Richard Nixon and Alexander M. Haig Jr. on 13 December 1972


Transcript

Edited by Ken Hughes, with Kieran K. Matthews and Marc J. Selverstone

President Nixon

Hello?

White House Operator

General [Alexander M.] Haig [Jr.].

Alexander M. Haig Jr.

Yes, Mr. President.

President Nixon

What time is the arrival on Henry [A. Kissinger] now?[note 1] Alexander M. Haig Jr. was military assistant to the President, January 1969–June 1970; deputy national security adviser, June 1970–January 1973; Army vice chief of staff, January–May 1973; and White House chief of staff, May 1973–August 1974.

Haig

It's now 12:10, sir.

President Nixon

Right. Fine.

Haig

I'll go on up there.

President Nixon

And you'll—you going to meet him?

Haig

Yes, sir.

President Nixon

All right.

Haig

I'll go over the various considerations. We've had a communication breakdown with his plane all afternoon.

President Nixon

Yeah. Well, I got the memorandum, you know, of his—

Haig

Right.

President Nixon

—first thoughts, whatever they were.

Haig

Right.

President Nixon

And went over them. The one thing that's really terribly important is that you buffer him down a bit and get [Spiro T. “Ted”] Agnew's trip in perspective so we really know what we're doing here, whether we're—are we shooting this big bullet for the purpose of, frankly, you know, [chuckles] in effect, rationalizing and justifying mistakes we've made in the past, or are we shooting it for a specific purpose for the future?[note 2] Spiro T. Agnew was vice president of the United States, January 1969–October 1973.

Haig

Exactly.

President Nixon

You see my point?

Haig

Exactly.

President Nixon

And it's a very close call and I don't think Henry's quite thought that through, you know. He says, "Well . . ." It's like when he thought, well, put the President on television right away and knock the North Vietnamese. [Unclear.] Now, we'll have the Vice President go out and break his pick on [Nguyen Van] Thieu.[note 3] Nguyen Van Thieu was president of South Vietnam, June 1965–April 1975. Well, now, that's not right either, unless it's the right thing to do. Understand, I'm willing to do it, but I think, as I read Henry's memo, I think it was half rational and half irrational.

Haig

I agree. I think—

President Nixon

Or am I wrong? I don't know. I don't want to be un—[chuckles] I mean, [Haig attempts to interject] I'm not—trying to be very objective. But I think it's part rational and part irrational.

Haig

I think what we have to decide first is what military courses of action must be taken, if any.

President Nixon

Right. Right.

Haig

Once that's decided, then we have to decide about the Vice President—what he would accomplish and what he wouldn't. And what—where we'd come out afterwards.

President Nixon

Yeah.

Haig

That second option that Henry offered, this—another round in Paris in January, [President Nixon acknowledges] I believe would expose us to charges of deceit to the American people.

President Nixon

Right.

Haig

I really do.

President Nixon

Mm-hmm.

Haig

And I think at the end of that period, people would—and in view of the negotiating record this week [President Nixon acknowledges], that that’s—

President Nixon

They expect more than that, don't they?

Haig

That's right. That's bad stuff. And it's only going to raise the peace issue—

President Nixon

Right.

Haig

—raise impatience. And then to find out at the end that we haven't got the thing solved—

President Nixon

That’s right.

Haig

—would be a tragedy.

President Nixon

Now, on the other hand, we got to realize, if we take military action this week, it may not solve it, either.

Haig

No. It may not and that's what we have to consider. But I think option two is very bad, quite frankly.

President Nixon

Option two is unacceptable, that's for sure. The question is whether or not on option one, sending the Vice President out there is . . . [chuckles] you know—

Haig

That's right.

President Nixon

—is really worth doing, unless we're prepared to do a hell of a lot of other things.

Haig

That's right. I don't think what we need is theater now.

President Nixon

It's—that's the point: The Vice President is, basically, I'm afraid, too much theater.

Haig

That’s right.

President Nixon

I'm not sure. I'm not sure. It may be that we have to have it, but it is theater.

Haig

It is and that we have to be careful of. If it's consistent with the facts, if he's doing what is consistent with the facts . . .

President Nixon

Now—

Haig

[unclear] then we should do it.

President Nixon

Now, you read all the stuff?

Haig

Yes, sir.

President Nixon

How do you analyze it all? I guess they are being intransigent, difficult, backing off and all that? How important is it all?

Haig

I think it's important. I think they have determined that they've got us on a wicket, which [President Nixon acknowledges] splits us with Thieu and at times on their side. And I'm talking a briefer period.

President Nixon

Right.

Haig

But they also think that if we can—they can ride through the Christmas period, we get the Congress back, we've added more frustration with delays, and yet delay on the peace wicket, that we're going to be confronted with a hell of a situation in which we will not be able [President Nixon acknowledges] to react. And—

President Nixon

And so we may be faced with the tough choice and we have to react now, huh?

Haig

That's my view, sir. That's my view and I—

President Nixon

Mm-hmm.

Haig

It's not a very happily arrived-at view.

President Nixon

[Laughs.] We’ll have—

Haig

I don't think—

President Nixon

We'll have [Melvin R.] Laird and [William P.] Rogers going up the wall, huh?

Haig

[Unclear], sir, but I don't think it's as tough as . . . you know, we have done an awful lot of rationalizing to support getting Thieu on board.

President Nixon

Right.

Haig

We've done an awful lot of things in our own subjective thought process—

President Nixon

Right.

Haig

—which was designed to put pressure on him.

President Nixon

Right.

Haig

And some of it we tend to believe. I don't think the American people, after what you've done for four years, taken every tough decision, met it head-on, and brought us to the point where they were nearly ready to settle—

President Nixon

Right.

Haig

—want to see you take something that is less—

President Nixon

Than a cave—that’s a cave out. Oh, I agree.

Haig

And I think the American people [unclear]

President Nixon

But they don't want me—on the other hand, they don't want me to cave to Thieu.

Haig

No, not to Thieu. We've got to take him on, too, in this process.

President Nixon

Yeah. That's where the Vice President might come in.

Haig

That's right.

President Nixon

In other words, if you had the Vice President thing combined with military action.

Haig

That's what I believe. And I'm more inclined to think we should do it if we go course one. But it should be—that should start before he gets out there. It cannot look like the—

President Nixon

Oh, hell, yes, that he, the hawk, ordered it.

Haig

That's right. That's exactly right. 'Cause that'd look like we succumbed to Thieu's blandishments. We're doing this because of North Vietnamese treachery. And I, quite frankly, think the way to handle this—I've talked a little bit to [Ronald L.] Ron [Ziegler] about it as a possible contingency, and he's got a very good way, I think, of solving it: that is that he ought to go out, not Henry.

President Nixon

Mm-hmm.

Haig

And I think we ought to send Henry away, frankly, for a rest and get him the hell away from the press and everybody else.

President Nixon

[speaking over Haig] Oh, I couldn't agree more. Where do you want to send him?

Haig

Well, he could go to Mexico or anyplace else where it's hard to get on the telephone.

President Nixon

Well, I know.

Haig

And then let Ron just, very matter of factly, as a spokesman of the United States government, state that we want peace, we've tried to do it. When we got into the exploration of the details, there was reneging on some aspects of the agreement and further revelations, which made this too high a risk and shows that they were not of the same goodwill that they [President Nixon acknowledges] indicated originally. And we want peace and we're prepared to meet at anytime. We're going to keep communications with them, but in the meantime, we're going to resume the activity that—

President Nixon

Well, we're not going to have peace at any price. And we're going to have peace at—an honorable peace and that's what we're insisting upon.

Haig

That's right, sir. Now, I think it's also important—the reason I say we have to do it now is that we want it well underway before the Congress comes back.

President Nixon

That's right.

Haig

And not to have to be faced with it when you'd have to bring congressional leaders in and—

President Nixon

Right.

Haig

—before you could act. And I tell you, sir, I am confident—

President Nixon

You’ve got to do it before Christmas actually.

Haig

That's right.

President Nixon

And that means right now.

Haig

That means right now. I think—

President Nixon

You see, that's why, although Henry reacted negatively to it, that's why my thought was on the reseeding and everything else, move on it right now.

Haig

That's right.

President Nixon

Move, move, move.

Haig

And we’re all [unclear]

President Nixon

[speaking over Haig] And I think my intuition is correct here: Get the goddamn thing going.

Haig

That's right, sir. And I think we'll have the mines in on Saturday. We won't do the reconnaissance till we put the mines in, because that'll alert them and risk [President Nixon acknowledges throughout] the surprise that we need. Just dump the mines in, start the reconnaissance concurrently, and then Monday, start the other. And I don't think it's going to—its—the disappointment isn't going to be with the bombing; it's going to be that the talks haven't gone.

President Nixon

That’s right.

Haig

And we've got to fill that in with words [President Nixon acknowledges] that are reasonable and understandable. And I think—

President Nixon

Not say that this means an end, it just means that this is one of those things that we have to do.

Haig

We'll meet again as soon as they're prepared. We . . . we've come a long way, we've made good progress—

Presient Nixon

Incidentally, on a personal sense, don't you think I better have Tricia [Nixon Cox] and Ed [Cox] cancel their trip?[note 4] The President’s daughter and son-in-law had planned a trip to Europe and the Soviet Union. AP, “Europe Trip Plans Noted,” Spokane (WA) Daily Chronicle, 12 December 1972.

Haig

I wouldn't do it just yet, sir. I'd just wait. I'd finish tomorrow's considerations. I think we could . . .

President Nixon

Oh, in a sense, maybe it's just as well they go.

Haig

Yes, sir. I wouldn't make—

President Nixon

Maybe it's just as well. Maybe we don't even let that hang on it. Just act as if nothing—that this is just usual.

Haig

That's right. That leg of it could be canceled, but—

President Nixon

It comes at the end, anyway.

Haig

That’s right.

President Nixon

And, anyway, they're not going to be there except in a personal sense.

Haig

That's right, sir. And another thing to keep in mind, I—this air action we're talking about is . . . it's going to be tough initially, but I don't think we're going to be able to keep it up.

President Nixon

No. It's a three-day, I know.

Haig

Although, I don't know of any other way to get this thing back on the track. And I think—

President Nixon

We got to improve our bargaining position. Isn't that it?

Haig

We have to do it and I think the American people, and I think the Congress—they're not going to vote a cut-off of funds while Hanoi is holding our prisoners. They just will not do it.

President Nixon

Well, we're going to put it on that basis, then, you see. Here's where Henry is correct, that while we know it's a sort of a . . . [chuckles] a cynical thing, we're going to say we're doing this because they won't return our prisoners before Christmas.

Haig

That's right. That's right.

President Nixon

They were supposed to do it, they wouldn't agree, and we're going to bomb till we get those prisoners back.

Haig

That's right.

President Nixon

That's what I'd put it on.

Haig

Yes, sir. And I think it's understood. And as a matter of fact, it's reassuring to a lot of people who are beginning to worry that there may be some soft spots in this thing.

President Nixon

Right. OK.

Haig

And it's not going to be easy.

President Nixon

Well, when you see Henry, you—first, build him up. Say that, "Now, look, Henry, for Christ's sakes, quit talking about martyrdom." Just hit him hard right in the face on that, ‘cause that's what he needs.

Haig

That's right.

President Nixon

As a real slap. [Unclear], "Now, look, the President, when he says that's ridiculous, he's the indispensable man. And that—the man that . . . we worked China together. We worked Russia together. We're not going to allow this pipsqueak little country to drag him down." You know.

Haig

Exactly.

President Nixon

Put it that way, you see? So he doesn't just think it's me.

Haig

Yes, sir.

President Nixon

And then he said, "But now, we're going to work this thing out together." You can also—I think you should build up both Laird and Rogers a bit. Say they are right on salvo here.

Haig

Right.

President Nixon

They’re not undercutting, and, by God, we'll bring them in line.

Haig

And they haven't been.

President Nixon

No, sir.

Haig

They haven't been. We haven't had a peep from Secretary Rogers [President Nixon acknowledges throughout] on this thing. He’s been nothing but supportive.

President Nixon

He—it'll be tougher. And [chuckles] what do you think he’s—what do you think he and Laird will say when we decide on this course of action?

Haig

I don't think we'll get too much trouble from Secretary Rogers. [President Nixon acknowledges.] I think Laird is going to be more concerned about the economics of his budget.

President Nixon

Well—

Haig

It's going to be a hell of a mess for him in that sense, because he's already counted the savings.

President Nixon

Right.

Haig

But as far as the right course of action, he's always stood when he's had to.

President Nixon

Yes, and Laird . . . will stand. He knows he's going to—he don't want to go out as a defeatist.

Haig

That's right.

President Nixon

Even though as a peacemaker. But Rogers will realize that we've . . . I wonder if we don't have to have an NSC [National Security Council] meeting.

Haig

It might be the best thing to do to be sure they all sing from the same sheet of music.

President Nixon

Right.

Haig

But not a big . . .

President Nixon

No, just a small one.

Haig

Small one that we have no public notification of.

President Nixon

No.

Haig

Because I think our best thing is business as usual.

President Nixon

Rogers. Laird. [Richard] Helms.[note 5] Richard Helms was the director of Central Intelligence, July 1966–February 1973.

Haig

Right.

President Nixon

And Agnew, of course.

Haig

Right, sir.

President Nixon

OK. Well, get him set. And then . . . are we—shall we plan to meet—I'll be ready anytime after 9:00, but, you know, tell Henry he doesn't have to get up until 10:00 [unclear]

Haig

Fine, Mr. President.

President Nixon

OK.

Haig

Good, sir. Right.

Cite as

“Richard Nixon and Alexander M. Haig Jr. on 13 December 1972,” Conversation 034-069, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Fatal Politics, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4006725