Nixon Tapes Reveal Vietnam Strategy
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.
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
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