Richard Nixon, H. R. “Bob” Haldeman, and Henry A. Kissinger on 11 March 1971


Transcript

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

President Nixon and National Security Adviser Henry A. Kissinger discuss the timing of the South Vietnamese military’s departure from Laos as it concludes Lam Son 719, a ground offensive to disrupt the Ho Chi Minh Trail undertaken with U.S. air support.

President Nixon

I don't give a goddamn if they leave tomorrow. [Unclear exchange.]

Henry A. Kissinger

The PR case—about PR, we don't have to worry much. In fact, we can make it very positive.

President Nixon

Yeah. We all know what the future holds—the future is [unclear]. Let me say this . . . thank God we did Laos.

Kissinger

Oh—

President Nixon

Thank God we did it.

Kissinger

Without Laos—

President Nixon

[Unclear] we know what these people can or can't do. It’s going to be—it’s going to be close. They’re going to take some raps, but we've got to get the hell out of there. That’s for sure.

Kissinger

No question.

President Nixon

And because it’s quite clear that—and it's good for them to learn how strong they are and how weak. But I’m not going to allow their weakness and their fear of the North Vietnamese to—to—to delay us. The only—the other thing I was going to say, though . . . you see, we've been thinking all along [unclear] Vietnamization and all that—what will work, what will not. Now we know. We’ve tried everything. We’ve done everything the military wanted. We have—we’ve done everything to our own satisfaction in order to bring the war to a successful conclusion.

I think it’s going to work. I think it will. I think—I think—I really view—there’s a 40 to 50 percent chance, maybe 55—and that could fall apart—that we might even get an agreement. But lacking an agreement, I think if they were—in other words—I just think—in other words, the forces will—there’ll still be war out there back and forth. But the South Vietnamese are not going to be knocked over by the North Vietnamese—not easily.

Kissinger

Not easily. [speaking over President Nixon] And that's all we could bring about.

President Nixon

And that’s all we can do.

Kissinger

I think, Mr. President, if we can keep the announcement in April substantial [unclear] that we have a good chance to establish—

President Nixon

Chance for a bargaining position. You see, Bob, that is why—

Kissinger

To hit it out of the ballpark.

President Nixon

That is why—I know you're concerned—what is it, you know, everybody says, "Oh, shit, you've got to worry about—about public opinion now,” and so forth. Well, you did. By being restrained now, we have—even if—if we even have—look, I think it's a little better than that. If there's only a 25 percent chance or a 20 percent chance that we may at least have it settled in the late fall, my God, it's worth it! [Unclear exchange.]

H. R. “Bob” Haldeman

[Unclear.] I think the less you take—the less you announce in April, the better.

President Nixon

[Unclear.]

Kissinger

You see, we can have the whole—

Haldeman

The argument is: whatever you do in April, do it early in April.

President Nixon

Yeah.

Haldeman

Don't wait [unclear], because this other stuff—

Kissinger turned the conversation to politically useful announcements the administration would be able to make about Vietnam in the coming months, such as that no more draftees would be sent to fight in Vietnam and that the last American combat troops would be coming home.

Cite as

“Richard Nixon, H. R. ‘Bob’ Haldeman, and Henry A. Kissinger on 11 March 1971,” Conversation 466-012 (PRDE Excerpt A), Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Fatal Politics, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4006732