Moderator: Alexander M. Haig, Jr.
Participants: Stephen J. Morris, Peter W. Rodman, Charles Whitehouse
MR. TAYLOR: Welcome to "The Paris Agreement on Vietnam: Twenty-five Years Later." Im John Taylor with the Nixon Foundation in Yorba Linda. Before we begin, a few introductions; there will be more at lunch later. There will also be instructions for finding your way from the 12th floor meeting room to the 6th floor lunch, which will be very complicated, but we want you to see the cathedral-like atrium that President Simes has in his new building.
My first introduction, indeed, is of a leading light in U.S.-Russian studies who had a very secure gig at the Carnegie Endowment. And yet when President Nixon, in 1994, asked him to risk all by helping launch a think tank in his name, Dimitri immediately accepted the challenge. The Nixon Center is now a force, if not to be reckoned with, at least to be listened to. One of the traditions we bring when we hitch our wagon outside The Nixon Center coming from Yorba Linda is that we abolish the tradition of holding our applause. So, would you please recognize the President of The Nixon Center, Dimitri Simes.
A panelist this morning, as well as the intellectual architect of this conference, is a former assistant to Dr. Kissinger, now the Director of National Security Programs at The Nixon Center, Peter Rodman.
It is always a great honor to have with us a man who knows what life was like in Yorba Linda and in Whittier with the President. He is the fifth Nixon brother, and a trustee of the Nixon Foundation, Ed Nixon.
Vietnam is a controversial subject, as we will, of course, rediscover in due time. General Haig, the chairman of your first panel, evidently thought that he would need his battlefield chaplain from the First Infantry Division at his side. Please welcome Reverend Walter Wichmanowski.
Generally, intellectual institutions such as The Nixon Center look back on events 25 years later because they expect to discover at least a measure of clarity if not of consensus. But that is usually not the case when any American institution looks back on Americas longest war. There was indeed, however, a brief moment of what appeared to be clarity a few days ago, when the Nixon Foundation gave a dinner in honor of 185 former Vietnam prisoners of war, one of whom, General Boyd, is a panelist today. After Dr. Kissinger spoke to that group, as he will speak to you later today, the former prisoners said that they were proud to wait four years to come home with honor as a result of the accords negotiated by the Nixon Administration. Dr. Kissinger, in turn, told them that they represented the best of America.
But the clarity ends there. Imagine, if you will, a conference on the Civil War held either in Atlanta or in Washington in 1890. The wounds would still be fresh. There would be false scapegoats. There might even be some false heroes. We would still be arguing. Even now, resonances of what President Nixon would call "the War Between the States" whenever he visited the South remain with us. And so, too, with Vietnam.
A widely respected film director has made films about President Kennedy and President Nixon, and these films teach young people that the war in Vietnam was launched by dark forces, which also assassinated John F. Kennedy and essentially enslaved Richard Nixon. James Pinkerton, the respected advisor to President Bush, wrote recently that one of the sources of the essential narcissism of the baby-boomer generation is that it was right about two big things, civil rights and Vietnam. Regarding President Nixon, recently new White House recordings were released, thanks to the heroism and courage of Julie and David Eisenhower, the Cox family, and the Nixon Estate. Yet in coverage of these tapes, one would barely know there had been a war on, because by the time Richard Nixon, and General Haig, and Dr. Kissinger took power in 1969, the prevailing culture had already given up on what even then was Americas longest war.
So, essentially, the Zeitgeist required them to conduct a warand getting out of one is always harder than starting onewhile conducting the presidency according to strictly peacetime rules.
The Nixon Foundation and its younger sibling organization, The Nixon Center, have compatible but different goals. The Nixon Foundations goal is to protect and enhance and explain and interpret the legacy of the 37th President, a great architect of peace. The goal of The Nixon Center, which has its own programmatically independent board, is to find those aspects of the legacy, particularly the foreign policy legacy of the 37th President, and illuminate a complex post-Cold War environment.
But, when talking about Vietnam, the missions of the two institutions come together. As you can imagine, we do a lot of programming about President Nixon in Yorba Linda, and we on the staff get a lot of phone calls. And I, not infrequently, will get a call from some outraged citizen who objects to the ongoing hagiography of Richard Nixon. And for the first five minutes of the conversation, I can tuck the phone under my chin and balance my checkbook, or play Tetris on my computer, until the caller finally gets around to mentioning the bombing of Cambodia, or Kent State, or the mining and bombing of Haiphong and Hanoi in May of 1972, and then we really begin the discussion, because the discussion was about Vietnam all along.
The Nixon Foundation has come increasingly to the view that our nation will not have a complete understanding of the legacy of the third Commander-in-Chief to command troops on the ground in Vietnam until it comes to terms with our legacy in Vietnam. There is no one better informed and better positioned to begin these proceedings and to talk about the challenges this Administration faced than the chairman of our first panel.
Ladies and gentlemen, would you please welcome the 56th Secretary of State, Dr. Kissinger.
Impeccable timing as always, sir. Returning to my introduction of the chairman of the first panel he, of course, served in Vietnam on the ground, he went to West Point, he went to Columbia, he went to Georgetown. He was the assistant in the Nixon White House to the Presidents National Security Advisor. He was White House Chief of Staff, Supreme Commander of NATO Forces, the 59th Secretary of State and exemplar of muscular Nixonian internationalism, Alexander Haig.
MR. HAIG: Well, thank you very much. Im delighted to have this opportunity to be chairman for a change. You know, Ive been president twice, once during the final hours of Watergate, and once for that all too brief a period, the day President Reagan was shot. Youll recall that.
I am uniquely qualified to chair this first panel. I think Im the only one that started out in the Johnson administration as Deputy Special Assistant to Secretary McNamara, and Deputy Secretary Vance. So, I saw the war in its incubation stage. I watched it evolve. I then went to Vietnam and fought with the First Infantry Division in 1966 and 67. And then I had the great honor of presiding over the wind-down of the war, having made for our distinguished former Secretary of State Dr. Kissinger 14 survey trips to Vietnam during those anguishing final years of that conflict.
Now, I want to compliment the Center for assembling for this first panel three extremely distinguished scholars, experts, if you will, on the conflict and many of its various facets. I will introduce them individually in a moment.
They say in Washington that revisionism runs rampant. And let me tell you, as an old Washington hand, I can confirm that. They also say that he who has the power writes the history. And generally thats true. The major exception in my experience as a public official is Vietnam, where those in authority on both sides are the last to be plumbed for reality. And this usually comes from sources that are less than enlightened, less than inexperienced, and usually exposed only to narrow windows with respect to that 10-year-long bloody conflict. And so, I think our Center is again to be congratulated for assembling a number of very, very experienced experts who, I hope, will begin to tear down some of the revisionism that continues to run rampant, as John suggested.
Ive reached a point in life where I no longer study history. I no longer even try to make history. My problem today is simply how to remember any of it. Having said that, I will reserve the right to comment on the observations of our experts. Since the last one has just arrived, I will stick by the schedule that was published for this affair. And that runs as follows: Dr. Stephen Morris on my right, Ambassador Charles Whitehouse, and Peter Rodman in that order.
I want to mention the ground rules for each of these speakers, because theyre critical. Ten minutes of formal presentation. I think back to the briefings that Robert McNamara used to give in the White House during the Johnson Administration when I used to cart the charts over for Bob McNamara. It would start out with Lyndon Johnson talking to Hubert Humphrey. He would say, "Hubert, Im going to give you the floor but after 10 minutes, 10 minutes by the clock, the hook comes out." And he literally would get up and say, "Hubert, 9:59" then would walk Hubert right out the door. Now, I hope that our speakers will remember that the hook is here this morning.
Having said that, let me introduce each of our distinguished speakers. The first is a very exceptional scholar, a man who was born in beautiful Sydneyand I can attest to the beauty of Sydneytook his early education there at the University of Sydney and received a Ph.D. in political science from Columbia in 1987. He has extensive academic credentials; Boston College as an instructor, Naval War College, post-doctoral work at Harvard and he has numerous publications to his credit. A scholar and author, an historian, recently involved in a review of the Soviet archives as one of the first to have done that and I know hell share some of the revelations on the conflict with respect to that review. Even Bulgarian archives have been the subject of this mans attention. So, Dr. Morris is our first panelist, and I will give him the floor in a moment.
Our second panelist is a dear old friend and former colleague, Charlie Whitehouse. Charlie is a unique diplomat. I think hes one of the giants of our diplomatic corps. He is a hero in every sense of the word. Before he graduated from Yale in 1947 he served for five years as a Marine Corps pilot in World War II. He has some 21 Air Medals, and seven Distinguished Flying Crosses. And thats a rather unique accumulation to have, Charlie. Charlie also is a hero because, as a diplomat, and a very skilled one, he always rushed to the sound of the guns. He served in CORDS in the Third Corps area of Vietnam in his earlier years during the Vietnam conflict, became Deputy Ambassador in Saigon under Ellsworth Bunker, with whom I worked, and I knew the heavy burdens Charlie carried at that time. He was Ambassador to Laos and Ambassador to Thailand during the conflict and the final conclusion of that conflict. So we, indeed, have a heroic expert here.
And, finally, we have Peter Rodman, something has already been spoken to about Peter, and I have known Peter as long as Ive known Henry, almost. He has the unique experience of having served every Republican President since Richard Nixon, at increasingly high levels. And all during the period of the Vietnam conflict, he was what I used to call Henrys Man Friday. He was there for all of the tough issues; he had to do all of the nitty gritty work. He learned how to do it well with humility and a sense of self-direction. Hes now the Director of National Security Programs at the Center. And I think youre going to enjoy hearing from him very, very much as he tries to pull together what will be first the view from the Socialist camp, then the view from Saigon and the American side, and then deal with the revisionism surrounding the current debate on Vietnam.
And, again, I remind you, I reserve the right to comment here and there. So, first, if we may, well start out with our first speaker, and I hope youre ready to go, despite the fact that youve just arrived, Doctor.
MR. MORRIS: Thank you very much, General Haig.
I just want to say briefly that what Im basing my speech on today is basically work Ive done in the Soviet archives during 1992-93, and Ive seen three types of documents. One was the reports of the Soviet Ambassador in Hanoi. The second were the reports of Soviet military intelligence and the KGB on the situation in North Vietnamthat is, analyses. And the third kind of document Ive seen is, in fact, documents of the North Vietnamese themselves, secret documents which were received by the Soviets as a result of covert methods. That is, these documents were not passed on to the Soviets by the Vietnamese, they were turned over by agents, I believe, at the highest levels of either the Central Committee, or most likely in the High Command of the Vietnamese armed forces.
So, Im bringing together all of these materials to make the points that I want to make. I think that the most important thing to understand about the North Vietnamese is that they were not as resolute and resilient as we have been led to believe. They were, in fact, in many ways, torn apart by factionalism, disputes about how to conduct the war, differences about whether the Chinese road or the Soviet road was the best path to victory and the question of the intervention of Chinese forces in Vietnam was a recurring theme. The majority always came to the view that the Chinese should not be allowed to commit forces into the situation.
But this issue came up over and over again during the 70s because of the setbacks that the North Vietnamese suffered. There were three major setbacks that they suffered, the third one of which is the real context for the discussion today, the Paris peace agreements. The first of which Im going to say very little about is the Tet Offensive. The Tet Offensive, as almost everybody knows, was a huge disaster for the North Vietnamese militarily, although not politically. They dont know how many people they actually lost although they estimate that in January and February of 1968 that they lost 100,000 people in that offensive. It was equal to one of the worst years of the war, but the worst year of the war turns out to be for them 1972, which Ill come to.
As a result of this and other various factional wrangles within the leadership of the North Vietnamese Communist Party, a change of tactics was brought into play, whereby they would no longer rely solely on military methods to win the war but more on a combination of military, diplomatic, and political. And the Paris peace talks were one aspect of this. However, as you know, they were fairly resilient in their political demands and they had no interest in anything other than victory in Vietnam for the Communist Party. The main vehicle for achieving that was a coalition government in South Vietnam and all of their military and political activities were oriented towards achieving a coalition government.
The second major turning point in the war which was important was the intervention in Cambodia by U.S. forces in 1970 and the ongoing efforts of the South Vietnamese in that regard. The North Vietnamese suffered very severe losses and, according to the analysis of the Soviet Embassy, if the pressure had been maintained any longer than it was in 1970, the North Vietnamese would have been in very serious difficulty. The Soviet Embassy indicated that they might not be able to continue the war.
The North Vietnamese were extremely frightened and in early 1971, in a report to the Central Committee, one leading member of the Secretariat indicated that he was fearful of an American invasion of the southern part of North Vietnam to cut the supply lines to South Vietnam through Laos. This was considered after Cambodia. The North Vietnamese thought that the United States might put troops into North Vietnam. And they said, first of all, if the Americans apply massive use of air power and introduce commandos, they will cause us problems. But if they put Marine divisions in there, we will have very, very serious problems.
At this time, the concern about the setbacks that they suffered in 1970 was so great that there was one minority faction in the party which was calling for Chinese military intervention in Laos to help them conduct the war. But the majority rejected this, although it didnt spell out why it rejected it. They said it would cause them more difficulties.
Interestingly, they also complained about insubordination. During the Cambodian operation, the Politburo issued instructions that there should be a major offensive in Tay Ninh and apparently troops, North Vietnamese troops in Tay Ninh, refused to carry out orders or carry out other operations which they said "complicated our position."
1971, of course, was the year of the intervention in Laos by the Allied forcesmainly South Vietnamese troops. And this was not successful in its ultimate goal, which was to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a move which in fact made great strategic sense and was of great concern to the North Vietnamese. But, unfortunately, its failure had the opposite effect on the North Vietnamese; it enlivened them and gave them greater confidence. In fact, the Soviet Embassy became worried. After the American failure of 1971, the Soviets knew that the North Vietnamese were going to launch a major offensive in 1972. They were concerned, however, that the North Vietnamese did not sufficiently respect American power and will.
I want to make it clear to you that all the evidence from the Soviet archives indicates that up until at least late 1973, the Soviet Union had enormous respect for American military power and political will. And, in fact, the whole history of the Soviet-Vietnamese relationship up to that time is of the Soviets attempting to restrain the North Vietnamese. The Soviets believed that the North Vietnamese were lacking contact with reality in a certain sensethat they were too gung-ho. The Soviets, of course, were concerned about their relationship with the United States. But, there was a continuing effort by the Soviets to influence the Vietnamese, to moderate their ambitions militarily, to look more towards a political settlement of the war rather than achieving a military victory.
The big turning point from the Soviet point of view, interestingly, was the 1972 Easter Offensive. And it will interest you to know that the North Vietnamese did not inform the Soviets of their decision to launch the 1972 Easter Offensive. This was in spite of the fact that the Soviet military delegation to North Vietnam, led by General Batitsky, which came there at the beginning of March, was besieged with various requests for military support. In his report of 1972, the Soviet Ambassador reflects the rage and anger that was felt by the Soviet leadership about the fact that the North Vietnamese did not, three weeks before the offensive, tell the Soviet Union that was their objective, that they were planning to do it at that time.
The goal of the 1972 offensive was two-fold. First, to knock out the South Vietnamese army and, second, to create such a political impact in the United States that they would come around to the North Vietnamese position. In particular, what was being floated at the timeagain something the Soviets were very concerned aboutwas the North Vietnamese belief that they could knock out Richard Nixon. The North Vietnamese were talking about how the offensive of 1972 would defeat Nixon in the elections.
The goals were very specifically spelled out in a report by General Tran Van Quang to the Politburo in June of 1972. None of those military goals were achieved, the most important of which was the conquest of Hue by September 15th. And, in fact, another report was prepared on September 15th, supposedly on the occasion of what was to be a great victory, which turned out not to be. In the report, and in various other analyses done by the Soviet diplomats and military, its very clear that the casualties that were suffered by the North Vietnamese were horrendous. In fact, the estimates of casualties that I found in the Soviet archives, are astonishingly double what the Pentagon estimate was and is. Double.
These losses had enormous effects. And here, I think, is one of the most critical revelations from the archives. According to a report made by Soviet military intelligence, the Politburo in North Vietnam was in enormous disarray at the end of the Easter Offensive. There was not any confidence about how the war would continue to be conducted. And, in fact, the factionalism came to a real point. And, ultimately, an important meeting was held at the Politburo in the first week of October of 1972. Very interestingly, the report coincides exactly with Dr. Kissingers account in his memoirs of the proceedings of the Paris negotiations. At this extraordinary meeting, held in October of 1972, a majority of the Politburo in North Vietnam came to the conclusion that the war could no longer be won militarily, by primarily military means. And that it had to be pursued primarily by political and diplomatic means.
Now, this was, interestingly enough, not the view of the Secretary of the Party, Le Duan, and it was not the view of Truong Chinh, his main political rival, but it was the view of the majority who had been brought together by Pham Van Dong at the end of the summer of 1972. So, this provides a very interesting context for the discussions which Dr. Kissinger had with Le Duc Tho in the fall of 1972.
I think that the conclusions that I draw from this, of course, are that, first of all, we suffered an enormous failure of intelligence in Vietnam. That we never had the level of penetration of the other side and knowledge of the other side that they had of us. As you know, the North Vietnamese had penetrated the highest levels of the South Vietnamese government and military. There was nothing comparable to that. And, as I understandthere are people better informed in this room than methere was nobody infiltrated higher than COSVN from our side in the Central Office of South Vietnam. And this was an enormous advantage for the other side.
The second conclusion that I draw from this, which goes completely against the prevailing conventional wisdom about the war, and about American military power, is that American military power was very, very important in the Vietnam War. The North Vietnamese were absolutely terrified of American air power, particularly of the B-52. And I think that the intelligence factor was the critical factor in restraining the exercise of American military power.
I think that, finally, its very clear that the North Vietnamese were not as resilient, not only as they projected themselves, but as many in our culture projected them. They were, in fact, riven by factionalism. They were fearful of the United States. And, in fact, at a certain point, willing to compromise, at least on the methods that they were going to use to pursue their goals, if not on their ultimate objective.
And, unfortunately, I can say, the greatest regret I have in making this speech is that I was not able to present this information to Dr. Kissinger in September of 1972. Thank you.
MR. HAIG: All right. Now, Ambassador Whitehouse, please pick up the view from Saigon.
MR. WHITEHOUSE: Well, its a great pleasure to be here this morning, and see many old friends from the Vietnam days. Its hard for me to believe that all of this, what were talking about today, took place 25 years ago. That is a very long time, indeed, but I think some of us in this room have changed very little in the intervening time.
In Saigon at the time there were several significant trends of thought that bear on what were discussing here today. The first has been alluded to. And that is the Easter Offensive, which took place in 1972. From Saigon, it really appeared very serious and difficult indeed. I mean, the North Vietnamese moved into Quang Tri, they devastated the big fire bases up on the DMZ. They got into Hue and made a very considerable mess there.
Now, it looked bigger on TV than it was if you actually went around the Citadel at Hue or observed the seizure of Loc Ninh and the very prolonged siege of An Loc that thrust down through L-13 towards Saigon. All of that looked pretty menacing at the time and if you were sitting in Saigon, your windows were rattling with the B-52 strikes, particularly along between Lai Tai and up towards An Loc. And so, the offensive was very vivid indeed.
But, the effect could easily be overstated because it was, as we all know, repulsed by the South Vietnamese and pacification and the state of the political contest within South Vietnam was not affected at all except in the immediate vicinity of combat. I remember very vividly when Madam Win Thi Binh, the distinguished Foreign Minister of the Vietcong, announced in Paris at a press conference that her village in the Delta had been liberated and was no longer under the iron fist of the tyrant Nguyen Van Thieu. There were nearly 400 American journalists in Saigon at the time. Do you think anybody questioned that? No. Except one, and the one who did was the stringer for The Economist. And he got in his little car, and he drove down into the Delta and he, as he subsequently reported, had a perfectly lovely lunch with the captain who was the District Officer in that place. There hadnt been a shot fired in anger during the entire offensive. The rice was growing happily, pigs were being exported up to Saigon, and everything was fine. Not everybody reads The Economist, and so the general picture was, once again, this intense combat in South Vietnam.
In the aftermath of this offensive, the South Vietnamese felt that there was no hurry to reach any kind of an agreement. They had survived a major offensive. It had been pushed back with an immense amount of American air support. And to the South Vietnamese, not losing was winning. They didnt expect to move into Hanoi. And, therefore, the fact that the situation was stabilized once again meant a great deal to them. We who were working there with them, I think, had that same sensation, that a page had been turned. The end of the offensive had given us time to take a deep breath and see what happened next.
Both the North Vietnamese and the South Vietnamese were extremely skittish in the months before a U.S. presidential election. I think the North Vietnamese felt that the Americans were more likely to be ready to reach an agreement than they would be after the election and certainly the South Vietnamese were deeply convinced that any agreement reached in October would not be half as beneficial to them as one that was reached after Nixon was reelected.
I remember when Dr. Kissinger was there with us, and he alludes to it in his book, and I remember saying to him, "you know, it is hopeless. These fellows are not going to reach any kind of an agreement now. They think you can do an awful lot better after the election. Indeed, if you were to come here like Salome with the head of Ho Chi Minh on a tray, they would still not think that you had done the job thoroughly, and if we just put it off a little bit longer, everything will be a lot better for us."
I have seenmany of us in the room have seenthe messages from President Nixon assuring Dr. Kissinger, Ambassador Bunker, and everybody, that we should do what was right. And that the forthcoming elections should not bear on the kind of agreement that was reached. On the other hand, there was a sort of a general aroma of haste surrounding the Secretarys visit, and the atmosphere at the time was very much influenced by the total stall that the South Vietnamese wanted in the hope that things would get better. And the sense was that, if not the President, and if not Dr. Kissinger, it might well be persons in Washington who thought that reaching an agreement before the election would be a dandy idea.
Also, old-timers on the American side, as well as the South Vietnamese, could remember 1968 very vividly, and the degree to which the Democrats at that time had been mighty eager to get an agreement if possible. It was thoughtI cant vouch for it, but this question of haste, I think, did affect the tone of the meetings in the sense that all of this was being done in a big hurry, and this was their national survival that was at stake. And, therefore, it was a very serious problem for Thieu and company.
Now, they were impossible in many ways, in terms of the tone of their response to the proposals we made. I agreed with Dr. Kissinger and everybody that the deal was as good an agreement as one could make. But in addition to the question of the elections and the question of the kind of haste, I think that the question of the leopard spots, the remaining bits of South Vietnamese geography on which there were North Vietnamese troops, was a terribly, terribly difficult one for the South Vietnamese to accept.
There was the hope that they would sort of dry up and that these supplies wouldnt reach them, and so on. But, if you start from the assumption that the North Vietnamese were going to cheat, these leopard spots were going to be really cancerous growths in South Vietnam and were going to prove to be eventually very, very intractable.
I remember dealing on this subject with Thieu after Ambassador Bunker left. And he was intransigent in not wanting to allow his representatives anywhere in the country to deal directly with the North Vietnamese troops. I felt that if they could make some local dealsabout one crowd could wash their socks in the river in the morning and the other crowd could wash their socks in the afternoonyoud begin to perhaps ease the tension that surrounded this very, very serious military and political problem. But they were not about to do anything like that. I think Thieu had very little confidence in what his own people would do. He wanted to hold authority in these terribly important negotiations in his own hands. Therefore, the situation ground on and ended in the way that we all know.
I know that later we can discuss what happened after these negotiations, but this question of the South Vietnamese perception in October, I think, is one that is terribly important for people looking back at this very significant period to understand.
MR. HAIG All right. Now, I have a wrap-up hitter, and we will get into discussions after that. Peter, the floor is yours.
MR. RODMAN: Not everyone here has memorized the complete text of the Paris agreement, even though you were all instructed to do so before you came. So, I thought I would say a few words first about the main elements of it, what was in it. And then make a few other points that I think deserve some emphasis.
First a few factual points. The agreement was signed formally in Paris on January 27, 1973. It was the product of the secret negotiations that have been discussed, the secret negotiations between Dr. Kissinger, who was then President Nixons National Security Advisor, and the North Vietnamese, principally Le Duc Tho, who was the Politburo member in charge of these negotiations.
The main elements of it were, first, a cease-fire in place. It also called for the withdrawal of all the remaining U.S. troops in Vietnam over a 60-day period. It called for the release of American prisoners of war over the same 60-day period. It called for a full accounting for our MIAs.
The agreement had in it no coalition government. This is a very important point. There was no coalition government. As youve heard it discussed here, for four or five years, the North Vietnamese had insisted that no peace agreement was possible unless we dismantled the South Vietnamese government and put in its place a coalition which they would control. It was not until October of 1972 that the North Vietnamese dropped this demand.
The Paris agreement allowed the South Vietnamese government to continue in place. The United States was permitted to continue giving military aid and economic aid to the South Vietnamese government. The Paris agreement had a ban on North Vietnamese infiltration of men or materiel into the South. It included a ban on North Vietnamese use of Laos and Cambodia for purposes of prosecuting the war in South Vietnam and it required a North Vietnamese withdrawal, in fact, from Laos and Cambodia. And there were other provisions.
Most of these things, as you can tell, sounded reasonable. On the negative side of the ledger was the fact that North Vietnamese troops were not explicitly required to depart from South Vietnam. But thats what a "cease-fire in place" means. And a cease-fire in place had been a joint U.S.-South Vietnamese proposal for at least a year and a half or two years. And, in fact, as Charlie [Whitehouse] alluded to, if the ban on infiltration was complied with, the North Vietnamese troops in the South would be at an enormous disadvantage, especially since the United States was still permitted to continue to aid South Vietnam.
Another part of the agreement that was obviously a problem was the fact that the political issues among the Vietnamese were left to a future negotiation. They were not resolved by this agreement. But they werent supposed to be resolved by this agreement. In fact, it had been the American idea for a number of years to separate the political issues from the military issues. If some kind of cease-fire and military balance could be established, then the only way for the United States to extricate itself in an honorable way was to set up some mechanism by which the Vietnamese parties could negotiate their own future.
And our belief was that if the cease-fire did hold, over a period of time it was conceivable that the Vietnamese parties might find some basis for coexistence. So this was part of the plan of the agreement.
Let me make a few other particular points. As Stephen Morris has made very clear, there was a balance of forces in Vietnam at the end of 72. This was, in fact, another basic premise of the agreement from the American point of view. There had been many times during the history of the Vietnam War when there were grounds for skepticism or pessimism about whether the South Vietnamese could ever have a chance to survive on their own. But by the end of 72, it was entirely plausible that they could survive in the conditions of this agreementprovided that the balance of forces was maintained.
Indeed, as Stephen explained, after the military campaign of 72 and the blunting of the Easter Offensive, the South Vietnamese were in a good position. We had blunted the North Vietnamese offensive by American air power, but entirely with South Vietnamese ground troops. And, at that point, also, the Soviet Union and China had been roped in diplomatically by the United States to the point where both Moscow and Beijing were actively supporting us, and supporting a diplomatic end to this war, and adding their pressures on Hanoi to settle.
And, also, I think, at least from 73 until the agreement started to break down a few years later, both the Soviet Union and China did cut back their arms supply to Hanoi considerably. And, again, as I said, the Paris agreement permitted American resupply of South Vietnam. In addition, the Nixon Administration was prepared to use force to enforce the agreement. In the case of gross violations by North Vietnam, it stood to reason that the United States did not have to sit idly by, that we allowed ourselves the possibility, and said publicly that we allowed ourselves the possibility of re-intervention in some way, presumably through air power to block gross violations such as North Vietnamese infiltration.
Watergate and the Congress knocked out these last two props from under the agreement in very short order. By the middle of 73, the Congress had prohibited any further American military action in Indochina, and the Congress cut U.S. aid to South Vietnam in half in two successive years. We thus proceeded to strangle South Vietnam in the aid category.
A second point that I have to make here is, even though the military balance at the end of 72 was so favorable or attractive, continuing the war was not an option for us. The new Congress that was elected in 72 was, if anything, more anti-war than the Congress that had preceded it. The fact that Hanoi had accepted our terms for a settlement was publicly known. The scheme of the agreement, as I described, separating the military and the political issues, and allowing the South Vietnamese government to continuethe North Vietnamese had basically accepted the framework we had been proposing. And, therefore, politically, the option did not exist any longer for us to renege on our own agreement, our own terms, and start the war up again.
Now, relevant to this is an old argument that you hear sometimes, or heard at the timethat the same terms could have been had in 1969. Why did we prolong the war for four years, when we could have had the same deal in 1969? Well, it should be clear from this discussion so far that this is totally absurd, for two reasons.
First of all, as I said, the North Vietnamese flatly ruled out for four years accepting this kind of a deal, a deal that allowed the South Vietnamese government to continue. Until October 1972, the North Vietnamese absolutely refused any kind of political settlement that did not include the dismantling of South Vietnam. Only in October 72 did they drop that.
Secondly, the idea that we could have had in 1969 this kind of military balance that Stephen Morris has described without American ground forces is a total fantasy. What we had achieved at the end of 72 was a result of, first of all, the four years in which we had built up the South Vietnamese army, and withdrawn American troops gradually and, as I said, again, roped in the Chinese and the Soviets into diplomatic pressure on Hanoi. In 1969, none of this was available. In 1969, half a million American troops were there conducting this war. The South Vietnamese were in no position to take over at that point. So, nothing like this was remotely available in 1969.
The final point I want to discuss is a little bit about the tactics, and the tensions that occurred with South Vietnam. Ambassador Whitehouse has explained the South Vietnamese nervousness or unhappiness with the agreement. I think some of that unhappiness was not the result of the terms, because, again, the terms of that agreement had been joint U.S.-South Vietnamese proposals going back one or two years. The nervousness came from just the psychological reality that these terms were about to become a reality. President Thieu may well have assumed all along that nothing would ever come of these proposals that he was agreeing to. And I think it hits you in a different way, when suddenly you see theyre about to be implemented, a negotiation that maybe you had dismissed over a period of time suddenly was bearing fruit, and this was obviously going to create a totally new situation in which South Vietnam would have to live with a lot of risks and uncertainties, despite the balance of forces that we had achieved. Obviously this is a tremendous risk for any statesman. And we can understand what President Thieu was going through.
Our tactics, frankly, did not make things easier for him. We negotiated this agreement and the text of it in early October 72 with the North Vietnamese and presented it to the South Vietnamese only after the text was basically completed. There were several reasons for that. And, in fact, the more Ive thought about this over the years, wondered whether any other way was possible, Im not sure there was any other way to do it.
First of all, I have to make clear, in response to what Ambassador Whitehouse said, the pace of this negotiation speeded up enormously in September and October. But it was the North Vietnamese who were accelerating the pace of the negotiation. It was not the American side. The North Vietnamese were worried that President Nixon, after reelection, would have no constraints on him. They thought that their maximum leverage over us was before the election. It was the North Vietnamese who insisted on setting a deadline of the end of October and said, "lets finish this agreement by the end of October."
Our strategy, Dr. Kissingers strategy, was to squeeze the North Vietnamese up against their own deadline, and extract the maximum concessions from them, making use of their own self-imposed deadline. Part of the price we paid is that we then had, more or less, a text and then we went to Saigon and said, you know, "weve got a deal for you." The symbolism was bound to add to President Thieus problem. At a minimum, the South Vietnamese would have wanted to shape it; they would have wanted to sign something that showed that they had dominated the process, that this was not something imposed on them by a collusion between Washington and Hanoi.
But, again, Im not sure any other procedure was open to us. If we had temporarily halted the negotiation in early October and said to the North Vietnamese, "hold it, we dont want to finish this, we want to bring the South Vietnamese into this, make it a three-way negotiation," the South Vietnamese would have done then what they did two weeks later. The South Vietnamese would have then dug their heels in, tried to stop the thing, remake the whole procedure, dominate it themselves, impose their own views on it, and the thing would have broken apart. And, without having the North Vietnamese pinned down on the text. I think with everything that happened, with all the turmoil and the disruption and the controversy, it was enormously to our advantage that Hanoi was already pinned down to the rough text of an agreement. It enormously restrained North Vietnams ability to play games with the substance of the agreement. So, the strategy, in effect, was to nail down the North Vietnamese and then try to rope in the South Vietnamese.
The fact is, we were on our way to doing that. I dont want to bore everyone with a lot of specifics, but people forget there were two rounds of negotiation in November and December 1972. There was a big blowup because the North Vietnamese leaked the text of the agreement in late October, and accused us of reneging on it. And then, everything was public and both sides dug in and it became a big, big mess. After the election, everybody calmed down and we had a negotiating round in November, and, in fact, disposed of a lot of the issues the South Vietnamese had raised. The South Vietnamese came to us with about 69 changes they wanted. Some of them were important, some of them not so important.
But we presented them all to Le Duc Tho and, in fact, a lot of these things were resolved. Some of them they accepted, some of them they didnt accept, some of them we negotiated some compromise. The fact is, at the end of November, and even in the early part of December, we thought we had handled it. We thought we had overcome this blowup because there were a few modifications in the agreement and the South Vietnamese seemed to be calming down. North Vietnam, I have to say, rolled with the punches and accepted some modifications.
So, we thought we had survived this. But then something happened in the second week in December, and maybe when Steve Morris gets back into the archives, he can find out exactly why, something which to this day Ive never really understood: the North Vietnamese then went off the reservation. They seem to have made a strategic decision in about the second week of December that they didnt want this thing to come to a conclusion.
They went into a stall. They started playing games. They would solve a few issues, and by the end of the day theyd have reopened some new issues, things that they had solved the week before. And the next day, we would resolve those issues and theyd reopen a couple of others. There was no big sticking point. There was no substantive issue that was the obstacle. Like some press reports at the time said, oh, we had raised some horrible new unresolvable issues. The fact is, most of these things had been disposed of. They had made a decision just to keep the thing out of reach, not to allow the negotiation to come to a conclusion.
And this went on for several days. I mean, we tested this, we were trying to figure out what was going on. We were ready to settle the thing and to resolve the issues, and there werent big issues remaining. But the thing then broke down. This is the middle of December, and this is why the Christmas bombing happened, because the negotiation had gone into a crisis.
Now another question that the skeptics have asked is why did we do the Christmas bombing? If you compare the text that was eventually signed with the text as it stood in early December, there werent any big differences. Some people said, what did you gain from the bombing? Well, the short answer is, what we gained was the difference between an agreement and no agreement at all. And we thought it was justified to do what we did.
As I said, it did not change our desire to conclude this agreement. We made it clear to both Hanoi and Saigon that President Nixon had decided that the North Vietnamese had met our terms for an honorable disengagement. And we were determined to finish it, which we did. After the Christmas bombing, the North Vietnamese came back to the table and settled the issues that remained very quickly.
MR. HAIG: Well, I think we have a great deal of enlightenment on the subject of Vietnam here in this town. And, I think I will now turn it over to the audience to ask questions for elaboration on points made by any one of the panelists, and to ask you in the process of doing that, please identify yourself, then ask your question and well let the appropriate panelist reply.
MR. KISSINGER: I want to explain the thinking of Nixon and myself and Haig when we made these decisions. I think that for the first time we caught the North Vietnamese in a wrong assessment of the situation. They thought our situation would be worse in October because of the impending elections. We knew our situation would be worse after the elections because there would be a Democratic Congress. The Pentagon had already proposed a drawdown in the area. President Nixon had ordered that much of our naval and air power in April would be withdrawn. We knew we had to ask for a supplementary request in January to pay for the expenditures we had already made with the augmentation. And, therefore, our judgment was that once the North Vietnamese understood after the election that we were in a worse situation than before, that we could not escalate, that we would lose the opportunity to negotiate.
Secondly, if you read President Nixons speech of January 1972 in which he revealed the secret negotiations: the fact is, we published the terms we had proposed to the North Vietnamese with Thieus approval. And President Nixon said, "this has been approved by President Thieu." You will see that what they offered us was actually better than what we asked for in some respects, like no infiltration, no additional equipment. Our assessment was, if they had published their offer of October 8th, there was no doubt that we greatly improved their offer of October 8th in the week of the negotiation afterwards. How much we improved it after the election is an esoteric comment.
If they had published it, what would we have said? Theyve accepted our offer. In fact, in offering it, they said to us privately, "this is exactly what President Nixon proposed on January 25." President Nixon did not want a settlement if he could avoid it before the election. He had nothing to gain from it before the election. On the other hand, he concluded that if our terms were met, even though it would be of no benefit to him politically, we should do it. He wrote me several handwritten letters to that effect. We said, at the last moment well settle. But it had to be on our terms.
So, that is the fact of the situation. The election had nothing to do with it. It was of no political benefit. We thought we had the North Vietnamese for the first time in a wrong analysis of our political situation, and we would have been surely defeated in the Congress on the supplemental. We would have been surely under enormous pressure to pull back the B-52s, and all the augmentations.
Our tragedy was our domestic situation. There were at least, I dont know, several non-binding resolutions during 1972 demanding that we leave, which would surely have become obligatory in 1973. The second tragedy, as Peter pointed out, was that we were not permitted to enforce the agreement, by all kinds of ridiculous, outrageous arguments that we had made a "secret promise" to enforce the agreement. If you make an agreement that you dont enforce, youve surrendered. And we had made no secret agreement. If you go through the files of previous Administrations presidential letters, Nixon would look very good. Moreover, we said it publicly.
But the most important thing is, at the end of March, as Al remembers very well, President Nixon had decided to resume bombing in March 73, when the infiltration started. And he and I had a little debate whether to do it while we still had prisoners there, or whether to wait until all the prisoners were out, and he decided to do it after the last prisoner was out, early in April. He had asked Le Duc Tho to meet us in the middle of May to renegotiate the agreement.
And the one thing you can say about Nixon, he had a basic principle that you pay the same price for doing something halfway as for doing it completely, so you might as well do it completely. So, I think its reasonable to assume he would have bombed the hell out of them during April. And then, our intention was to meet Le Duc Tho in the middle of May and to renegotiate the agreement.
Then, in April, Watergate blew up and we were castrated. And the worst negotiation I ever had was in the middle of May with Le Duc Tho, when they had infiltrated in total violation of the agreement, and we couldnt do anything, and a month later the Congress prohibited military action, ending not only our possibilities in Vietnam, but double-crossing the Chinese, who had negotiated with us an agreement on Cambodia, which also blew up.
So, I tell you, this is a sad period and the worst part of that period is the absolute unwillingness to face honestly what went on and to invent all these alleged motives that were absolutely nonexistent. There was no way Richard Nixon could lose the election in October 72. And, the only significance of the election was that we had the self-imposed deadline of the North Vietnamese based on the wrong assessment of our power, and their acceptance of our published proposal of January 72.
MR. HAIG: I think Henry feels very strongly about these points.
But understandably so, understandably so. Don, please identify yourself so the audience will know.
Q: ...Id like to go back to what Steven Morris, and to some degree Charlie Whitehouse had said about the earlier sequence here, the Easter Offensive, and its great impact on the North Vietnamese, as you understand it, Stephen.
Diplomatically, of course, we had the opening to China shortly before that. And then, after that, within a couple of months was the Moscow summit meeting, which took place despite all this military action. Theres been always a lot of speculation, and I dont know in my own mind, what effect, if any, these kind of diplomatic activities had on the North Vietnamese. Did it make any difference to them that the United States was now opening relations with China and had gone to the summit despite all of the bombing and everything else? And if it made a difference, what was the difference, and perhaps Charlie or Peter might have some view of this?
DR. MORRIS: It did make a difference; they were very, very frightened by all of this. Truong Chinh wrote a couple of articles, I think, under another name in the North Vietnamese press denouncing "Nixons deceitful policy of building bridges." And, in fact, that it was an attempt to divide the Socialist camp. And, which it was doing very well. Im reading this a lot from the Soviet perspective, youve got to understand, because the Chinese have not opened their archives, and of course the North Vietnamese have not. But the Soviets felt that they had recovered some ground later in the summer, but they felt that there was deep and profound suspicion on the part of the North Vietnamese towards their allies.
I have a book coming out in the fall called "Why Vietnam Invaded Cambodia." Its the first in a series of books on the history of these conflicts. And Ive got a chapter in there on Soviet-Vietnamese relations. If you read this chapter, and then you compare the accounts of President Nixon and Dr. Kissinger on their relations with the South Vietnamese, you will realize that from the point of view of choosing allies, politically, Dr. Kissinger got the better deal. The Russians absolutely despised the North Vietnamese for their continuing deceitfulness and their unwillingness to share strategy and build a common strategy in the area. I think, in summary, one can say that in 1972, these events drove a wedge between the North Vietnamese and their allies.
MR. HAIG: Let me just add a little something to that as well. I can recall returning from Beijing after lengthy discussions with Zhou Enlai, and Henry had had the same discussions earlier in secret visits there. It was very clear that the Chinese were very suspicious of Hanoi in the context of an expansion of Soviet hegemony in Southeast Asia. And when I revealed that in guarded terms to our press corps in Washington, I was accused of losing control of my senses. Don, thats a fact, and you can look at it in the record.
Now, also, its important to remember that in 1979, after the disastrous outcome which we all anguished over, because it was so totally unnecessary, it was Beijing that prevented Hanoi, supported by Moscow, from overrunning Southeast Asia at the cost of some 50,000 Chinese dead. And when we talk about Chinese intervention in this conflict, its important to remember, they simply werent ready for sophisticated warfare in Southeast Asia. They were willing to spend blood.
So, as we assess U.S.-Chinese relations today, we should always bear in mind the wisdom of the ultimate decision of President Nixon to go to China. And the benefits that brought to the American people. Next question.
Q: My name is Ernest Lefever, Ethics and Public Policy Center. I have a strategic question. To what extent, if any, did a strategic recalculation of the importance of Indochina have on the tactics you used? It is often assumed that Korea was the precedent for Vietnam under the zero sum assumptions of the Cold War that every inch we lost was a gain for them. I get the impression that President Nixon in his speech in 1972 made a strategic reappraisal or a clarification that enabled him to attempt to get American combat forces out. Is this correct? I suppose Peter Rodman, or Dr. Kissinger himself can address this question, if hes not going to address it at lunch.
MR. RODMAN: Ill try. When President Nixon came into office, I think our options in Vietnam were already clear. I mean, the only issue was how we were going to get out. The decision to disengage had already been made by the American people. In 1968, the political platforms of both parties talked about disengagement in one way or the other. The issue was how to get out on honorable terms that did not undermine American credibility as a world power, and the issue was, the broader strategic issue was, how do we prepare for the post-Vietnam era, and the post-Vietnam foreign policy.
The agony of it was that it took a few years to do this, and the civil war at home continued while we were trying to put into place the main lines of our post-Vietnam foreign policy. And I think, remarkably, we did. I mean, bringing China into the game against the Soviet Union not only helped us tactically to end the war against Hanoi, or at least to produce this agreement; it, of course, helped restructure international politics for the next 10-20 years. And other elements of the rest of the Cold War, the issue of the Middle East peace process, a number of other things we were doing.
So, President Nixon had in mind to shape a foreign policy for the United States for the post-Vietnam era, for the longer term, even while extricating ourselves from this mess. Maybe thats the answer to your question, that Vietnam had already receded. Provided that we could extricate ourselves in the right way, we could put Vietnam behind us and face the world that was about to come.
MR. HAIG: Yes.
Q: ...Peter Rodman, you say that the North Vietnamese in 1972 had the impression that they wanted to wind up negotiations before the election, that the best deal they could get would be before the 72 election. Ambassador Whitehouse, you say the South Vietnamese had the impression that the best deal they could get would be after the election. Dr. Kissinger says that the election, in fact, had very little influence. This takes us back to 1968 when also there was a question of who was giving what kind of impressions to whom, and what part that played. Ambassador Whitehouse, where did the South Vietnamese get the impression, who gave them the impression that they should hold out until after the 72 election?
MR. WHITEHOUSE: I think that the South Vietnamese had the impression, first looking back at 68, there had been a scramble in 68, and so the minute you got close to an American election, they got sensitive and thought that they were the baby that was going to get thrown out with the bath water. Then, in 72, as I said, they were in no hurry to do anything at all. They liked the situation as it was. And, they were confident that 68 would be repeated. And, sure enough, here we were, we, the Americans, with, as Dr. Kissinger said, pressured to get something resolved, and that was emotionally alarming. So, they got that impression. It wasnt one they were given by us or given by anybody, they reasoned it out for themselves that it was much better for them to wait, and the longer they waited, the better.
MR. WHITEHOUSE: I couldnt hear that.
Q: [Inaudible] to go from the 68 election where, indeed, there was an election and a change of course, and then 72, which was clearly a reelection that was more or less in the bag, and they reasoned from 68 to 72?
MR. WHITEHOUSE: Well, I dont think that they realized, they werent totally confident that President Nixon would get reelected. The papers told them so, they read the American journals, but still it was really important to them to wait, because Nixons reelection wasnt that totally certain. And, therefore, lets justlets wait until he is reelected, and then well see. There were noI dont think there were any indications to them, do you?
MR. KISSINGER: [Inaudible.] They had accepted every proposal we made thinking it would never....
MR. WHITEHOUSE: Come to pass.
MR. KISSINGER: ...come to pass. I went there in late August or early September, and I met with General Abrams and I asked him whether he thought he could get rid of the leopard spots. He said that in a year it wouldnt be any different than it was now. And I told Thieu, but he didnt believe it. I said, I hope they never precisely accept our proposals, but if they do, we will have no choice except to proceed. Well, Im sure he didnt think it would come to pass and I didnt think it would come to pass. We were surprised on October 8th when they made their proposal at the sweep of their proposal, because they had been stonewalling for four years. So, I dont believe that anybody in America gave them the belief that if they held out they would get better terms. They were wrong anyway, because the Congress would have voted us out, as they did six months later.
MR. RODMAN: Let me add one thing. I think President Nixons calculation, as I understand it, was that it still didnt make any difference to him whether we had the agreement before the election or just afterwards. After October 8th, it was clear that an agreement was at hand, to coin a phrase, and there was no domestic political interest in artificially accelerating. We expected it soon anyway, even afterwards (which was certainly not the South Vietnamese idea).
MR. KISSINGER: When Saigon balked, we said, fine. And we went home, and then the North Vietnamese published the text of the agreement. Thats how it all got into the debate. We were not going to say anything until Hanoi published the text and asked us to come over there to sign it, then we had to explain where we stood. But when Thieu dug in, we were going to wait until after the election.
MR. HAIG: Wasnt that DeBorchgrave? Wasnt it DeBorchgrave that got the whole text in Hanoi and published it?
MR. KISSINGER: No. What happened first we had a leak that something like this was going to happen; they didnt give him the text. Then I went home saying this is over now, and well do it after the election. And then, three days after I reached Washington, they published the text and asked us to send somebody over to sign it. And then, the text became a public issue. We tried to convince the South Vietnamese that it was the best they could get. But when they said no, President Nixon said, okay, well wait until after the election. Then the North Vietnamese speeded it up.
MR. HAIG: All right. Yes, back here. Oh, excuse me, did you have a question?
Q: Dick Childress. One of the enduring mythologies concerns Cambodia which has been revived given the death of Pol Pot, essentially states that much of the genocide in Cambodia was caused by our incursion, which is equivalent to saying that, you know, the peace accords in World War I caused the Holocaust. But, these things continue to be repeated, and even young journalists, going back through Lexis/Nexis are throwing these things out. Stephen, youve done some research on that, could you address what youve found concerning that? And I think Id also be interested if any other observations from Peter, and so forth, during the decision-making to go into Cambodia, limited as it was, was there consideration of the political dynamics of that?
MR. MORRIS: Sorry, the focus of your question to me is?
Q: Any insight you have on the Cambodian situation, the incursion, and related to the mythologies that continue to circulate on how the incursion, in fact, affected the politics and the subsequent events in Cambodia?
MR. MORRIS: Well, you know, I am one of those who dont subscribe to the Sidney Schanberg thesis presented in the film, "The Killing Fields." In fact there are two theses. One is that the Khmer Rouge became what they were because we bombed them and drove them out of their minds. They were normal people before that. And the second thesis, which is the Shawcross thesis, which is that we enabled them to recruit in a way that they wouldnt have been able to before.
Well, as for the first one, the first thesis, of course, its patently absurd. These people were Communists and revolutionaries long before the bombing. With regard to the recruitment thesis, I think that whatever the evidence is, and its very sketchy and questionable in any case about whether the bombing helped the Khmer Rouge to recruit, it has to be set against two other very important factors.
One that is sometimes mentioned is that Sihanouks role was critical in the recruitment plans of the Khmer Rouge. The Chinese and the North Vietnamese used Sihanouk, his photograph and his tape recordings throughout Cambodia to make the Cambodian peasantry believe that the revolution was the cause of Sihanouk. Thats the first factor, which I said is sometimes mentioned in discussions.
But the one that is almost never mentioned is the role of the North Vietnamese. The North Vietnamese were absolutely crucial in the rise of the Khmer Rouge because, number one, they provided all the muscle up until the beginning of 1972 in crushing the Lon Nol army. The Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian indigenous Communists and their army were incapable of doing this. And the North Vietnamese talk about this in their documents.
And, number two, they were very, very crucial in recruitment and training and mobilization. In fact, the Khmer Rouge victory was never inevitable. They were never such a dynamic and powerful force. The outcome was determined in the U.S. Congress by the cut-off of aid to Lon Nol.
MR. HAIG: Amen.
Q: [Inaudible]... in 1994, I lived in Hanoi to help the Vietnamese reopen their school for foreign service, and the first fact I learned was that the life expectancy of an adult male in Vietnam in the 10 years after the war was actually lower than it was during the war by about two years.
Peter, what was the Nixon plan for relations with North Vietnam had the agreement been enforced? Was there an aid plan, and was there a plan for normalization of relations with Vietnam, which would have turned their terrible human situation into something better than they got?
MR. RODMAN: Well, there was such an idea, totally conditional on their compliance with the agreement. If they had complied, if South Vietnam had stabilized, and you had some sort of political resolution of the conflict in South Vietnam, we had in the Paris agreement an explicit provision about an assistance program. This was derived from President Johnsons proposal for Indochina-wide assistance. So that was part of it. Diplomatic normalization would have come at an appropriate point. Its sort of obvious what would have happened if this agreement had held and North Vietnam had complied with it.
MR. HAIG: Yes.
Q: General Haig, like Ernie Lefever, I want to ask a couple of strategic questions. It might be more appropriate....
MR. HAIG: Identify yourself for us.
Q: Fritz Ermarth, a former graduate student of Dr. Kissingers, like many. They might be more appropriate for the afternoon, but Id like to hear from this mornings panelists, and especially from Dr. Kissinger. Two propositions that I think are true but are definitely counter to the standard interpretation of this experience. One is that we won the war, at least from a strategic point of view. By 1975, the specter of a Communist model of development in the guise of national liberation in East Asia, in Southeast Asia, except for Indochina, was evaporating. And thats largely because we stuck it out, or partially because we stuck it out in Vietnam. In fact, that tenacity probably had a lot to do with the opening to China, or Chinas opening to the United States.
Do you agree with that interpretation and, if so, why is it absent from the prevailing view of the history of the war?
And the second is related, and thats the so-called "Vietnam syndrome," which says that the U.S. will be very hesitant to engage, very reluctant to engage unless theres a quick exit strategy and very low casualties in the prospect, and this is supposed to have originated with our Vietnam experience. Well, the facts of that experience are totally contrary to the Vietnam syndrome. I mean, we stuck it out for more than 10 years, 60,000 dead, untold fortunes spent, and we pulled out of the war only after both political leadership which public opinion continued to support in the main, despite all the controversies and publicity, only when political leadership assessed that the strategic purposes of the war were no longer worth the local cost.
Now, both of these propositions are counter-doctrinal, but seems to me imminently supportable by the history and the facts. And isnt a sorting out of both of these propositions an essential part of the national historical reconciliation here?
MR. RODMAN: Its complicated. Any one of us in this room can have his or her own view of what American public opinion was like. I do believe there was a silent majority that believed that peace with honor was the right objective. But the support for the war was increasingly demoralized, even by 1968. President Nixon could rally the silent majority with any great action that seemed to be decisive. But I think its wrong to say that the American people loved this war and wanted to keep it going. The elite did lose its nerve, and I think our options were quite constrained. But I think President Nixon had the idea that, yes, indeed, Americas strategic interests were global. In Vietnam, we needed to extract ourselves from this particular thing in a way that preserved our credibility for all the other big issues. Its an amorphous question youve asked.
MR. KISSINGER: [Inaudible]...that put Vietnam in perspective, but there was one absolute bottom line, we were not going to turn over millions of people who, in reliance on our word, had cast their fate with the United States, to the Communists. So the bottom line in all our negotiations was, we would be very flexible on military issues, we would create a political framework, but under no circumstances would we create a coalition government, or any government which made the Communist takeover inevitable. So, from that point of view, in the balance-of-power-oriented, equilibrium-oriented Nixon Administration, that was a moral bottom line beyond which we wouldnt go. Otherwise, your analysis is correct. We tried to put Vietnam into a perspective, and we were willing to create a reasonable political process, but we would not turn these people over, and thats why we kept the airlift going until the very end to get as many people out. That was something that had to be given to Richard Nixon, and later to Ford when the evacuation happened.
MR. HAIG: Now, we have time for just one more question, so I hope you will be thoughtful about that. Yes.
Q: My name is Peter Edwards. Im the author of the history of Australias involvement in the war based on unrestricted access to Australian government records. The theme of this mornings discussion might be how difficult it is to deal with allies, perhaps, at least as much as with enemies.
Id like to ask two questions about the involvement of allies like Australia, a loyal political and military ally of the United States throughout the world. Firstly, why was it essential after President Nixon began to withdraw American troops from the war, why was so much pressure put on Australia and other allies not to indulge in any similar partial withdrawal, or phased withdrawal?
And, secondly, did Australia and other allies, before the changeAustralia before the change of government in December 72, which unfortunately coincided with the Christmas bombing and precipitated all sorts of tensionsdid Australia ever have any input of any significance into the negotiation process?
MR. HAIG: Peter.
MR. RODMAN: These are very specialized questions. I have to say I dont remember this in great detail. My guess is that as we were withdrawing from Vietnam, we wanted to maintain an impression that this was an act of policy, and not a collapse. And, therefore, having allies with us, and looking formidable as we withdrew, this was part of the strategy. And having people with us is part of that.
Input into the negotiations, I dont think so. For a long time, the negotiations themselves were secret. Then they became public. I think as far as we knew, the world was happy that we were on the way to a negotiated settlement. I dont know what input there would have been on specifics. But this is something we had to manage. It was a hectic and very intense process with enormous pressures on it. I think we knew what our constraints were and what our requirements were.
MR. HAIG: Wait a minute. Let me just add, there were a number of other participants, South Koreans, as you know, and others. And, there was a great deal of pressure applied to all of those a la Korea in the early stages of the conflict to become involved. In fact, Lyndon Johnson exercised the most vigorous arm-twisting. And so, it became an act of faith that we must stay together as best we can. And the other contributions, I dont want to sound arrogant in the typical American way, but the Australian commitment, and I worked with those wonderful Australian forces in the Saigon area, Long Tau area, many times. They were very small. And when you finally get down to where, if you reduced a brigade or a battalion by a company, it just doesnt work. So, I think there were some practical considerations.
MR. RODMAN: Im sure we briefed our allies, especially those allies who were with us
MR. HAIG: Oh, sure.
MR. RODMAN: Im sure we kept them informed as it went along.
MR. HAIG: I used to do that. After every trip, I would go by, and we would send a message to Australia. I would stop off in VietnamI mean, in Seoul and brief then President Park. We were very meticulous about that.
Now, let me first thank our distinguished panelists for the wonderful contributions theyve made here, some of which may be a shock to some people. But, I tell you, these are people that had the experience, and have done the historic research to support their premises. I think its very clear that the agreement arrived at, as we conclude this little panel, perhaps as limited or flawed as it may or may not have been, was viable, if the balance of forces had been maintained.
And I watched the dismantling of that balance of force by an American Congress, and some members of the Presidents own party, such as the bombing halt which took place in July, after the peace treaty, when we gave notice to Hanoi, have at it, do whatever you want because we are not going to respond. And that was a major contributor to the outcome we all suffered.
Thank you all very, very much for your attention.
MR. TAYLOR: Thank you, Secretary Haig, distinguished panelists.
A few pre-lunch notes. First of all, we have been joined by two people who are part of the fabric of history also expert interpreters of our history. They are at work on a book about the year 1968, which was so crucial to our national life. She is a trustee of the Nixon Foundation, he is your luncheon chairman. Please recognize Julie and David Eisenhower.
President Simes has asked me to reinstate the District of Columbias hold-your-applause rule in deference to lunch for the following four distinguished members of the Nixon Administration who are here: Ambassador Richard Helms, Ray Price, Bud McFarlane, and John C. Whitaker. Welcome, gentlemen.
Speaking of lunch, on the brink of lunch, it is wise to recognize the founders of feasts, intellectual and otherwise (and please keep in mind, folks, that Dr. Kissinger hasnt even given his speech yet). Peter and Mary Muth are trustees of the Nixon Foundation. They have an endowment at the Nixon Foundation called the Fund for Moral, Spiritual and National Renewal. It is because of that fund that we are able to meet here today. So, our thanks to Peter and Mary who are at their home in Santa Ana, California.
Luncheon Address by Henry Kissinger: "Vietnam, the Paris Agreement and Their Meaning for Today"
Moderator: David Eisenhower
MR. TAYLOR: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
I have the privilege of introducing four people to whom you have not yet been introduced or to whom you have already been introduced. If you havent been mentioned by the end of this, it probably means that you have to give a speech.
It is always a pleasure to have with us the Ambassador of Singapore, Ambassador Chan Heng-Chee.
A distinguished member of the Centers Advisory Council, Robert B. Zoellick.
One of the great advantages at the Nixon Library of having a sister institution in Washington is that we have been able to benefit by stealing some of the Centers leaders for our own board. A recently elected trustee of the Nixon Foundation and the Vice Chair of the Foundation is also a founding trustee of the Nixon Center, Lionel Olmer.
As General Boyd knows because he was there, as I mentioned earlier, there was a group of former prisoners of war from the Vietnam era at the Library on Monday. Not among them was the late Howard Rutledge, who wrote a book called In the Presence of Mine Enemies about his seven years in a North Vietnamese prison. And he writes that on his first Christmas Eve in prison as he lay in a pitch black, dank cell, his wounds still unhealed, he heard a clear voice singingand at first he thought his ears deceived him"Silent Night." He later learned that his captors had put a speaker in the wall thinking that hearing a Christmas carol would further dispirit him and perhaps make him and his fellow prisoners turn. How little they understood Americans. And we had further confirmation of that from this mornings speakers. Rather than being discouraged, he said it was like finding hidden treasure, and he reveled in it.
As Dr. Stephen Morris suggested in an article just the other day in The New York Times, when historians look back in 100 years, they will probably find very little difference between the ideologies of those who wrote the Hanoi Hilton prison guards manual and of the architects of the genocide of the unlamented Pol Pot and of the most extreme of the Maoists during the Cultural Revolution. The author of a book called "Life and Death in Shanghai" wrote about her 6½ years during the Cultural Revolution, and she, too, describes in the book her first Christmas Eve in prison. And she, too, describes hearing a single, clear voice singing "Silent Night." In this case, she surmised, a young singer from Shanghai who would probably have been thrown in jail because she had a voice that was too beautiful. The author of that New York Times best-seller, while greatly admiring President Nixon and his Secretary of State, never had the opportunity to meet the President nor the Eisenhowers, nor Dr. Kissinger. We are privileged to have her with us today. Please recognize Nien Cheng.
Your luncheon chairman is David Eisenhower. His is the next voice you will hear after lunch. He is the author of a widely hailed biography of his warrior grandfather. As I indicated upstairs, he and Julie are writing together about probably one of the most momentous years of the Cold War. His is one of the keenest minds ever focused on these matters. And with that, enjoy your lunches.
MR. EISENHOWER: Let me have your attention, please. My name is David Eisenhower. As John Taylor indicated in the morning session, I am luncheon chairman, I think youd call me, or master of ceremonies, which is a fancy title thats probably a little bit less than meets the eye. It is my privilege as part of the luncheon program here to introduce General Charles Boyd, who will introduce Secretary Kissinger. And as I am introducing him, I would like to make two points.
Another function that brings me here to The Nixon Center is that Dimitri Simes asked me to be an adviser. And so I am a member of the Advisory Council at the Center. And as an adviser, my advice to The Nixon Center is to keep doing what it is doing. The Center is obviously making an impact on the current United States foreign policy debate, and it is obvious that its influence will continue to grow, which is exactly what Mr. Nixon hoped that this Center would accomplish.
I would also like to say a brief word about this conference, and that is that Julie and I over the years have been approached by people who want to say something nice about the Nixon Administration, and so forth. And theres always been a polite formula. And the formula is that the previous Administration got the United States into Vietnam, and the Nixon Administration was the one that got the United States and its 545,000 troops out of Vietnam.
I think that what this conference accomplishes today is to shift the focus a little bit. I think that what it indicates is that what is mattering more and more today and what will matter much more in the decades to come is not that the troops were in or out, but to concentrate and focus on the question of what the troops in Vietnam accomplished, and specifically what they accomplished as they were being phased out of Vietnam. I think that one of the implicit questions in this conference, as Peter Rodman indicated this morning, is the role that Vietnam played in fulfilling Nixons 1968 campaign pledge to end the war and win the peace. The way in which Vietnam ended was intimately linked to what Nixon and Kissinger called bringing about a generation of peace. And today, in 1998, as the second generation of peace is about to begin, the accomplishment in managing Vietnam between 1969 and 1973, I believe, will loom much larger and larger in history.
That is why it is appropriate today that General Boyd, who served with valor in Vietnam, is on hand to introduce Secretary Kissinger. General Boyd spent seven years in a prisoner-of-war camp in Vietnam, and, in hindsight, that was actually the beginning phase of a very distinguished military career that culminated with his service as Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. European Command.
It is my pleasure to present General Boyd.
MR. BOYD: Thank you very much.
Im very much aware of the time, having been reminded so by the people that are running this place. And so I will proceed. But I wouldnt do so without first telling you that the prospect of introducing a man whose name and face are surely as familiar as any on the planet is an awesome one. If I am to tell you anything that you dont know, its going to have to be from a perspective of the only one in the room, I presume, who first heard the name "Henry Kissinger" while in the enemy camp of a war that he was so instrumental in drawing to a conclusion.
But, first, I met Dr. Kissinger on an evening late in May of 1973. It was the 24th, as I recall. It was a small dinner party, about 1,300 or so, at the White House. The evening was intended to celebrate the return of the nations POWs and, in addition to the featured guests, was attended by senior Administration officials and a raft of Hollywood celebrities. The repatriated prisoners, a little dizzy in their new freedom, were made the more so by mingling among people they had heretofore seen only on TV or movie screens. Of course, their President was the principal one they wanted to meet. But beyond that, the person most seemed to be drawn to was the man who will today serve as your luncheon speaker.
For my part, I skipped Jimmy Stewart, Phyllis Diller and several others of that sort when I spotted the Presidents National Security Adviser, quietly chatting near the exit to the South Lawn tent that housed the banquet. I recall approaching him to shake hands, giving him my name, and then blurting out "Sir, were proud of you." He replied in a gracious way, waiting a moment for me to complete my thought, and when I hesitated turned to take another POWs hand.
I retreated into the crowd, angry with myself for not having been able to tell him what I and so many others wanted him to know. We had first come to know Henry Kissingers name in the months following President Nixons inauguration in 1969. Lyndon Johnsons halt to the bombing of the North during the election campaign of 1968 had a deeply demoralizing effect on the prisoners, as most interpreted the move to be a capitulation of sorts and, for certain, the loss of leverage over a recalcitrant enemy. But our morale improved when we belatedly learned a man of sterner stuff had taken up residency in the White House. And it edged up even more when we eventually learned that Nixon had acquired a National Security Adviser who spoke with a heavy accent, but who was smarter than hell.
Now, it is true that men in such circumstances cling to slender reeds. And during the years 69 through 71, not much progress in resolution of the war was evident, and we sustained ourselves with our own code and a continuing confidence that this administration would not cut and run.
By early 72, the name "Kissinger" began to be heard with increasing regularity on Hanoi Hannah in connection with what seemed to be a new genre of talks in Paris. As the level of denunciation increased toward the American negotiating positions, so did our assumption that he was fighting for things of value. We were not sophisticated strategists in those days. Most of us still arent. But when the bombing resumed in May of 72, there wasnt an American in Hanoi that didnt know exactly what it meant. And we were thrilled. Nixon and Kissinger were reapplying the leverage Johnson had relaxed. And when the B-52s brought their awesome power north during the Christmas celebration of 72, we knew that some kind of an agreement could not be far behind. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Last Monday night at a somewhat smaller dinner party at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, 186 of those former POWs came in contact again with the man who negotiated the terms under which their war would end. And the same respect and admiration they had so obviously felt for him in 73 was undiminished in the encounter earlier this week. And as for me, to complete the thought shared, Im sure, by all my comrades that I was unable to articulate 25 years ago was simply this: Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger gave us the opportunity to return with a dignity we could not have had under circumstances of a simple U.S. uncompensated withdrawal. The U.S. left having kept our commitment to preserve a non-Communist government and way of life in South Vietnam, along with a reasonable plan for financial and military assistance to sustain that commitment. What the U.S. Congress did to that peace accord the following year can be a topic for discussion this afternoon. But the day the prisoners stepped off the C-141s at Clark, they could believe those years in Hanois prisons had not been for nothing.
Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me enormous pleasure to introduce to you a man that made possible just that, Dr. Henry Kissinger.
[Dr. Kissinger spoke extemporaneously and his remarks have been slightly edited for clarity and to correct errors in the transcript.]
MR. KISSINGER: General Boyd, ladies and gentlemen. When you are in government, you often ask yourself whether all the harassment and the exertions are worth it. And, I must say that what the General said, and the experience I had on Monday night in Yorba Linda with the POWs, make me feel that, whatever else happened, I am proud to have been associated with a group of officers and men like that, and of course, with the President who achieved what was accomplished.
Since we dont have too much time, and there are a lot of people who ought to have an opportunity to ask me some questions, I will make a few, relatively brief remarks if Im capable of that, which has yet to be proved. I do want to pay tribute to my comrades in all these efforts: Al Haig, without whom, first, the national security machinery couldnt have operated and who later held the country together during the tragic Watergate phase; Bud McFarlane, who ran the NSC office and whom Ill never forget on the day we withdrew from Saigon, what that meant to him having lost so many of his comrades there in the Marines; Hal Sonnenfeldt, who is probably moving his lips as I speak, because he always assumed that I fell somewhat short of what he might have said; my long-time associate Peter Rodman; Charlie Whitehouse, who held up the Saigon end and brought home to me when I arrived there with what we thought was a pretty good agreement the local dilemmas we would face; and probably others whom I didnt identify, but who were associated with me. We had dedicated, devoted people in the Nixon Administration trying to see this thing through.
Let me discuss briefly what we were trying to do, and one or two of the consequences of this. I dont belong to those who simply say that Kennedy and Johnson made a terrible mistake in getting us into Vietnam and that we did a great thing getting us out of Vietnam. I believe that we got into Vietnam on behalf of noble motives and valid objectives. We did not properly assess the distinction between containment in Europe and containment in Asia. We made mistakes in the conduct of strategymistakes that are inherent in our national psyche of being perpetually, congenitally reluctant to win first and negotiate laterin almost every war in which we have been engaged.
So, what was our problem? And what were the lessons we thought we drew from Vietnam? We found ourselves with a majority in the intellectual community saying not only that the war was unwinnable, but the general tendency was more and more towards the belief that the war should not be won; that it was an example of the moral failings of America, and that we would never be able to purify our country unless we suffered some traumatic experience. Im not saying every intellectual joined that group, but they either joined it or acquiesced in it. Maybe my memory is failing in my advancing years, but I can think of no major intellectual who said "give Richard Nixon a chance," or who stood up against this groundswell.
On the conservative side, they were silent. They became very vocal afterwards. But at the time, they were largely silent. When I called up a leading conservative and asked him to help us, he said, "That horse has left the barn. There is nothing more we can do." So we were operating in a vacuum.
And the lesson that wewhen I say "we," let me say Nixon and, with all respect, I, drew from the Vietnam War was that we must avoid the oscillations between abdication and overcommitment that had been so characteristic of American foreign policy in the preceding period. We had to extricate ourselves from Vietnam, but in such a manner that we could relate it to the foreign policy of the United States, and, for that manner, the honor of those who were suffering in the North Vietnamese prison camps.
That was the basic strategy. In the fall of 1969 we discussed three options. Of course, I have said there are always three options; nuclear war, unconditional surrender, and the State Departments preference.
But we did discuss three real options. One was what the media and most intellectuals were increasingly urging on us, which was unilateral withdrawal. The second, which I initially preferred, was to bring matters to a head with a military onslaught and to see whether we could break the back of the North Vietnamese. And the third was the "Vietnamization" policy we adopted.
Unilateral withdrawal, which rolled so easily from peoples lips, was not even a practical option. Those of you who are acquainted with the Bosnian experience will remember that to withdraw 25,000 men from Bosnia was believed to require 25,000 more men being injected into it and a six-month withdrawal period, if I remember correctly, General [Boyd]. So we were going to get 545,000 out of Vietnam, surrounded by 400,000-500,000 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese, and 800,000 South Vietnamese who would feel betrayed at that moment. Those of you who remember the last days of Saigon, will remember that there were only five thousand Americans left at the end. And to extricate those without a debacle was a major intellectual and practical problem.
So unilateral withdrawal would have led to disaster. It was unacceptable to us. We would never have done it.
The escalation option posed a great temptation. But we felt we could not make Vietnam the only test of American foreign policy. And we wanted to embed Vietnam in a global strategy in which we could bring China into play, in which we would complicate Russian calculations, restore our relations with Europe and demonstrate to the American public that those who insisted they wanted peace in Vietnam were not speaking for everybody who wanted peace, and that there was no alternative way of achieving peace, which was the route we took. So we chose to extricate gradually, to build up the South Vietnamese in the process, and to keep open the options on all sides. That was our basic strategy. And while there are endless discussions about this or that aspect of it, we stuck to that strategy. We withdrew about 150,000 people unilaterally every year.
People mention 25,000 casualties in the Nixon period. But these people do not have the honesty to say that 8,000 of those occurred in the first six months as a result of the "mini-Tet" launched by Hanoi12,000 in the first yearand that, while the major part of the withdrawal was being carried out, after the 1970 Cambodian operation, there were relatively few casualtieshundreds rather than tens of thousands.
The entire history of the Cambodian intervention has never been honestly presented. I had a group of Harvard professors call on me at the height of it, and one of them said, "Cambodia is a different country. You and the President obviously didnt notice this." Perhaps we were not of the same level of intelligence as they, but we did know where the borders were. We also know that there were four North Vietnamese divisions on the other side overrunning Cambodia and killing Americans, and that you couldnt open up all of Cambodia to Communist logistic supplies for the war in South Vietnam without South Vietnam collapsing. At any rate, that was our judgment. And it deserves at the least a more serious discussion than it received.
Thus, one could go through all the major decisions. We discussed this morning what the decisions were about ending the war.
When somebody studies it, they will find that our position in the negotiations was consistent from the first day onwards. From our first meeting with Le Duc Tho in April 1970, we said we wanted to separate the military and the political issues. We were willing to make a cease-fire, but we were not willing to predetermine the political process and simply turn over the government to them. We insisted that the political structure in South Vietnam would remain intact. There were all kinds of proposals that we made during that periodthe last one made publicly in January 1972 by President Nixon when he disclosed the secret talks which had been going on, and which had been preceded by a secret proposal in May, 1971 (all of which, incidentally, President Thieu, approved, probably thinking they would never be accepted). It was not as if we just slipped a proposal to the North Vietnamese that the South Vietnamese had never seen. In fact, I believe that Al Haig took every proposal to Saigon before we made it, and that was approvedalthough I will admit that the speed with which we moved at the end undoubtedly surprised the South Vietnamese. But Im not arguing now whether every tactical move was the right one.
For those who were not present this morning, I want to make one other point. Its often said that either Nixon or I had been motivated by the November election. But Nixon was already so far ahead in the polls that he needed nothing less than something like this to churn the atmosphere. The election affected us in only one way: Nixon said repeatedly that it would be better for him politically if the settlement came afterwards. But he also said repeatedly that if there were a possibility of a good agreement, the fact that it would be better for him politically to settle afterwards should not influence our considerations. There are many memos or handwritten letters he wrote to me saying this. He had a meeting with Gromyko at the end of September in which he said the same thing to Gromyko. As we went into the crucial meeting on October 8th, he said to me that if the North Vietnamese accepted our proposals, then we would be willing to settle before the election.
Now we did make a number of miscalculations, including both a minor one and a significant one. I dont know how we could have changed itIve talked to Charlie [Whitehouse] about itbut we underestimated President Thieus reaction. We thought that an agreement that left him in office, and in which he was legitimized by the North Vietnamese, was such a spectacular success that he would not pay attention to all the other surrounding circumstances. Frankly, I dont know what we could have done about it if we had understood it.
But I admit this: we judged wrong. And what we judged wrong above all was our belief that if we could get peace with honor, that we would unite the American people who would then defend an agreement that had been achieved with so much pain. That was our fundamental miscalculation. It never occurred to me, and Im sure it never occurred to President Nixon, that there could be any doubt about it, because an agreement that you dont enforce is a surrender; its just writing down surrender terms. And that we never intended.
Nixon wrote letters to Thieu that were not public in which he promised we would enforce the agreement. This was later criticized. I would simply ask some honest researcher sometime to compare the letters that President Nixon wrote to Thieu with the letters that have still not been published that President Kennedy or Johnson wrote to other leaders to see who made the bigger commitments. Or even other Presidents, in other circumstances. These were never treated as national commitments. These were expressions of the intentions of the President. Every senior member of the Administrationincluding myself, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Stateis represented in compendiums of statements that said publicly every other week that we intended to enforce the agreement. There was nothing new about that.
But actually doing it was rendered impossible by Watergate. It was rendered further impossible by legislation that prohibited U.S. military action ever to enforce the agreement. And it was rendered finally impossible by a 50% cut in aid to Vietnam each year, going from $2.4 billion in the first year to $700 million in the last year. And it was cut off to Cambodia altogether. A large percentage of the South Vietnamese air force was grounded. Artillery shells to the Vietnamese military were rationed. We lost the advantage of firepower. We lost the advantage of mobility. And we lost, above all, through the demoralization of the country we had been willing to protect.
If I had any idea that all this was possible, I would not have participated in, and President Nixon would never have authorized, any sort of agreement. I believe it could otherwise have been maintained for a long enough period of time to give the South Vietnamese an opportunity, as the South Koreans were given, to develop their own future.
I would like to conclude with one or two observations and then answer a few questions. The first is this: it would be highly desirable to stop this constant bloodletting over Vietnam. But it takes two things to do this, one of which is a greater degree of objectivity on the part of commentators. When Pol Pot died last week, I heard it on the national news that the American bombing of Cambodia had made it possible for the Khmer Rouge to win. In fact, we had bombed the North Vietnamese who were killing Americans. We are guilty only in the sense that the Khmer Rouge won in the end because Congress cut off aid to the Cambodian government resisting them.
When I was on the BBC, I was asked the question, "Do you feel responsible?" I said, "Absolutely. I feel just as responsible as you should feel for the Holocaust because you bombed Hamburg."
Tom Enders, who was Deputy Ambassador in Cambodia, interviewed everybody connected with the bombing and put out a compendium of all the episodes in which Cambodian civilians were alleged to have been hurt. The conclusion was that very few civilians were, in fact, affected. He couldnt even get it published. So I published it in the backnotes of the second volume of my memoirs. Not one reviewer has mentioned it.
So, we owe it to ourselves to make an honest accounting of what occurred. We owe it to ourselves to not pretend that we had a maniacal President who loved war and started throwing bombs. I saw a television program the other day about the 1972 Christmas bombing of Hanoi. One really would have thought just from this television program that poor President Nixon had died unfulfilled because there were still some babies in North Vietnam he didnt get. In fact, there was very little civilian damage in North Vietnam from that Christmas bombing, as every observer who later went there was obliged to report.
What we need to avoid as well is falling in with what has in fact become a national obsessionthat we cannot engage in military action unless its quick, overwhelming, costless, decisive, and totally victorious. Alexander the Great couldnt have met those requirements.
I talked with some Clinton Administration person recently when the bombing of Iraq was being contemplated. I said that, in my view, we ought to go after the Republican Guard divisions. "Oh, my God," he said. "Republican Guard divisions? You cant go after the Republican Guard divisions. What were accusing Iraq of is hiding biological weapons. We can go after every deposit of biological weapons. But we cant go after things that are outside our legal framework." Im certainly not saying that this is the dominant view in the country, but I am saying that we have to be able to bring our political and military objectives into some relationship to each other. The issue in Iraq is not the hiding of biological weapons. The issue is, do we have a strategy for breaking the back of somebody we dont want to negotiate with? And if were not able to do that, how can we then avoid negotiating with him? If we are not able to destroy and we are not able to isolate him, were only going to demonstrate our impotence.
It is precisely this overriding need for a strategic concept that we were addressing when the Nixon Administration took office. We wrote annual reports to Congress about the strategy we were pursuing. And youll find everything I am saying here more or less reflected in those reports. We could not, however, get any newspaper to cover them; all they wanted to cover was anything new they could find in the sections on Vietnam. Youll find described in these reports, as well, our basic attitude toward China, towards the Soviet Union and our basic strategy for the diplomacy that was undertaken.
When President Nixon came into office it was at a watershed period in history. America was no longer totally dominant in the world. In Vietnam, we were learning the limits of our capabilities. We could no longer define a problem and say, "This now has a fixed solution." We henceforth would be in a world in which every solution would be only the admission price to another problem and in which we had to learn to accumulate the benefits and minimize the costs. That was the strategy we were trying to achieve. Whether we got it right or not, is really secondary.
That approach is the one we still need. The problems surrounding it have only become more and more acute. Thus, we go into Bosnia and we announce well be out in one year. Very American. Totally unachievable. We define the objective of a unified multi-ethnic Bosnian state under the rule, in effect, of one of the ethnic groups. A huge task. Are we willing to pay this price? And if we are not willing to pay the price, we are back to the Vietnam syndrome of not being able to order our objectives.
The lessons we have to learn are not that no objective is worth achieving, but that priorities must be established for the objectives that must be achieved and that there are those things only we can do, those things that are desirable to do and those things that are beyond us. That is the duty on an Administration. Thats what Richard Nixon was attempting to do, why I concluded my eulogy by saying it was an honor to serve him and why, General, your remarks mean more to me than I can say.
Let me stop here and take, if I may, a few questions.
Q: You spoke of what you consider to be your fundamental misjudgment, and that was that the American people would support this agreement.
MR. KISSINGER: No, I meant the Congress. I said "the people," but I should have said the Congress.
Q: The Congress. And we heard this morning also your assessment, unlike both Vietnamese parties who turned out to be mistaken, that after the election you felt that the administration would be weaker rather than stronger because of what was going on in the Congress. Now it seems to me that what youre saying there is that you really were anticipating some awfully heavy going with the Congress, whether you had an agreement or not. Im just trying to get a little closer read on this...
MR. KISSINGER: No.
Q: Your misjudgment of what...?
MR. KISSINGER: No. I dont want to speak for President Nixon on this, because he kept me out of domestic politics. So, I cannot say what his judgment was of what the Congress would do. I thoughtI had no reason to believe that he disagreed with thisthat the country was divided. We would make every effort to show to the moderate peace element that we really were serious about peace. And we thought that if we could end the war and bring the prisoners home, then the country would become united in preserving the result. And if you read my press briefings when the agreement was presentedwhich were certainly approved by President Nixonyou will see that in my last paragraph I say that, now that those of us who wanted peace with honor have honor and those who wanted peace have peace, lets unite on maintaining this agreement. We had every intention, as Al Haig knows, of responding to North Vietnamese violations of the agreement by bombing the Ho Chi Minh Trial where they were infiltrating again. We were just waiting for the last American prisoners to get out, which was, I think, at the end of March 1973. But then, in April, Watergate blew up. I believe, especially from what I heard from Stephen Morris, that if we had reacted as we planned, the North Vietnamese would not have tested President Nixon again.
At any rate, we thought wed have public support for this. What never occurred to us was that the Congress would legislate a prohibition against military action. Al and I were in San Clemente at the time. We still couldnt believe it.
Q: Well, why do you think that could happen that way?
MR. KISSINGER: It happened partly because of Watergate, and partly because there was, if I may use the word, a malaise that had developed among many members of our intellectual community, who really believed that if we got peace with honor, we would be on a path in which this sort of thing would be repeated; and that it was actually better for America to come out humiliated. And if they didnt exactly believe it, they wouldnt oppose anybody who did believe it. This was in one of those moments near mass hysteria that this was legislated.
MR. TAYLOR: Dr. Kissinger, your brief opening remarks have left time for only one more question.
MR. KISSINGER: Well, Ill take it, one or two more. Arnaud?
Q: Im sorry, but I was not here this morning. I was interested in your views on the new official version put out by Hanoi of the war? Is there anything in there that you were not aware of or that may have illuminated something that was still dark?
MR. KISSINGER: Incidentally, if I may say, somebody this morning got the impression that somebody said that Arnaud had leaked some classified material during the negotiations, thats absolutely not correct. What triggered our "Peace is at Hand" press conference was the publication by Hanoi of the whole text of the agreement and its insistence that we come to Paris in a couple of days to sign it. There had to be an American response to that. It had nothing to do with leaks. Now Arnaud did have an important interview with Pham Van Dong, which was separate, which did raise doubts in our minds about Hanois sincerity and which affected negotiations. But that was not a leak either. In fact, he gave me some of the key parts of his reporting that were not published. So Arnuads contribution was a substantial one.
Back to the question. Most of the historical accounts that I have seen from HanoiI havent read them with the care of, for example, Peter [Rodman]confirm what Im saying. Almost all of these publications say they were contemplating a quite limited attack [in 1975]. They had a debate in the Politburo in which maybe the majority warned against it. Le Duan said, "lets try a provincial city." So they took a provincial city, and we tried to bluff, moving an aircraft carrier out of Manila Harbor. It was barely out to sea when all hell broke loose domestically and we had to give 500 assurances that we wouldnt go anywhere near Vietnam. Thus Hanoi learnedwe have many quotes to that effectthat South Vietnams artillery was no longer functioning, that it was no longer mobile, and that the air force was grounded. Hanoi had no intention in 1975 of launching an all-out offensive; when they tried it on this provincial city, they found that there was no resistance at all. And when they tried another one in the Central Highlands, that, too, by itself, would not have been decisive. But then the Congress refused to pass a supplementary appropriations bill of $300 million (after having cut it to about a quarter of what it was originally), whereupon Thieu decided to withdraw from the Central Highlands in a strategic withdrawal. But Thieu had not calculated that there were no open roads, that there were dependents flooding the roads, and so forth, and it turned into a rout.
But I have yet to see anything in North Vietnamese accounts that differs from my version or Nixons version. So now, just to prove to John Taylor that hes not always in complete charge, Ill take one more question, if anyone dares to ask it.
Q: [Question in audible.]
MR. KISSINGER: What do I think of Robert McNamara? What would I say about his recent behavior? I would say to Robert McNamara that hes selling himself short, that he was engaged in a noble cause, that he did not understand the nature of warfare and certainly did not understand the nature of the guerrilla warfare, but that hes not doing justice to himself because what he was trying to do was quite correct. In fact, not only would I say it to him, I have said it to him.
As Honorary Chairman of The Nixon Center, I now wish to announce that theres a new Chinese Studies program starting on May 1st, which will be headed by David M. Lampton, who was the President of the National Committee on U.S.- China Relations, and with whom I have worked closely over the years.
And we couldnt find a better man to do this. It is going to be a useful, important contribution on a major topic. Because now that relations have been established, its important to establish a framework for what to talk about when the leaders meet.
So, thank you very much. My apologies for taking one extra question.
Dan [Schorr], you let me off more easily than you normally do. Youre getting soft.
MR. SIMES: Thank you very much, Dr. Kissinger. Thank you very much, Mr. Honorary Chairman.
On this happy note, we have very little time. We have to go back to the 12th floor and resume our deliberations. And this time well move from a very important past to a very uncertain future.
Thank you very much.
Panel II: "Vietnam: Legacy and Lessons"
Moderator: Leslie H. Gelb
Participants: Charles G. Boyd, Walter McDougall, Dimitri K. Simes
MR. TAYLOR: This afternoon, as we move from a new look at the past to the lessons for the future of American foreign policy, we could have no better moderator than Leslie Gelb. Educated at Tufts and Harvard, author or co-author of four books, including one award-winning book about Vietnam, Mr. Gelb served in the Johnson Administration in the Pentagon. His responsibilities included directing the Pentagon Papers project. He also served an Assistant Secretary of State under President Carter, and he is a recipient of the highest honors of both the Department of Defense and the Department of State.
His many posts at The New York Times included diplomatic correspondent, national security affairs correspondent, editor of the op-ed page, and finally columnist on the op-ed page. In June of 1993, he became President of the Council on Foreign Relations. And having him there and Dimitri here has resulted in unlikely and unpredictable but very fruitful collaborations between his august Council and our young Center. And we are grateful for those, as well as, for your participation today.
MR. GELB: Thank you very much. Congratulations to The Nixon Center and to Dimitri Simes for this conference. Its not easy to talk about such a profound experience in our history but it is important to talk about that experience.
This morning, the conversation was about the past. This afternoon, its about the past and the future. That kind of conversation, dialogue, is essential because in our world arguments really boil down to historical analogies. Were always resorting to the past to try to prove our case in the present. How we use those tragedies and triumphs of history, how we use those analogies, the myths and the realities both, become a part of the present in all of the discussions about Bosnia or Somalia. How we ought to think about a world that is now beginning to unlock itself to us, is determined, in good part, by how we see the past, and the lessons we take from it.
There was, for a lot of us in this room, no more profound experience than the Vietnam War. And our discussion today is what we are taking with us into the future from that experience.
I wrote a book about Vietnam. The subject has always been particularly painful and difficult for me because the essence of what the book said was that if I had been in a position of responsibility, almost at any point in the history of the Vietnam War, I essentially would have made the same decisions as the people who had responsibility. One of the problems, I think, with going back over the history and seeing what it means for the future is that many people who have spoken and written on it have forgotten the real past. Memories are bad, history is often shoddy. In particular, people forget, as they look back at this experience, that with very few exceptions, most Americans, particularly most Americans like us, supported the war until very late in the game and changed only gradually. But its difficult for a lot of people who came to oppose the war to remember. And for a lot of people who espoused the war to remember exactly the basis of their espousal. For us to sort this out is a part of the present. All these arguments truly matter.
We have, as has been the case with almost everything The Nixon Center has done, a panel of the highest distinction and intellectual quality. Those of you who have had a chance to attend Nixon Center events know, I think, that intellectual quality has been the hallmark of what the Center has done under Dimitris leadership.
The three panelists today can take us at this subject in very different ways and creative ways. General Charles Boyd was Deputy Commander of U.S. Forces in Europe and a distinguished Air Force general, retiring as a four-star general. As important, and for purposes of today more important, he has earned the right to speak to this subject more than anyone I know and he does speak to this subject not in terms of the past but of the future. Chuck has written some pieces on Bosnia for Foreign Affairsand Chuck and I argue about those piecesbut he has earned the right to talk about how the past affects the present.
Professor Walter McDougall, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author of a book about how America sees its past in terms of its present in foreign policy.
And Dimitri Simes, foreign policy expert who does the best imitation of a Russian emigre foreign policy expert of anybody I know. Dimitri brings yet another special perspective, both as an expert on Russian and Soviet affairs, and as someone with a broader foreign policy background.
Im going to ask Chuck Boyd to speak first because Chuck, unfortunately, will have to leave us a bit early but come take your turn at the podium to begin, Chuck.
MR. BOYD: Thank you, Les, and I apologize in advance for having to disrupt this thing by leaving early. I have a commitment. I have an airplane to catch at National at 3:20. And so, you all can figure out the arithmetic from there.
But there are a couple of points that it seems to me worthy of making to get this thing under way and to give you a chance then to hear from a military officer who, like all military officers, I believe, of my generation, was to a large extent defined by our Vietnam experiences. We were young officers in Vietnam and impressionable officers at that time. What we have become today is a direct result of that experience.
It has made usand it is important for you because it will affect the way this nation conducts its foreign policycautious and conservative as an officer corps. A question I would ask you to put in the back of your mind and think about later is whether the generation that follows ours will have the same sort of biases that mine have. Its too early to tell.
We are a cautious group. We are conservative, not necessarily ideologically, but we are conservative in the sense that we are risk-averse. We came out of that experience distrustful, in the main, of elected politicians, fearful and contemptuous of the press and obsessed with having clearly defined political objectives, strategic format and adequate resources to do that which we were asked to do.
We have, by our caution, put constraints then upon the policy formulation process that I believe may be at a dangerous level. And, because we were developed in the cauldron that was Vietnam, it is difficult for elected officials or, for that matter, appointed officials who did not serve there, to tell us we are wrong.
If there is a lesson that I have learned from the Vietnam era and from reading my reading of history of what the senior officers of that time were doing, it is that they were never willing to take on, in a very serious debate, their differing views between the means and the ends; the ends that their political masters had in mind and the means with which they had been provided to achieve those ends. That is reversed now. We have politicians who are less clear on, perhaps, what they have as their objective and senior officers who are adamant and in their face, if you will, demanding the resources they need to do a job to their comfort level.
I was a planner, as a colonel, at the time of the invasion into Grenada. The guidance that we received from our seniors at the time was: determine what the force levels out to be, double that figure, and then increase it by 50 percent as a rule of thumb. If you watched the debate or were privy to the debate that took place in the preparation for Bosnia it was much the same. Military leaders were extremely cautious, extremely conservative and they wanted from their political masters a guarantee, first of all, that theyd have an achievable objective. Second of all, that they have a strategy for its fulfillment. Third, that the politicians can deliver the support of the people and maintain it. And, finally, that they will have all of the resources that they wish to do the job. It seems to me that that makes the execution of American foreign policy if not very, very difficult, impossible. It is a subject worthy of discussion and debate this afternoon.
The second great lesson that I think that I have learned from the Vietnam experience, and one that I dont believe is being applied, but it is, nonetheless, a lesson, is that you cannot execute and sustain your execution of a foreign policy without the support of the United States Congress. Military officers, having learned that lesson, it seems to me still are somewhat disdainful of dealing with the legislative branch of our government, preferring to stay in the relative safety of the executive branch. I believe thats a serious mistake.
I hold the controversial viewand Dr. Kissinger may take me on very quickly over thisbut I believe that had the Paris Peace Accords been brought back and presented to the Congress of the United States for ratification that we would have been able to sustain the support necessary to honor the commitment to the government of South Vietnam. I see a man that I respect very highly shaking his head no. And so, I think that this is something that is worthy of debate. But it seems to me that it would have been very difficult for the Congress of the United States to have refused at that point to support a document knowing that it would not lead to withdrawal of troops and a repatriation of the prisoners if they did not do so. It would have made them stakeholders in that process, making it impossible to pull the rug out from under the Paris Peace Accords the following year.
I leave you with those two ideas. There are many others that bang against them in this debate and I hope that they will generate just such a banging. And I will apologize. I will be here if you want to do a couple of questions before we move on to the next speaker and then I will have to run for the airport.
Thank you very much.
MR. GELB: Thank you, Chuck. Youre actually vacating the premises whenwhen will you leave here?
MR. BOYD: I have to leave in about three minutes, I think.
MR. GELB: Does anyone have any questions for Chuck?
Al, would you....
MR. HAIG: Well, Ill make an observation on that second point so Henry doesnt have to. I am not quite sure that the American Congress, had they been asked to ratify the Paris accords, could ever have arrived at a consensus and the process of trying to get there may have convinced Hanoi, Moscow and whoever else was watching that it was really too late for the American body politic to unite on an issue of this complexity and emotionalism. Thats my own personal view. It would be like keeping our entry into relations with China secret versus bringing it to the Congress. If we had brought it to the Congress, it never would have happened because of the emotionalism and the various factional attitudes on the issue. So, I just raise that.
I dont know whether you agree to that, Henry, but I think its an important point.
MR. KISSINGER: If they had approved the terms they would have made a codicil that we couldnt enforce them; that this did not mean we had the right to enforce them. They might have approved the terms but they would never have approved, I think, acting on it.
MR. HAIG: Id like to endorse your observations on the first point, very much. Its exactly right. Shell shockthe Vietnam syndrome is not just a military problem, its in the body politic itself, in the political leadership of this country. After all, weve got a former Secretary of Defense, a Republican, who said no American forces will be used anywhere in the world without a ticker tape parade down Broadway and full endorsement of the American people for the use of those forces.
MR. KISSINGER: And one other point, Watergate so confused the issue that you cant tell what would have happened. Nixon never had the opportunity to go to the American public and say, weve struggled for this for four years, now lets come together because that whole timefrom almost the beginning of the second termhe was engulfed in another issue.
MR. BOYD: What I hoped, though, is that we could use this as a springboard to the present. My point, and argue its relative validity, is this: getting a buy-in from the Congress for the policy that were about to execute when it involves taking risks with our armed forces seems to me to be a very sound thing. They seem to me to be very reluctant to do this in the executive branch. I dont think this executive branch is maybe that much different than others in this regard. It will be difficult for them to go and seek that kind of buy-in ahead of time.
If you watched how the preparation for Bosnia was dealt with on the Hill, it was not the model that I think we should follow in the future; to tell the Congress, both in terms of cost, duration and objective, something that everyone in the executive branch and everybody in the Pentagon knew to be absolutely false then they expect to be able to maintain the support of the Congress if the going got rough in Bosnia. If we lose 100 troops in Bosnia, that policy is sunk.
MR. GELB: Yes, sir.
Q: I bring you a very contemporary example called NATO expansion hardly articulated and explained by the presidency and hardly debated by Congress. It is a monumental event if thats going to take place. Im not going to make a list of the consequences. It may even change the balance of power between the United States, China and Russia that Henry Kissinger has established. And we are just passing it on the name of joining Western civilization, and, you know, we won the Cold War, and everything else. Theres hardly a debate taking place in Congress. And the President is explaining it in such euphemistic terms that are not even demanded by the public, Congress, or even the nation as a whole. In fact, I dont know if anybody really knows outside the beltway what NATO expansion is. Heres an example for you where Congress is completely irresponsible, in my view, without seriously debating it.
MR. GELB: Dont you want to say a word about that, Chuck?
MR. BOYD: Thank you very much.
MR. GELB: Thank you, Chuck.
MR. GELB: Bud, a word before we go on?
Q: I agree in principle with what Charlie said; that you want always to try to enlist congressional support for self-evident reasons. I would draw a distinction, however, with making it a precondition to act. The President has a responsibility. I would cite the example of Grenada where President Reagan, to his credit, brought in the Congress, and these were not the junior members, but Tip ONeill, Howard Baker, Bob Dole, and their Democratic counterparts. Every single one of the nine bipartisan leaders said, you must not do this. Afterward, when it worked, all nine were proud parents. But, in short, do what you can but never be too optimistic about congressional courage.
MR. GELB: Id like to congratulate the audience here at The Nixon Center for continuing the Council on Foreign Relations tradition of disguising statements as questions.
MR. GELB: Professor McDougall, please.
MR. McDOUGALL: Thank you very much, Leslie.
I speak to you as a professional historian, a teacher, but also as a Vietnam veteran myself. Im a little intimidated surrounded by secretaries of state, generals, admirals and national security advisors. I was just an artilleryman in 1969 but Im proud of having served.
And I can report to you, perhaps some optimistic news about the mentality of todays young students, who were not born, after all, until after the Vietnam War was over. They barely remember Ronald Reagan. In the question period one of you might wish to pose that and ask me for my impressions.
Its only we baby-boomers and those of the previous generation who are still obsessed with the Vietnam War. The kids are sick of the Vietnam War because all they get from their professors is rehashes of the 60s.
Well, at any rate, were asked today to speak on the legacy and the lessons of the Vietnam War and it so happens that this semester I taught a seminar on the Vietnam War and spent 42 hours in the classroom trying to tease out precisely that legacy and those lessons. I used Dr. Gelbs book, used Dr. Kissingers book, and so forth. And now Im asked to do it in 10 minutes. That is a speech writing feat that I think would tax the talents of my colleague Harvey Sicherman, a speech writer for Secretaries Haig, Schultz and Baker.
MR. GELB: And theres seven minutes left.
MR. McDOUGALL: Thats right. So, all Im going to do is just throw out some topics on the legacies and then later on at least one lesson of the Vietnam War. What did the Vietnam War do to the United States of America independent of its global effects? It gave us our all-volunteer military force, including the vigorous recruitment of women in this all-volunteer force. The consequences of that are profound but, as yet, very unclear and a source of great controversy.
The Vietnam War was the occasion, at least, for the Congress counterattack on the imperial presidency and I believe that historians 50 or 100 years from now will look back and see Watergate as a mere pretext. Watergateyesthat was part of it. That was a pretext for this broad-based congressional attempt to rollback the authority of the executive branch that had been growing ever since 1941.
Obviously, a legacy of the war was this Vietnam syndrome that we are at pains to define. Or perhaps it has many different definitions. President Bush suggested that it had come to an end in 1991. I think many of us would agree that it did not entirely come to an end in 1991 and that even our prosecution of the Gulf War itself is evidence that we were still suffering under a Vietnam syndrome. We made some of the same mistakes we made in the Vietnam War in terms of not defining where and who our real enemy was and going after his main force as Clausewitz would advise.
The Vietnam War was the first time the United States deployed a fully integrated military. All we hear from the other sidethe revisionistsis about racial tension and trouble in the ranks. The fact is, the United States Army, forced to deal with the social problems of the 1960s in an immediate and direct way with lives on the line, made more progress more quickly in race relations than any institution in this country.
The Vietnam War has had a profound effect on the politics of the United States through the playing out of the psychology of the baby-boom generation. Its been called narcissistic this morning. What did you do in the 60s, or what didnt you do in the 60s and does it matter? Does the reelection of Bill Clinton mean sex, drugs and draft-dodging are now acceptable in political candidates; that it doesnt matter what you did in the 60s? Or is it still possible that Clinton will come to grief? In which case, perhaps the future of American politics will skip our generation or belong to Senator Kerry and others who did serve in the 60s and have gone into politics.
Fifteen years of inflation in this country began during the course of the Vietnam War, whose social as well as economic effects have only begun to be appreciated by historians. The Vietnam War began 34 years of permanent budget deficits, which we hope now is a period finally coming to an end.
The Vietnam War accelerated and, perhaps, completed a reversal of roles between the popular culture and the values of this nation and its political leadership. The popular cultureHollywood, cartoons, newspapers and musicused to rally to the nations cause when it was fighting a foreign foe. Now, as we know, the immediate knee jerk reaction of the popular media is to be cynical and to doubt the credibility of our leadership. One need only compare John Wayne with Oliver Stone. The media, of course, also shifted in its relationship with politicians and the government. When I first started teaching in the late 1970s at Berkeley, everybody wanted to be an investigative journalist. That was the hot profession. Now, they all want to go to law school or work on Wall Street.
The United States itself has been literally Vietnamizedlargely, of course, through the 1965 immigration actbut the precipitating cause of the great flood of Asian immigration to the United States was our military involvement in Asia and the refugees who came out of the debacle of the mid-1970s.
I teach them in my classes. They are the most hard working, intelligent, dedicated, pro-American, democracy-loving and freedom loving people you can possibly imagine. The Vietnam refugees who fled in boats and suffered most directly the damage done by the wreckage of the Paris Peace Accords have ironically infused this country with a great deal of the new strength, vitality, confidence and optimism that we needed so badly after the mid-1970s.
Moving then, finally, to lessons. I think the most important contribution that future historians may make is to understand the agony of the Vietnam War, not in the context of containment, a mistake made in the name of containment or a misapplied case of an otherwise successful strategy, not even in the context of the Cold War at all, but rather to place the Vietnam War in the much broader context of Americas 20th Century career as a crusader state. A role pursued in the belief that the United States has a moral duty and a sound national interest in attempting to change the outside world, whether it be to export democracy, create leagues of nations, or promote free enterprisetoday it goes by the name "enlargement."
The United States, in this century, has been often well-meaning and sacrificial, courageous and heroic beyond belief if you study the history of the great powers. And I think that our 50-year crusade, 1941 to 1991, against fascism and Communism will go down in history as our finest hour. But theres no denying that the United States has often made terrible blunders and often acts counter-productively in its pursuit of these otherwise praiseworthy goals. Now, you may say, am I suggesting that containment was an invalid strategy or that Vietnam was perhaps a misapplication of that otherwise good strategy? No, Im not saying either one because I think the Vietnam War is best understood not in terms of containment but in terms of something else which I give the awkward term global meliorism. It is the idea, dating all the way back to the era of Woodrow Wilson and Herbert Hoover, that the United States possessed the power, the wealth, the know-how, the technology, the interest, and the moral right to state-build overseas.
Vietnam was a "Great Society" war. It was a liberal global meliorist war, in which our military forces were sent overseas for the first time in history not to win but merely to prevent our ally from losing until such time as our civilian agencies, in all of their wisdomUSAID, CIA, and all the restcould win hearts and minds, reform land tenures, improve agriculture, build dams and hydroelectric stations, and of course, build a democratic government in South Vietnam that could win the support of its people and, thereby, someday, stand alone and defend itself against the North. That is the ironyone of the ironiesof Vietnam.
The whole military effort was really misguided until Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger came into office and began targeting the real enemy which was always in Hanoi. The great irony, I think, of the Nixon Administration is that the other war, as its called, the policies of pacification and so forth, succeeded in the early 1970s. By 1972, the vast majority of Vietnam was McNamaras dream come true: 92.8 percent of all villages pacified. But, of course, it didnt mean a thing, because the real enemy was always in Hanoi.
Only by 1973, in the Paris Peace Accords did the United States and South Vietnam have a chance to contain the real enemy. Did we learn the lessons of Vietnam, looking at Haiti, Somalia and Bosnia to date and, for that matter, some of the policies of the Carter Administration, one might wonder whether we ever did learn the lessons of Vietnam.
MR. GELB: Thank you much, Professor McDougall.
Dimitri Simes, please.
MR. SIMES: I think that if something came across strongly from this discussion it was that the outcome in Vietnam was not preordained. And it is quite important because very often we talk about great foreign policy events as if everything is written in advance, as if our actions or our inaction may have only a marginal impact. In fact, when you are talking about a superpower, in particular, as in the case of the United States, sole superpower, little is written, unless we are either writing it ourselves or we abstain from our responsibility to take a part in this writing project.
And that brings me to a second point. While very few things can be taken for granted, one thing is fairly clear: If somebody said in 1973, or particularly, when Saigon was taken over by North Vietnamese troops in 1975, that the United States would become a global hegemonic power about 20 years later and that the country which was supporting the North Vietnamese offensive would no longer exist, that the Soviet Union would collapse, probably nobody would have believed it.
I have a kind of a funny personal experience about that. When I decided to leave the Soviet Union I was a junior staff member at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations. And my acting director was none other than Yevgeny Primakov, the current Foreign Minister [now Prime Minister], who summoned me to his office when he learned that I wanted to leave. Actually, I just submitted my letter of resignation but I wanted to take a vacation first, and he said, "are you planning to apply for emigration?" I felt no reason to deny it. He tried to persuade me that it was a major mistake, that perhaps I would not be allowed to leave and even if I were allowed to leave I would regret it. He then told me a very sentimental story about some Russian Jewish worker who immigrated to Israel and now he was in Rome asking to be allowed back and they would not let him back. Then he said, do you realize that even if everything goes exactly as you hope, you still would be joining the losing side?
Clearly fortunes of war and fortunes of peace do change. And that is a very important point. We always look at the situation that we are witnessing at the moment, particularly when we are dealing with the great unknown, and have an impulse to say that it is the beginning of the new normalcy. So, when we were retreating from the plains of South Vietnam, it was the end of the American superpower even if we made that defeat inevitable by our own decisions. But, we concluded that it was all over for us. The liberals discovered that we ourselves were the enemy. The conservatives, some of them at least, decided that the United States has betrayed itself and we should accept the notion that we are a besieged fortress and begin looking for domestic enemies. They even began to vilify the Nixon Administration, because that administration would not go far enough to accommodate their revisionist impulses.
Then, of course, when things are going great for us, as they are going today, we declare the end of history. We are the only superpower, right? We, as Professor McDougall talked about, can offer our indispensable guidance to the rest of mankind. After this is done, we can focus on the environment, the whales, nation building and the global village. Well, the problem with that is, of course, that we became the only superpower at least partly by default. Of course, it happened to a large extent because of American strength, because of what this nation represents and decisions made by the Nixon-Kissinger Administration, and, of course, the Reagan Administration. And, actually, by President Carter and Zbigniew Brzezinski, who began pushing back the Soviet empire, at least in Afghanistan.
But, having said all of that, I am convinced that without Mikhail Gorbachev and perestroika in Russia, without having somebody in the Kremlin who was tactically brilliant but who did not have the foggiest notion that when he sought to improve the Soviet Union cosmetically, in order to make Soviet Communism more attractive and effective, that, in fact, he was starting to destroy the very foundation of his system. Without that much assistance from Moscow in destroying its own empire, I suspect we still would be dealing with the Soviet Union. We have seen that the Chinese have chosen a different route. We do not know where it is going to take them eventually but theyre still very much there persevering.
So, we found ourselves as the only superpower through American efforts and virtues but also through sheer luck. We did not plan for this turn of events. And we do not always know how to handle this brave new world in which the old constraints are no more, old enemies have disappeared, and we feel we can almost walk on water.
The problem is, as General Boyd has described, a lot of us enjoy this sense of walking on water and telling everybody else what to do as long as we can do it on the cheap, as long as we dont have to expend our blood and treasure. That is not going to continue indefinitely. New centers of power are already emerging. China is one example, of course. Russia is not going to be a superpower anymore but it has a chance to become a serious power again eventually, probably much sooner than most people expect. The European Monetary Union, as soon as it becomes a reality, will create rather different dynamics in the relationship between the United States and Europe. Those power centers are interacting with each other as well. And you know what? Not all of them accept that the American world vision, as the Secretary of State calls it, is inherently superior.
Make no mistake, today they tend to defer to the American vision because they need the United States more than they need each other and because they understand that American friendship can bring them great rewards while annoying the United States is costly. But that doesnt always mean that they agree with us. That doesnt mean that they are not annoyed. That doesnt mean that a lot of them do not feel the way Americans felt in the 1970s: humiliated and eager to pay back slights. There are certain lessons to be drawn from the American predicament of the late 1970s, namely, that you should not push around a great power in trouble. You have to remember how contemptuous the Japanese were of the United States only several years ago. Now we, in turn, are sometimes contemptuous of the Japanese.
We have to have some historical memory. We have to remember that, as other powers gain momentum, as they develop relations among themselves, they may feel that they need the United States less than they needed us in the past. And in the absence of an overriding Soviet challenge, their need for American security assurances might decline. We have to think very seriously about addressing these emerging international realities. The problem is we know the current station is not going to last and I dont think we quite know what is it going to be replaced with. It is very difficult to develop a grand strategy for dangers not yet very well defined, some of which will become reality and some of which probably will just become footnotes.
But common sense suggests that we have to do three things. The first thing is that we have to use this window of opportunity to build a security architecture that will allow us to deal with new vastly different challenges. NATO expansion is one way to do this. Obviously, you will want to create this new security architecture before your potential opponent becomes too strong. But the second point is that you should not do it in a way which would needlessly provoke other emerging centers of power and make conflict a self-fulfilling prophecy. There is a profound difference between inviting Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to join NATO and, in my view, reckless talk about inviting the Baltic States and Ukraine into NATO anytime soon. We have to remember that there is a great difference between morality of results, and morality of rhetoric.
The United States is a great and uniquely important power. But it would be a mistake to pretend that we have all the answers or particularly that others should accept as self-evident truth the wisdom of American foreign policy positions. Creating artificial tension in Europe and pushing Russia in a nationalist and xenophobic direction would not contribute to either stability in Europe or the security of Russias new neighbors. A modicum of humility, a modicum of understanding that there is a difference between drawing the line in those cases when important American interests are involved and going around the globe preaching to everybody and giving indispensable lessons, would serve the United States well. There is a difference between a serious great power which is going to sustain its predominant role and a preacher who preaches (and even uses cruise missiles from a safe distance) when it is easy and then begins crying and withdrawing when the going gets rough.
MR. GELB: Its hard to get more important things to talk about from 10-minute statements than weve heard from these panelists today. The custodians of the event have also asked me to be a panelist at this stage as well as moderator. And since today conflict of interest often masquerades as a mutually reinforcing responsibility, Ill try to perform those dual functions decently.
A questionthe floor is open for questions, please.
Q: Id like to bring it back to
MR. GELB: Is the practice to identify yourselves?
Q: Don Oberdorfer, former reporter.
Could I bring you back to Vietnam? Vietnam had the misfortune to have humiliated the United States in a war and, therefore, it took us a long, long time to even make any contact with them after the war. Do the panelists thinkand maybe some of the others here thinkthat we have moved fast enough, or too fast, to reestablish ties with Vietnam and move into a different era with Vietnam? And what do they think if President Nixon were now alivewhat would he think about Vietnam and what America should do regarding Vietnam?
MR. GELB: Those are interesting questions. My colleagues, yes.
MR. McDOUGALL: Well, I think that President Clinton made the decision to recognize the Hanoi regime about three months too early because I had a major cluster of articles in the journal Orbis ready to debate that very issue and, doggone it, if he didnt preempt me and ruin the whole thing by closing the question.
I dont know what Mr. Nixon would do, obviously, if he were President today. But Ill tell you thisIve thought about thisas a Vietnam veteran I was viscerally opposed to having anything to do with the bastards in Hanoi. But if President George Bush had told the American people it was time to normalize relations and get on with our geopolitics I would have accepted that without question. To have William Jefferson Clinton do it shames me as an American. It still might be the right thing to do but thats my reaction.
MR. GELB: Just for the record, whatever one thinks of President Clinton, his opening up the relations didnt shame me. Hes President of the United States and I think he was acting in the national interest of the United States in moving to reestablish ties with Vietnam. There are a lot of bastards in the world and one of the great things about the United States is we oppose them. Were among the few countries that care about these things, which raises some questions about your point about meliorism, which were going to talk about. If we want to be a country that opposes bastards, how do we do that? Its a serious question, without being foolish. We ought to be talking to our adversaries in almost all cases. And weve talked to a lot of bastards when we have something to say. I trust us to deal with our adversaries in sensible ways and I think were better off talking to them ourselves than have others do the talking for us.
Please? Would you identify yourself?
Q: Steve Eisner. Well, I think Ill ask my question of Walter first. And that is, Dr. McDougall, you talked about the generation gap between the baby-boomers and the students that you encounter in the University of Pennsylvania and around the country, and so forth. You also referred to a phase in American history that you entitled a phase of crusades, 1941 through 1991. Looking to the future, are the American crusades over? That way I can ask a generational question, but what do you see around the corner in the attitudes of the innocents, the people who are not implicated or involved in this issuewhat do they make of it and what do you foresee for the country?
MR. McDOUGALL: On what analytical basis do I answer that? Im trying to guess the politics of the Generation X people, or what-have-you; its very hard to do. Its been a century of crusades and were celebrating the anniversarythe centennial, ratherof the Spanish-American War that was our first foreign crusade. And so, were finishing up the second American century now, and were kicking into the third. Are we going to be a crusading nation yet on into the future, until the whole world is sort of made over in our image, or are we going to retreat, or are we going to practice a kind of realpolitik?
I have no idea, but Ill say this, and perhaps partly in answer to Dr. Gelb, the United States is very good at resisting evil and resisting particularly countries that tread on us. But that is a very different thing than going abroad, as Dr. Simes says, preaching to everybody in the world and telling them how they ought to run their own affairs. Thats a far different thing.
Were told these days that the Reagan Administration succeeded so brilliantly because it held high the banner of Woodrow Wilson and combined Jimmy Carters emphasis on human rights with muscle. Well, that was true only up to a point. The Reagan Administrations genius was in recognizing that rhetoric itself is a weapon. This is how I see it as a historianas a very powerful weapon against tyranny. But Wilsonian rhetoric is not a model, much less a blueprint for remaking other countries from the ground up.
I dont believe that President Reagan expected the Mujahadeen to become like New England town meeting democrats. I dont believe he even expected the Contras, perhaps, to hold to the highest American democratic ideals. He was reaching out in his rhetoric to the people who were enslaved in the Soviet bloc and giving aid and comfort to them so that they could remake their own countries, which is what they did.
Now, as to the future, if another enemy does arise, if we dont have to go abroad in search of monsters to destroy because a monster decides to come after us, then, indeed, we will again launch into crusader mode and probably rightly so. But, the wisest policy would be one that doesnt go about seeking monsters or, what is worse yet, turning surly animals who arent sure yet what they want to be into monsters. We should certainly stand up for our values but I fear that in pressing our values, we may create monsters where they need not be. And, as for the next generation, young people who now, as I said, barely have a memory of the Reagan Administration, much less know anything about the Vietnam War directly, and they dont have any of these myths and neuroses that weve been discussing all day long. They dont have them. In fact, theyre sick of hearing about them. And if they have any images in their heads of Nixon, the bad guy, or LBJ, the bad guy, or McNamara, the fool, its only because tenured radical professors have put these ideas into their heads. Does that mean that theyre going to be brainwashed by their professors? I dont think so.
And this is my final point, Willy Brandt, a Chancellor of West Germany, a Social Democrat, was once asked in the 1960s if he was worried that so many of the professors in West German universities were essentially Marxists or neo-Marxists. And he said, no, I dont worry about that. Back in the 1920s, in my day, all of our professors were still Kaisertrekloyal to the old monarchybut we all became Socialists.
So, at any rate, I dont believe that my colleagues in the universities, whatever their politicsleft-wing, right-wing, or what-have-youare going to somehow denigrate the memory of Richard Nixon, for instance, or shove some false notion of the Vietnam War down the throats of kids today because they either wont swallow it because they dont care or they will be as cynical about the potential bias of their professors as my baby-boom generation became cynical about everything we heard from politicians and then the media.
MR. GELB: Dimitri, do you want to add a word here?
The Ambassador from Singapore, please.
MS. HENG-CHEE CHAN: Youve been discussing the Vietnam War today and I think youve heard the perspective from the American side. I thought you would be interested to know how someone from the region looks on the Vietnam War, Americas role in it and its legacy.
I would say that from one Southeast Asian country, we certainly see Americas role in Vietnam as having created the space for Southeast Asian countries, and certainly many countries in Asia, to build themselves up into nations, into countries, that could withstand the threat of Communism. I think that was very important for us.
As for that period, we talk of America buying time for Southeast Asia. When the North Vietnamese went into Saigon and the United States leftpulled the last soldier out of VietnamSoutheast Asia felt confident enough to be able to withstand the fear of the fall of future dominoes and we were strong enough, in fact, to say, well, if Vietnam is ready at a certain time, we would even welcome Vietnam into Asia. Certainly by the 70s, we were in that position. I would say we look on the United States role in Vietnam, in that sense, in a very positive way.
One other aspect that is not so positive is the Vietnam syndrome that is the inability, as Henry Kissinger said, of Americans to order their priorities and to pay the price. But this syndrome seems to have dragged on and has gone even further. You dont want to see body bags come back. So thats more than Vietnam. Its Vietnam plus othersSomalia and so on. And I think that is very disturbing for those who are friends and allies of the United States because it affects your conduct of foreign policy. And the question is you urge us frequently to change, to follow your objectives and if we do, are you there to the very end?
MR. GELB: Thank you, Ambassador.
Let me try to take on your second point, and invite my colleagues to give their responses as well. I understand your concern about Americas willingness to use power, including military power, and take casualties but I do think its misplaced. Compared to any other country in the world, the United States has a defense budget of $265 billion a year. Its not going to go down from thereit might even go up a little from there. You can argue that it ought to be significantly more but the fact is were already spending far more on defense than the next seven or ten nations in the world combined. Thats a big load.
And we do use those forces all over the world. Theyre deployed all over the world today. They were deployed in Somalia, Haiti and Bosnia. Whether you agree with it or not, we did it. Yes, there was pressure to withdraw from Somalia after casualties were taken but that might have more to do the failure of leadership to explain what we were doing, or Americas sense that what we were doing made sense, than the unwillingness to take casualties.
But, I think, given the fact that the strategic adversary of 50 years, the Soviet Union, collapsed, the United States still has shown an enormous willingness to sustain its responsibilities worldwide.
MR. SIMES: I completely agree with Mr. Gelb that at this point there is not very much to worry about in terms of American willingness and ability to live up to its commitments. And the Clinton Administration, in this sense, has learned some important lessons such as in the case of Somalia and became much more careful before putting American forces on the ground unless they are prepared to deliver and to stay, even if something unfortunate happens.
The problem is, again, that because of American predominance today a lot of things are relatively easy. But I think we have to be very careful today not to do things that will haunt us in the future. I am not suggesting that China or Russia, or even worse, a European Economic and Monetary Union will become enemies or hostile powers. What I meant is that as they develop their own identity, as they become comfortable with their new expanded roles, as Russia once again begins to believe that this is a serious power, they will start taking for granted that they have their own important interests and that they are entitled to defend these interests quite assertively.
Let me mention again Mr. Primakov. I am very uncomfortable with the campaign to demonize the Russian Foreign Minister [now Prime Minister] and not only because it is unfair to Mr. Primakov. The problem is that it obscures and trivializes our emerging differences with Russia, which are coming from the fact that Russia is, once again, becoming a serious power. This is the time to think about new security and economic arrangements that will help us to deal with the new brave world of tomorrow. And second, we have to be very careful to have a sense of proportion and not to do things that would turn potential competitors into real enemies.
MR. GELB: Questions? All the way in the back.
Q: Yes, my name is Randall Fort. Mr. Gelb, I guess I want to direct this to you, just because of yoursome of your previous guises as a journalist. During the course of the day we heard a vignette about an assertion by a particular Vietnamese official of a village having fallen and the bulk, I guess, reportedly, of the press corps in Vietnam accepting that hook, line, and sinker, with the exception of one intrepid soul who went and proved otherwise. We also heard about the recent repetitions of some of the canards regarding the impact of the American bombing in Cambodia, reported rather uncritically with regard to Pol Pot on his demise.
And Im just wondering if you could elaborate maybe a little bit about your perceptions of the role and responsibility of the news media, which we havent talked about directly, but which suffuses everything that weve talked about. The role of and responsibility of the news media both with regard to Vietnam, in particular. As we look forwardas were trying to figure the direction that we goit will be those channels through which the elites and the average Americans get their information, process and assimilate it and form the ideas which will carry us forward. And Im just wondering, some of your perspectives on that.
MR. GELB: Very important question, because the role of the press is obvious. It is the main communicator between government and people. And its hard to be able to carry out a foreign policy unless the press gives you a chance to convey it and explain it. The press is the major arbiter between people who are elected and have that responsibility and the American people. Rarely do officials have the chance to address the public directly, its through the press. That role is absolutely central now to the process of governance. As far as the responsibility of reporters during the Vietnam War, I think they wereas in everythingthere were some reporters who did an absolutely terrific job and others who didnt. And some didnt because of professionalism and some didnt because of ideology.
One thing people involved in such a traumatic event like Vietnam, lose sight of, or often lose sight of, is the fact that information to almost all these reports came from government officials and military officers. They were the sources almost all the time. And its hard to appreciate the source of reports when you work in governmentand Ive done both, Ive spent almost as much time in government as I did as a journalist. Its hard to appreciate when youre in government whos talking and whos saying what. People will say something to you at a meeting and say something very different to a reporter afterwards. And its natural to assume, because youre in the cockpit, that the reporter made it up. I have a former colleague present who examined thiswent back and looked at itand he was a good person to do it, because of his own professionalism.
Let me invite Don Oberdorfer to say a word on this, as well, if you want to, Don.
MR. OBERDORFER: I know a lot of people believe that the press was the cause of the failure of the Vietnam War. I just think that is flat out wrong. The press was a contributing factor because its part of the American people. The whole story of the Vietnam War was we all learned sort of together. And we came to different views. As Les said, there were good reports and some were false. The fog of war syndrome is true in wars. But to think that there is one institution like the press, or for that matter, the Congress, or a political system, or some evil genius out there that was the cause of all these dramatic events is wrong. It is a whole conglomeration of different things that cause history. I think those in the military who have held the press responsible have an erroneous view of what happened. This is my view at least.
MR. GELB: This is a topic, obviously we could talk on for quite some time, because it is as important as the decisions officials were making. But were running out of time, alas, and the custodians have told me one more question.
MR. NIXON [Edward Nixon]: I was just thinking a Nixon needs to say something on the Eisenhower question as to whether the crusade is over. In fact, I think the crusade is just beginning. But, I think we need to keep an eye on what these historians tell us. My only history experience is teaching freshmen midshipmen naval history at the University of Washington many years ago. Some of those men are back, some are still lost in Vietnam.
But, in those sessions, going way back to the beginning of what we had for history, up to the present time, I asked my brother one time when I was in the midst of these sessions, trying to read historyas a geologist you dont do too well at thatwhat do we say about people like Addison and Pitt, or Chamberlain and Churchill when we compare the attitudes that they had? And today, to answer what somebody asked here as to, what would Richard Nixons response be to this. He would say that the Vietnam syndrome is something we must beware of because as soon as we disarmnot just militarily, but with intelligence efforts and everything elsewere inviting another war.
That wasnt a question, sir. But, I appreciate all this very much, and Im very glad .
MR. GELB: Its in the spirit of all the other questions.
MR. NIXON: Yes, it was.
MR. GELB: Thank you. Well, let me invite a very, very brief concluding remark by each of my colleagues on the panel and thank Chuck Boyd for what he had to say.
MR. McDOUGALL: A concluding remark. I suppose I would end on a cheerful note, for those of you affiliated with The Nixon Center or would hope, as Mr. Taylor suggested this morning, to uncover or unearth the true legacy of the Nixon Administration and try to convey that to new generations of Americans: I may be curmudgeonly about sort of world affairs and all the rest and warn against crusades and the temptation to moralize. But, in the case of Nixons legacy, Im optimistic. All the documents will, sooner or later, come out so that the whole story can be told.
And new historians will come along younger than Ialthough Id be proud to be a part of itwho will unearth the entire history of the Johnson as well as Nixon Administrations without the baggage of the 60s and what did you or didnt you do in the 60s. Historians will come along who dont need to justify the decisions they made about the draft, 20 or 25 or 35 years ago.
And once intelligent people with access to the documents who have no personal psychological stake in cooking the books come along, the truth about the Vietnam War and the Nixon Administration will be in the books and in the schools just like that. It may take another 15 years, but it will happen.
MR. GELB: Thank you, Professor McDougall.
MR. SIMES: I would like to pass a brief observation President Nixon shared with me before he died. He, of course, was quite impressed with changes in the Soviet Union and with great shifts in Russia. And, of course, he was also devastated by what happened in Vietnam. And on our last trip he said, do you think it is possible that if the United States won in Vietnam that the Soviets would not have gone overboard in the 70s; that they would not have become involved in that mess in Afghanistan, would not be defeated, and then the Soviet Union would still be with us? And he said, you know maybe in some peculiar way our defeat in Vietnam contributed to a historic geopolitical victory for the United States and the free world. He felt it was an intriguing and rewarding thought.
All I want to say is, we do not know what is going to happen tomorrow but I do know that we are a major part of writing this history. And to the extent we appreciate and know what is going on, we have to deal with it seriously and responsibly, the same way we understand that while the Social Security system is not about to collapse on us tomorrow, we cannot wait until the end of the next decade to start taking care of the problem. We have to understand that the international system as we know it today is ceasing to exist. And the time to start building our foundations for the future is now.
MR. GELB: Thank you Dimitri.
Id like to thank very much the Eisenhower-Nixon families, John Taylor and the others who made The Nixon Center possible and Dimitri Simes and Peter Rodman for todays event.
History, particularly events like Vietnam, is more difficult and traumatic to discuss than current events. But, I would like to congratulate the panelists and myself for a terrific conversation.