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Nixon Tapes Reveal Vietnam Strategy

POSTED: 03:20 PM ET, 12/ 3/2008 by Chris Matthews


Henry Kissinger, left, and President Richard M. Nixon together after Kissinger's swearing in as 56th secretary of state, Sept. 22, 1973. (AP File)

Newly released memos and tape recordings from President Richard Nixon's archives shed new light on Nixon's decision-making process in his escalation of the Vietnam war.

The internal White House memos date from November 1968 to January 1969, after Nixon had been elected president. The tapes were recorded between November and December 1972, shortly after his re-election and just as the Watergate scandal began to unfold. Combined, the items consist of nearly 200 hours of tape and 90,000 pages of text documents.

VIDEO | Skeletons In Nixon's Closet

This is the largest disclosure of Nixon's presidential papers and recordings since Nixon's library transitioned last year from a privately-run institute, controlled by Nixon supporters, to the federally administered National Archives.

Among the released tapes are conversations between Nixon and national security adviser Henry Kissinger in early December of 1972 in which they discuss how and why they will escalate the deeply unpopular war in Vietnam. Weeks later, Nixon would begin a bombing campaign in North Vietnam on Christmas day.

"Let's look at the action. We can't have any doubts about it," Nixon said to Kissinger.

Throughout the discussions, Nixon and Kissinger never use the phrase "bombing," but instead refer to campaign as "the action."

The conversations also reveal that Nixon was aware that he was undertaking a huge gamble by escalating the war. He feared that Congress might cut his funding for the war.

"Blame the Democrats," Kissinger suggested.

According to historian Luke A. Nichter, the newly released items show that Nixon had a personal hand in the details of the Vietnam war planning the war's escalation. "President Nixon was more involved in the minutia of the Vietnam War than we previously thought, at least during the Christmas bombing period," Nichter said.

The documents and recordings also shed light on Nixon's efforts to investigate his enemies, whom he believed were all around him.

"The press is the enemy. The establishment is the enemy. The professors are the enemy," Nixon told Kissinger in a recorded Oval Office conversation on Dec. 14, 1972.

One document in particular may reveal the beginnings of Nixon's so-called "enemies list." In a handwritten note on June 23, 1971, Nixon's top aide, H.R. Haldeman, documents Nixon's order to pressure former Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford using the IRS. Clifford was a vocal critic of Nixon's Vietnam policy.

Haldeman also references action to be taken against another Nixon enemy, "TK," whom many believe to be Senator Ted Kennedy.

"Get him -- compromising situation . . . Get evidence -- use another Dem as front," Haldeman writes of "TK."

According to the memos, Nixon kept close tabs on individuals and organizations he felt threatened by. Among them: Alabama Gov. George Wallace, Urban Coalition Chairman John Gardner, and anti-war and civil rights protesters.

Nixon also received regular reports from senior FBI official Mark Felt on ''information concerning civil unrest and acts of violence." Some of the memos concerned the Black Panther Party and peaceful sit-ins in Rhode Island.

Unknown to Nixon, Felt was providing information about the Watergate scandal to The Washington Post using the pseudonym "Deep Throat."

The full set of documents and tapes can be found at nixonlibrary.gov.

By Chris Matthews |  December 3, 2008; 3:20 PM ET
Previous: Pakistan Link to Mumbai Attack Questioned | Next: Emanuel Used Contacts to Make Millions, Nevada Lt. Gov Indicted, Obama to Wait for Legal Opinions

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I am bigmikecraft of the old Lansky Group. I was Meyer Lansky's last enforcer in 73-76, when he was retired by the commission. I had the contracts on Pierre Trudeau, Fidel Castro, and Ex-President Nixon that year. I went to Canada for the Trudeau-Castro deal but refused(took the money) the Nixon hit. I turned Meyer over to the commission to save us all. I did not feel, that even though Nixon was an evil person, He should be hit. I saved Nixons life, because I did not think the nation could endure another Presidential assassination(JFK). I was not going to live on the run, to satisfy an old man's vengence for Havana. The Toronto Star did a bad article on it but I feel I was right in saving Nixons life even though he escalated Viet Nam. I shall close now, I hope you all have a nice holiday. Sincerely bigmikecraft.com- PS, The reason I can talk about these things, is that I was called off in Canada by the Commission and was saved on the Nixon deal.I was called off. bigmikecraft

Posted by: bigmikecraft | December 3, 2008 8:57 PM

At least Nixon had a brain. The Bush War in Iraq used the same, tired advisors and stragegies but without any intellect in the Oval Office things went much worse for Gee Duh Bush. At least Nixon was impeached and had the wherewithall to resign before he took the entire country down the toilet. Unfortunately the hacks that surrounded Nixon were left to keep working in Washington. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Kissinger, and the rest of these un-American a$$es have been there forever. Maybe now we can put them out to pasture.

Posted by: craiggger | December 4, 2008 4:22 AM

one paranoid insane republican then, and one now.

Posted by: jm54 | December 4, 2008 2:12 PM

Nixon resigned before we could impeach him. And having a brain has nothing to do with one's governing morality. Like Dubya, it seems one can get by nowadays with only the reptile brain functioning.

These treasonous political partisans that existed then and today, within the R Party, have really done a number on the country and the Constitution. One thing the Founders didn't apprehend was the mindset of Party before country. Senator's Shelby and Sessions are doing this very thing today. Traitors, they are. Impeach them!

Posted by: davidemck | December 9, 2008 10:07 AM

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