New Nixon Tapes: Nixon on the Politics of a "Decent Interval"

Thursday 09 December, 2010 at 7:03 pm Ken 1

“The country would care if South Vietnam became Communist in a matter of six months. They will not give a damn if it’s two years.”–President Richard M. Nixon, March 17, 1973 

First interesting find in the new batch of White House tapes released by the Nixon Library today. The quote above comes from a conversation (number 416-43 for those of you who want to listen) with Alexander M. Haig, the deputy national security adviser.
The quote once again underlies the domestic political imperative that shaped Nixon’s “decent interval” exit strategy from Vietnam. As a longer, even more revealing conversation from August 1972 (which I transcribed and put in this educational video) indicates, Nixon feared that if South Vietnam collapsed too quickly after he withdrew the last American troops, he would be blamed for losing the war after prolonging it for four more years at the loss of 20,000 more American casualties. At that time National Security Adviser Henry A. Kissinger said, “We’ve got to find some formula that holds the thing together a year or two, after which–after a year, Mr. President, Vietnam will be a backwater. If we settle it, say, this October, by January ’74 no one will give a damn.” Nixon clearly agreed.

They were both wrong.

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