620-008

Date: 
Wednesday, November 17, 1971 - 10:18am - 10:42am
Participants: 
Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Bob Haldeman
Location: 
Oval Office
Listen: 


[a91:00]

Henry A. Kissinger: We had an interesting cable. We told [Ellsworth] Bunker

President Nixon: First let me [unclear] we learned a lot from Mr. [Ronald] Reagan.

Kissinger: Oh, yeah, yeah. Well, he started bleeding. He said that you have a real problem with the conservatives.

President Nixon: Oh, I know.

Kissinger: Which is no news to you. He says you’re going to wind up without any friends because you can’t win the liberals anyway.

President Nixon: Geez.

Kissinger: And the conservatives are just saying—

President Nixon: Henry, let me tell you part of his problem of course is that he’s in a very, very poor position in California, you know. His own shenanigans gone down and so forth and so on. He’s—

Kissinger: Yeah. But so—

President Nixon: So he’s—

Kissinger: I said to him—

President Nixon: He pays no attention to the polls or anything else, does he?

Bob Haldeman: No.

Kissinger: No. So I said to him, “Look” . . . And he—one suggestion he has, which I don’t think is bad, he says you are such, you are so good in talking to small groups, if you could get some of these conservative groups in for stag dinners, and give them a little run down on the international situation.

Well, I really let him have it on the international situation. I went through the Jordan crisis, Cienfuegos, Cambodia, Laos. I said, “How can you say a liberal doesn’t make a difference? We wouldn’t have MIRV, we wouldn’t have ABM, we wouldn’t have had Cambodia—”

President Nixon: We wouldn’t have had Amchitka.

Kissinger: We wouldn’t have had Amchitka. We wouldn’t have had Laos.

President Nixon: What’s he saying?

Kissinger: We wouldn’t have had Cienfuegos. We wouldn’t have . . . . He said, “God, if somebody would only tell this to these groups.”

President Nixon: You’ve told them that.

Kissinger: I said I told it to them—

President Nixon: You’ve told them about the [unclear] in there, haven’t you?

Kissinger: That’s right. And we wouldn’t have an $80 billion defense budget. We would have given away the store at SALT. And he said, well, he agrees on foreign policy, it’s just not very visible. And then he bled about the UN vote. I said, well—

President Nixon: God, Christ.

Kissinger: But I think I shook him. And then he bled about the State Department. I said we’re aware of over there.

President Nixon: What’s the matter, did they do something to him?

Kissinger: Well, he just thinks that the country thinks they’re still a bunch of—that he said, you mention State Department, people sort of [unclear].

President Nixon: What is he—

Kissinger: But that—

President Nixon: What’s your evaluation or Reagan after meeting him several times now.

Kissinger: Well, I think he’s a—actually I think he’s a pretty decent guy.

President Nixon: Oh, decent, no question, but his brains?

Kissinger: Well, his brains, are negligible. I—

President Nixon: He’s really pretty shallow, Henry.

Kissinger: He’s shallow. He’s got no . . . he’s an actor. He—When he gets a line he does it very well. He said, “Hell, people are remembered not for what they do, but for what they say. Can’t you find a few good lines?” [Chuckles.] That’s really an actor’s approach to foreign policy—to substantive—

President Nixon: I’ve said a lot of good things, too, you know damn well.

Kissinger: Well, that too.

President Nixon: [Unclear.]

Kissinger: And he’s—well, he’s mostly sore on the domestic . . . . On foreign policy, he says we’re doing the right thing. But . . . .

President Nixon: Domestically he’s complaining about [unclear]—

Kissinger: Well, domestically he’s complaining about two things. [94:12] He says he agrees with your recent policies, but what led up to it was hard to distinguish from the liberals. Secondly, he said—he gave me a long story, which I told him to tell [John] Mitchell, that I have nothing—I didn’t even know what he was talking about.

President Nixon: About [Robert] Finch?

Kissinger: About [Peter] Flanigan’s brother handling all the patronage on the West Coast—

President Nixon: Oh, shit.

Kissinger: About the fact that he never gets any out of here and . . .

President Nixon: [Unclear.]

Kissinger: And, and, and that you last summer ordered something to [John] Veneman or some project he’s got with HEW.

President Nixon: [Unclear.]

Kissinger: And that hasn’t been done yet.

President Nixon: Well we had, let me tell you where this is with this welfare thing, and he want’s a deal that’s 50 percent better than the one we gave [Nelson] Rockefeller. Well, we can’t do that or we lose Rockefeller.

Kissinger: Yeah.

President Nixon: That’s all.

Kissinger: Right.

President Nixon: He’s just a—he’s really very unreasonable and we’ve gone all the way with him. Fifty percent better than Rockefeller’s deal. Even Rockefeller at the moment is telling HEW [unclear]—

Kissinger: He didn’t tell me what the issue was. I just listened to his problems. And I told him, “Yes, we have a disloyal bureaucracy.” Well, then he said, “Why don’t you should fire them all?” I said—[Nixon chuckles]—I said, “We’ve already got the Senate against us. We’ve already got the press against us. We’d never get anything done. What you have to judge the President by is by what he gets done. Now, you tell me what in foreign policy should we have done—”

President Nixon: Yep.

Kissinger: —”that we are not doing or what should we not have done.” And he said, “Well, are you going to give away Taiwan in Peking?” I said, “Absolutely not.”

 

NARA Excision

Category: National Security
Duration: 20s

President Nixon: Can you think though, Henry, can you think, though, that Reagan with certain forces running in the direction could be sitting right here?

Kissinger: Inconceivable.

President Nixon: No, but it could have happened.

Kissinger: It could have happened.

President Nixon: It could have happened in ‘68. What would have happened—

Kissinger: If Rockefeller had stayed in—I mean if Rockefeller had gone in competently—

President Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: I don’t think he had a chance, but he might just have been able to [unclear].

President Nixon: [Unclear.] That right. Can you imagine? The fellow really is a decent guy, a decent guy. But there isn’t—there’s no, in other words, everything is . . .

Kissinger: He thinks—another idea he had was fire [William] Rogers so that the people have a villain.

President Nixon: Oh, shit.

Kissinger: But I disagreed with him.

President Nixon: That’d be difficult [unclear]. You know that. You can fire Rogers. The people are—where does Rogers go? He goes out and pisses all over you worse.

Kissinger: Rogers is not enough of an issue.

President Nixon: We wouldn’t make that much of an issue. They’d say well why are you firing him? He’s an old friend and so forth.”

Kissinger: It would reflect—I think firing Rogers would reflect badly on you. He has not ever identified himself with any policies, so you’re not really—I mean you’re not throwing anybody to the—

President Nixon: Listen Henry. Rogers’s problem is that he isn’t known at all. That’s what Reagan doesn’t realize. Who the hell knows Rogers? Except on the Middle East thing nobody knows who the hell Rogers is.

 

The President and his national security adviser briefly discussed public perception of their roles in policy formulation.

[9808–9910]

Kissinger: But he’s not hostile. He says he’s not—He repeated again, he’s not going to do any opposition. He’s willing to help. He’s eager to help.

President Nixon: Would he take Ambassador to the Court of Saint James? I’m sure he won’t go.

Kissinger: After the election?

President Nixon: Yeah. We’ve offered it to him. He doesn’t want it.

Kissinger: But what does he want?

President Nixon: But see he can’t be in the Cabinet. Well, I don’t know. Christ.

Kissinger: Doesn’t he want to be senator in ‘74?

President Nixon: Finch wants that. And it will be a hell of a bloodletting and neither one will get it.

Kissinger: But I don’t think . . .

President Nixon: He’d be a lousy, well—

Kissinger: Finch wouldn’t be any better.

President Nixon: No, but Reagan is not going to . . . . No, I don’t think he wants to run for the Senate. No governor of a big state will be happy in the Senate. It’s that easy.

Kissinger: That’s right.

President Nixon: The Senate is a shitty job.

Kissinger: It’s a lousy job.

President Nixon: Well, it’s better than the House, but it’s still crappy.

Kissinger: Yeah.

President Nixon: Unless you’re the leader.

Kissinger: It’s a . . .

President Nixon: But so much for that. That’s good. coming back to the other thing—

[9910]

 

Nixon and Kissinger discussed a possible presidential appearance at the AFL-CIO convention and other topics before returning to the subject of Reagan.

[106:15–106:55]

President Nixon: Back to Reagan though. It shows you how a man of limited mental capacity simply doesn’t know what the Christ is going on in the foreign area. He’s got to know that on defense—doesn’t he know these battles we fight and fight and fight? Goddamn it, Henry, we’ve been at—

Kissinger: And I told him—he said, “Why don’t you fire the bureaucracy?” I said, “Because there are only so many battles we can fight. We take on the bureaucracy now, they’re going to leak us to death. Name me one thing that we have done that the bureaucracy made us do.”

President Nixon: The bureaucracy has had nothing to do with anything.

Kissinger: No, no. They’ve made our lives harder. They’ve driven us crazy. But that doesn’t affect him.

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