Tuesday, April 6, 1971 - 11:53am - 12:10pm
Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger
White House Telephone



President Nixon had finished preparing his speech on the situation in Vietnam, which he was due to deliver the following evening.

Henry Kissinger: Hello?

President Nixon: Hello, Henry?

Kissinger: Mr. President.

President Nixon: Well, since you’ve got back, have you been infected yet with the Washington virus?

Kissinger: Not yet, Mr. President. [Unclear comment by President Nixon.] I think we’re on the right course. I’ve read the speech over, and I think that it’s very strong now.

President Nixon: Yeah, it’s a pretty good speech, actually.

Kissinger: I think it’s an excellent speech.

President Nixon: Yeah, it’s got a lot of tone. Let me say that I think it’s important . . . I told Rose [Mary Woods] to tell [Patrick] Buchanan that you—and you the same thing—that both you and Buchanan say you don’t know what the hell’s going to be in it.

Kissinger: Right. [Unclear.]

President Nixon: But I think it’s—I think it’s very important to do that for the reason that I might change it. And second, I just think it’s just as well to know that . . . you know, I . . . because I know that . . . you know we get the usual staff jitteriness and the Congress and all the rest saying—

Kissinger: Yeah.

President Nixon: —to do this and that and the other thing, you know, and . . . I understand all that. They’re all, you know, wobbling around, and, hell, I’m just not going to let them think they affected me one way or the other.

Kissinger: Absolutely, Mr. President.

President Nixon: And I . . . because I know . . . see, it’s . . . the point is that they, the fellows all think, they may think they tell me things I don’t know, but I’m aware of all these things. I mean, I know them more deeply than they do, you know, but . . . I mean that [unclear]—

Kissinger: Well, John Scali called this evening.

President Nixon: Yeah?

Kissinger: And he had a number of hot ideas. But, you know, that is a syndrome of all people who just leave the news field.

President Nixon: Mm-hmm.

Kissinger: They want to do it the other way, the traditional way.

President Nixon: What is his idea? Just to—

Kissinger: Well, he doesn’t have a concrete idea. He just wants some sort of smashing announcement that would defuse everything.

President Nixon: Well, now, what the hell would we do? You mean like announce we’re going to get out tomorrow or end all combat?

Kissinger: No, he doesn’t have . . . he doesn’t . . . he admits he doesn’t know what it is.

President Nixon: Mm-hmm. Can’t be done.

Kissinger: And, it can’t be done. I think—

President Nixon: [Unclear] November 3 . . . It’s just too—1

Kissinger: I don’t—

President Nixon: In that respect it’s just like November 3, because basically, I mean, whether it’s [unclear] but the point is that at this point we cannot just do something that we know isn’t going to wash. That’s all there is to it.

Kissinger: I talked to [Leonard] Garment and he said he’s become totally convinced that if we appeal to the doves, we’ll be destroyed.

President Nixon: Huh!

Kissinger: And he said he read the World Report. He had to give a speech at the Federal City Club. He thinks your foreign policy holds together, and it’s got a good philosophical foundation, and we should fight for it.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: And that coming from him, since his instincts—

President Nixon: I know.

Kissinger: —are the other way, is particularly interesting, I think.

President Nixon: Well, we’re not going to go—we’ll play, incidentally, once we get something to play with. If we get anything from [Anatoly] Dobrynin or anything like that, we’ll then go to John Scali and, by God, we’ll broker the hell out of it.

Kissinger: Oh, yeah.

President Nixon: We’ve got to do an even better job of doing—

Kissinger: But then we do it to destroy the doves.

President Nixon: But not for the purpose of catering to them.

Kissinger: Precisely.

President Nixon: This idea that you can defuse them is bull. It will not work.

Kissinger: I agree completely.

President Nixon: And I know, for example, I mean, John Ehrlichman, you know, was raising the credibility problem today, you know, and various things. And he was doing it, you know, with the best of feelings. And I said, “Well, John,” I said, “they’re”—And he wasn’t trying to advocate a change, but he says there is a problem. Hell, I know there’s a problem, but it’s not what we’ve done; it’s what they’ve created.

Kissinger: That’s right.

President Nixon: I mean what the hell have we done that is . . . the only stupid thing we did, actually, when you look at Laos, the only stupid thing was that goddamn blackout, which I didn’t order.

Kissinger: [Unclear.]

President Nixon: But [unclear] those sons of bitches—

Kissinger: [Unclear] which we thought would end within 24 hours.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: If it had ended within 24 hours, no one would have paid any attention to it.

President Nixon: I know. Well—

Kissinger: No, [General Creighton W.] Abrams in this whole operation has been a disaster.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: [Unclear] great credit but he’s not been good on the—

President Nixon: Yeah. Anyway, the point is that that having happened, we—while it is true that, if you read the polls and everything else, there is a credibility—and, about us. There’s—they don’t believe us. They don’t—there’s a lack of confidence in the conduct of the war and so forth. That is no reason to cave. If we just state it out there the best we can—

Kissinger: It is—it is because—

President Nixon: —and hope for the best. Because if we start, you know, simpering around and catering to these bastards, hell, they’ll just eat us alive. And Garment sees that, doesn’t he?

Kissinger: Absolutely. In fact—and he came to this conclusion entirely by himself and, as you can imagine, against his first instinct.

President Nixon: I know. Well, I would, when you’re talking tomorrow to the staff, because I won’t see them, I would take a line where you’re concerned . . . why don’t you appear to be a little dovish? I mean, just say, “Gee whiz, you know, I—because I don’t know what he’s going to do. I mean he’s done what he’s done and did before, he’s thinking about it himself, he’s going to make his own decision, and I can’t predict at all what he’s going to do.”

Kissinger: Absolutely.

President Nixon: I’d just keep them guessing. And I’d—and if they wail, then turn around and say, “Now look, you can wail all you want, but that’s—he’s the guy that’s going to do this.” And that I’ve considered all their views. Right? And all the rest. I mean [George] Shultz and Ehrlichman and, you know, [Clark] MacGregor and [Donald] Rumsfeld and [Robert] Finch and all the rest, they don’t know a goddamn thing about this.

Kissinger: Exactly.

President Nixon: They don’t know what it’s about.

Kissinger: And they don’t know what we’ll be hit with if this whole thing comes apart.

President Nixon: They don’t know a thing about foreign policy.

Kissinger: Exactly.

President Nixon: They’re only concerned about, frankly, peace at any price, really. Because they see—and all they’re concerned about is, well, revenue sharing and the environment and all that crap, which doesn’t amount to anything in my opinion.

Kissinger: They want to take off the immediate pressure. This is their overriding concern.

President Nixon: Mm-hmm. Well, the immediate pressure isn’t all that heavy.

Kissinger: And that I don’t believe can be done.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: I mean, it can’t be done their way, because once you accept the premises of [George] McGovern, you are fighting on his ground, and it wouldn’t be in character.

President Nixon: Oh, that’s right.

Kissinger: There is one thing, Mr. President, there are two sentences we ought to add.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: Because there’s the cynical comment that the doves are now making, especially McGovern, that we are substituting Ameri—Asian for American casualties.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: And increasing the bombing. And we can do it in two sentences. One, where you speak about reduction in American deaths—

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —you can say, “And South Vietnamese casualties have also dropped by,” I think, “50 percent.” I’ll get you the exact figure.

President Nixon: Right. And why don’t we say that our—and then put in, and we’ve reduced our bombing by so much?

Kissinger: And the bombing within South Vietnam has been reduced by 90 percent, Mr. President.

President Nixon: Yeah, and just, well, rather than getting into too many figures, just say that we have reduced our bombing by 30 percent, or something like that.

Kissinger: Right.

President Nixon: You know what I mean. Just get it, whatever the figure is for Southeast Asia—I don’t want to have to get into separating South Vietnam from Laos.

Kissinger: The significance of the 90 percent is that in the populated areas our bombing has decreased by 90 percent—the area we’re now bombing is the unpopulated area.

President Nixon: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. I know that, but I don’t have time to explain that.

Kissinger: Well, I’ll get you the right figures.

President Nixon: All we need is just get some figure that makes the point we’ve—that is . . . we can at least try to get that across.

Kissinger: Right.

President Nixon: But—

Kissinger: So two sentences is what I would recommend [unclear].

President Nixon: And also that South Vietnamese casualties are down.

Kissinger: That South Vietnamese casualties—I’m getting the exact figures.

President Nixon: Even with Laos?

Kissinger: Even with Laos.

President Nixon: Yeah. You can say that: “Even with the heavy casualties they took in Laos.”

Kissinger: Right.

President Nixon: Mm-hmm. Now, of course, these goddamn dove things, Henry, it’s just one thing, they eat you alive, you take one thing and then they go after another one. And, hell, I’m determined to just see it through. To hell with them and—

Kissinger: It’s [unclear].

President Nixon: And if it fails, it fails, and—

Kissinger: Well, it’s a heroic posture, Mr. President.

President Nixon: Well, hell, hero or not, the point is that there’s no other course for the country.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: These people, I mean, that’s why our domestic side—I mean, while I’m interested in their views, why, they’re irrelevant. They don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

Kissinger: That’s right.

President Nixon: I mean, now on the other hand, too, I must say that they are so terribly obsessed with listening to television, reading all of our critics: the New York Times, the Washington Post, and, of course, I must say of course the [Joseph] Alsop piece probably disturbs them. But they read all that, and they say, well, now just a minute, is this true? I mean, have we overstated anything? Haven’t we really kept our promises? You see that’s the point.

Kissinger: That’s—

President Nixon: I constantly get back to the fact that I don’t think our own people know enough how to defend us.

Kissinger: That’s right. That’s right.

President Nixon: Hmm?

Kissinger: They are astonished by some of these things. Or by what we’ve accomplished. I mean, we’ve kept our promises, we will have taken out several hundred thousand, two-thirds of our forces.

President Nixon: They get the impression—that they read the critics, and they get the impression that damn it, we are lying and that we are covering up, that there are—

NARA note:
Recording ends while the conversation is in progress.


1 Nixon is referring to his “Silent Majority” speech, delivered on 3 November 1969. (↑)

Original tape courtesy of the Nixon Library. This transcript is a working draft. Please let us know if you find important errors.