Nixon-Kissinger Celebrated '72 Bombing of N. Vietnam, New Transcripts Show
Written by Jason Leopold
Tuesday, 23 December 2008 00:00
Former National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger and President Richard Nixon discussed their satisfaction over the U.S. bombing campaign of North Vietnam, according to previously unpublished transcripts of their telephone conversations obtained by George Washington University's National Security Archive and released Tuesday.
“They dropped a million pounds of bombs,” Kissinger briefed Nixon in an April 15, 1972, telephone conversation from his home.
“A million pounds of bombs,” Nixon exclaimed. “Goddamn, that must have been a good strike.”
Nixon and Kissinger ordered heavier bombing of North Vietnam weeks after the North's 1972 Spring Offensive, although withholding attacks on Hanoi or mining Haiphong Harbor, two actions which they held out for the next decision to escalate, according to the National Security Archive.
"In light of Hanoi’s decision to postpone private talks with Kissinger scheduled for 24 April , Kissinger told Dobrynin that “such behavior by Hanoi [was] clear evidence of an unwillingness to conduct serious negotiation and as reflecting a basic desire of the North Vietnamese ‘to bring down a second American president.’” While the White House was willing to hold back on attacks on Hanoi or Haiphong, Nixon believed that such threats were a “hold card” in the negotiations: “It either got to be [a] settlement or we blockade.”
The conversation was secretly recorded by Kissinger and Nixon without the other’s knowledge, and reveals that Nixon and his national security advisor shared a belief in 1972 that the Vietnam War could still be won.
“That shock treatment [is] cracking them,” Nixon declared. “I tell you the thing to do is pour it in there every place we can…just bomb the hell out of them.”
Kissinger optimistically predicted that, if the South Vietnamese government didn’t collapse, the U.S. would eventually prevail: “I mean if as a country we keep our nerves, we are going to make it.”
Unbeknownst to the rest of the federal government, Kissinger secretly taped his incoming and outgoing phone conversations and had his secretary transcribe them. After destroying the tapes, Kissinger took the transcripts with him when he left office in January 1977, claiming they were “private papers.”
Kissinger never intended for the documents to be released publicly, according to William Burr, senior analyst at the National Security Archive, who edited the collection, Kissinger Telephone Conversations: A Verbatim Record of U.S. Diplomacy, 1969-1977.
“Kissinger’s conversations with the most influential personalities of the world rank right up there with the Nixon tapes as the most candid, revealing and valuable trove of records on the exercise of executive power in Washington,” Burr said in a news release. “Kissinger created a gift to history that will be a tremendous primary source for generations to come.”
In 2001, the National Security Archive initiated legal proceedings to force the government to recover the telephone conversation transcripts and used the freedom of information act to obtain the declassification of most of them. The archive spent three years cataloging and indexing the transcripts, which contain more than 30,000 pages. The Digital National Security Archive (ProQuest) published the material this week.
Burr called on the State Department to declassify more than 800 additional transcripts of telephone conversations that it continues to withhold on the grounds of executive privilege, a decision the National Security Archive said is "extraordinary."
"That the [State] Department used (b) (5) exemption and the claim of “privileged presidential communications” to exempt thirty year old documents may make this one of the biggest abuses of (b) (5) and privilege claims the history of the [Freedom of Information Act]," the archive said in a news release. "As federal courts have ruled, such privileges erode over time, and as time passes the public interest in open historical records has far greater weight."
"In the soon-to-depart Bush administration, such considerations have little influence and it is no surprise that the hands of the White House are behind the executive privilege claims. Henry Kissinger has been an adviser to President Bush and Vice President Cheney and, according to government sources, he influenced the declassification review process to ensure that his telephone discussions with President Ford remain classified for as long as possible."
The telephone communications between Nixon and Kissinger also illustrate Kissinger’s efforts to spin the media, monitor and control the process of decision-making, disparage rivals, keep important associates, such as his patron Nelson Rockefeller, in the loop, and win over critics:
After Gerald Ford shuffled his cabinet in November 1975, removing Kissinger as national security adviser and shifting Donald Rumsfeld from his chief-of-staff position to be Secretary of Defense, Kissinger spoke to Secretary of the Treasury William Simon. “The guy who cut me up inside this building isn’t going to cut me up any less in Defense,” he noted.
In an August 13, 1974, conversation with Elliott Richardson after Nixon resigned, Kissinger disparaged George H.W. Bush as a candidate to replace Gerald Ford as Vice President. “I am not as high on George Bush, as some others are, partly because of his lack of experience.”
In a conversation with President Nixon on the illegal wiretap scandal in June 1973, Nixon threatened to go to political war with Democrats if they pressed the issue. “Lets get away from the bullshit,” Nixon stated angrily. “Bobby Kennedy was the greatest tapper.” The President even suspected his own phone had been wiretapped in the early 1960s. “[J.Edgar Hoover] said Bobby Kennedy had [the FBI] tapping everybody. I think that even I’m on that list,” President Nixon told Kissinger. When Nixon noted that the wiretap scandal would “catch some of your friends,” Kissinger responded: “Well, I wouldn’t be a bit unhappy.”
In the April 15, 1972, conversation about bombing North Vietnam, Nixon recalled that bombing had failed to defeat Ho Chi Mhin’s forces in the past:
Nixon: “Of course, you want to remember that Johnson bombed them for years and it didn’t do any good.”
Kissinger: But Mr. President, Johnson never had a strategy; he was sort of picking away at them. He would go in with 50 planes; 20 planes; I bet you we will have had more planes over there in one day than Johnson had in a month.