On December 1, 2009, President Obama addressed the nation on the issue of troop levels for the war in Afghanistan, announcing that he was sending around 30,000 more troops Afghanistan, a move that amounts to a significant escalation of the U.S. military presence in the region.
Sending troops into harm's way is arguably the most difficult decision a president confronts. The White House tapes of presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon capture remarkably intimate and candid behind-the-scenes views of presidents agonizing over this decision in another war fought in distant lands for complex geo-political reasons.
The Nixon Library's June 23, 2009, release of 150 hours of Nixon tapes from January 1973 shed light on a little-known chapter in the history of the Vietnam War. That month, Nixon was desperate to get South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu's agreement to a settlement that National Security Adviser Henry A. Kissinger∇ had negotiated with North Vietnam. Thieu thought Nixon's settlement terms would lead to a Communist military victory, an assessment Nixon and Kissinger privately shared.
The North Vietnamese accepted Nixon's terms in October 1972, but South Vietnam resisted until January 1973. What made the difference then? The threat of a cutoff in aid to South Vietnam spearheaded by Nixon's conservative congressional supporters.
While Kissinger’s "telcons" (transcripts of the adviser's phone calls made by secretaries) previously showed how Nixon orchestrated the threat through two of his prominent Senate supporters on the war, Barry M. Goldwater∇, R-Arizona, and John C. Stennis, D-Mississippi, the telcons left out some revealing statements, such as this one that Nixon made to Kissinger on Inauguration Day 1973: "I don't know whether the threat goes too far or not, but I'd do any damn thing, that is, or to cut off his [Thieu’s] head if necessary."
The newspaper baron John Knight was a regular target of Johnson's lobbying efforts, which paid their reward in the fall, when all Knight Ridder papers endorsed Johnson's reelection.
Foreign policy dominated this call after Knight mentioned a column he had written about the situation in Panama, as the Panamanians had made impassioned charges that the United States had engaged in aggression in January and called for the Organization of American States (OAS∇) to investigate under the authority of the Rio Treaty. The two men then turned, at Johnson's request, to an even more challenging situation: Vietnam. Johnson offered Knight his assessment of his current options, none of which was good. This clip picks up at the beginning of the Vietnam discussion
In the December 21, 1970, entry of his tape recorded diary, White House Chief of Staff H.R. "Bob" Haldeman∇ recorded how National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger∇ tried to convince Richard Nixon∇ out of withdrawing the last American combat troops from Vietnam by the end of 1971. Kissinger proposed delaying the withdrawal until after the 1972 presidential election.