note 16] John D. Ehrlichman was White House counsel from January 1969 to November 1969, and White House domestic affairs adviser from January 1969 to April 1973.

President Nixon

Haldeman and Ehrlichman—well, [George P.] Shultz is fine, but he’s in another league.[note 17] George P. Shultz was U.S. secretary of labor from January 1969 to July 1970; director of the Office of Management and Budget from June 1970 to May 1972; and U.S. secretary of the treasury from May 1972 to May 1974.

Kissinger

Exactly.

Nixon

But the staff generally, screw them, and I mean, they can do their jobs, but no more, nothing more. And as far as the Cabinet, except for [John B.] Connally, the hell with them. I mean, that’s all there is to it.

Kissinger

Well, Mr. President, you’ve done this one—

President Nixon

Yeah. And if it doesn’t work, I don’t care. I mean, [Kissinger attempts to interject] right now, if it doesn’t work, then let me say, though, I’m going to find out soon, and then I’m going to turn right so goddamn hard it’ll make your head spin.[note 18] Nixon ruminated about the need to “turn hard right” in several conversations during this period, reflecting his frustration at perceived Soviet intransigence as well as the difficulties in Vietnam. See, for example, Conversation 482-010, 19 April 1971, 9:58–10:13 a.m., Oval Office. We’ll bomb those bastards right out of the—off the earth.[note 19] In the drawer of his desk in the Executive Office of the President, Nixon had a thorough assessment of the politics of blockading Haiphong and resuming the bombing of military targets in North Vietnam. The Republican National Committee had commissioned a secret poll on Vietnam exit strategies during Nixon's first year in office, and the most popular one involved the "blockade of the port of Haiphong and, as a last resort, selective bombing of North Vietnam" for six months while pursuing a compromise settlement. Nixon would announce the mining of Haiphong and the bombing of North Vietnamese military targets on May 8, 1972—six months, minus one day, before the presidential election. David R. Derge, Vice President and Dean of Indiana University, to President Nixon, "The Public Appraises the Nixon Administration and Key Issues (With Particular Emphasis on Vietnam)," 11 August 1969, "E.O.B. Office Desk-August 10, 1974" folder, Box 185, President's Personal File, Materials Removed from President's Desk, 1969-74, [EOB Office Desk . . . Administration] to [Blank Stationery- . . . August 9, 1974]., Richard Nixon Presidential Library. I really mean it.

Kissinger

Well, I think—

President Nixon

And I think you agree, don’t you?

Kissinger

I think, Mr. President, we have to make fundamental decisions.

President Nixon

That’s right.

Kissinger

Next—in the next [President Nixon acknowledges throughout] few weeks, seeing what [Anatoly] Dobrynin brings back.[note 20] Anatoly Dobrynin was Soviet ambassador to the United States from January 1962 to May 1986. Dobrynin was then in the USSR for the crucial 24th Soviet Communist Party Congress, which was expected to set the future direction of the Kremlin’s foreign policy. Nixon and Kissinger hoped that he would return with positive news from the Soviet leadership that would revive several stalled diplomatic initiatives, especially the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) and negotiations over the future status of Berlin.

President Nixon

That’s right. Well, yes. Well, but I mean, assuming he doesn’t bring anything back, [speaking over Kissinger] assuming they don’t negotiate, then we turn right hard, Henry.

Kissinger

I think that’s right.

President Nixon

And let’s teach them. OK. Thank you.

Kissinger

Right, congratulations, Mr. President.

President Nixon

Night.

Cite as

“Richard Nixon and Henry A. Kissinger on 7 April 1971,” Conversation 001-010, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Nixon Telephone Tapes 1971, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4001626