The President and National Security Adviser complain that the Air Force has not conducted an air strike due to poor visibility. The President then turned to his upcoming troop withdrawal announcement.
You know, the thing that Bill [Rogers] says is a very interesting point, which you, of course, realized so clearly . . . is that the troop announcement itself is the best proof that Laos was successful.
It's all that we've got [unclear] prove it, right?
Well, I think you can give a very thoughtful speech. It doesn't have to be long—
—in which you say, "This is—we believe Laos is"—I wouldn't say anything about troop withdrawals at the beginning. I'd just say, "We believe Laos has been a success for the following reasons . . ." And you can give them some figures: Last year they put that much through; this year they've had to consume so much more; Sihanoukville is closed. Just a few figures. They won't check them. I think we can make a most impressive case. As I told you yesterday, before I had the confirmation that they were pulling out, that I was actually . . . that once I worked through these intelligence figures, I got a more positive view [President Nixon acknowledges] than I had by working through the truck figures, because—
You see, here's—
—the truck figures don't tell you what's being handled within Laos—
[speaking over Kissinger] Henry, the main point, though, is this: They're going to be debating, however, [for] two weeks as to whether Laos was or was not a success. In my view, you end the debate dramatically—
—only by announcing a bigger troop withdrawal.
That's why I'm—what I mean—and then at the end of that presentation—
That's why your thought, I think, is so right.
And then at the end of that presentation, you can say, "And to express—show my confidence in this [President Nixon acknowledges], after the most careful study, we have decided to withdraw—"
Exactly. "That we can increase our troop withdrawals [unclear]."
"And we will withdraw 100,000 troops by December 1st."
"Withdraw—we'll withdraw 100,000." That's all you need to say.
"We will increase the rate of troop withdrawal—"
And don't even say how much. Just say, "We will withdraw 100,000 by [unclear]—"
"Will enable us to withdraw another 100,000 by December 1st."
Got to do it, Henry.
We have no choice. You know my [unclear]—
[speaking over Kissinger] Well, Henry, the whole point is [unclear]—
—is to go low now and—
Yeah. But you see—
And this is still—
But on the other hand, you’ve got to remember this speech—it's your point. [Unclear] everything for Thieu. We've done everything for the military. We've done everything they've asked, all right, up and down the line. Now, we haven't done it just for the sake of proving it. We've done it because we think it's right. But we also have to realize, as you've pointed out, that the time has now come for us to look to a bigger picture. After all, you're meeting with [Anatoly] Dobrynin and all [Kissinger acknowledges] the rest, all these things, and also whether or not we survive is going to depend upon whether we . . . we hold public opinion. And we can do it with this.
And actually, if you can hold public opinion for some more months to give you more maneuvering room, that has to be weighed in the balance by the North Vietnamese. I mean, a small withdrawal that triggers a big public debate is actually less useful, even from a diplomatic point of view, than if we get ahead of the power curve with the announcement. And . . . so I think, all things considered—and basically it cannot make a hell of a lot of difference whether we pull out 20,000 more troops by December 1st or not. That's really all it amounts to—a difference of maybe 25,000.
And they'll just have to swallow it.
And I think they can. So . . . and it still gives us enough troops in the country to bargain about during the remainder.
Yeah. Then, I think, early in May, we ought to approach the North Vietnamese for another meeting.
Yeah. Did you say that . . . that [Vernon A.] Walters had told you some—
Well, Walters had sent in a cable that he has a North Vietnamese contact who, in turn—
This is ten days ago he did this.
Yeah, well, about a week ago—who, in turn, had had a conversation with a North Vietnamese who'd just arrived from Hanoi, who says they're taking tremendous losses in Laos, worse losses than they suffered at Dien Bien Phu, and [unclear] losses and that they’re—it's a terrible—
Worse than in Dien Bien Phu?
Yeah, it's a terrible tragedy that they're suffering, that so many of their best people are being killed. He just gave it as an account of the mood, that the Russians are pulling away from them, that the Chinese can't supply all the goods, and there may be some—something in that, because the Russians and the Chinese are really going at each other hammer and tong again, and the Russians are accusing the Chinese of trying to get them into a war with us, and the Chinese are accusing the Russians of selling out and of starting an arms race. And the Russians are almost incoherent. The Russians have just published an article, which they've even distributed in English, saying the Chinese—I'll get a memorandum made for you—that the Chinese are trying to get them into a war with us so that the Chinese can inherit the world. Alternatively, they say, the Chinese are pulling—creating enough nuclear weapons so that they can join with us against them.
Good God [unclear].
So their mentality is really . . .
You know, they must have problems, you know.
They have problems.
I think the whole Communist world is in a hell of a shape. What do you think?
Well, I think I—remember, I said in December, when these Polish riots occurred, I thought they would start opening to us again, and with all the zigzags, they've done it. Now, they’ve got Polish problems back. Oh, they've also declared that this [Alexei] Kosygin, that this easing of relations that started with Kosygin's visit after the Ho Chi Minh funeral, which was in '69, that that period is now over.
So . . . so they're right back to where they were [President Nixon acknowledges] and . . . I think that there's a chance of a negotiation with some of them. Again, it's less than even, but it's—
Well, it might be. In a way, I think, Henry, I’ve never been much for negotiation, but I think when we finally get down to the nut-cutting, it's very much to their advantage to have a negotiation to get us the hell out and give us those prisoners.
That's right. That's why—
And we've got to do it. And, you know, if they—if they'll make that kind of a deal, we'll make that any time they're ready.
Well, we've got to get enough time to get out. It's got to be because—
Oh, I understand.
—we have to make sure that they don't—
[speaking over Kissinger] I don't mean [unclear].
—knock the whole place over.
Our problem is that if we get out after all the suffering we've gone through—
And then have it knocked over. Oh, I think [unclear]—
We can't have it knocked over—brutally—to put it brutally—before the election.
And . . .
So that's why, that's why this strategy works pretty well, doesn't it?
That's right. You see, the thing—as long as we keep our Air Force there, I think if we do have these gunships, it's, of course, an absurdity that 12 gunships are accounting for 80 percent of the truck kills, while hundreds of planes are roaming all over the bloody place.
[Unclear] this goddamn many planes that aren't worth a damn for anything else. Isn't it awful?
Twelve gunships accounting for 80 percent of the truck kills.
[Unclear] those C-47s or is—
Jesus Christ. That gun's 25 years old!
That's right. Well, it's a modified version of the C-5—but it's . . .
“Richard Nixon and Henry A. Kissinger on 19 March 1971,” Conversation 471-002 (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/4006734