KC Johnson

Foreign Policy Tapes

President Kennedy and foreign policy team, 30 July 1962

President Kennedy: As I say, I think we’ve got to be putting our minds now that this Peruvian thing has taken place, there is no evidence of public disorder . . . It looks like we’re being more Peruvian than the Peruvians, more democratic than they are, and we’ve now got to think about how we’re going to protect our own prestige. [Others agree.]
President Kennedy: Now, the other thing is that I talked to [US ambassador] Linc Gordon this morning, and he is very alarmed at events, as you know, in Brazil. And he thinks the army may be an important factor there to prevent a real communist takeover. He says the army is very discouraged now because of our stand against the army takeover in Peru.
How do we prevent the army from becoming completely demoralized if they become the only gap? He made the point to some of them that we opposed the army takeover in Peru because it was against a constitutional government, against a free election. [The Goulart government in Brazil was, in fact, a constitutional government.]
McGeorge Bundy: And in fact, it is at least [unclear].
President Kennedy: Yeah. Of course. It has that clear difference. That is a factor in Peru; but in Brazil the army may be all that we’re going to have left three months from now, the way it’s going.
President Kennedy: Now, my brother Teddy, who was down there, said to me last night, “How do you explain the contrast between the ambiguity about your policy in Argentina and Peru?”
Well, I started to try to explain it to him. The point is: he watches it carefully, and as a candidate [for the U.S. Senate], therefore wants to go over his answers, and he doesn’t know. And now, if he doesn’t know—and I must say that I only know when I think about it for awhile. [Everyone laughs.]
We’re going to have a chance to get it at the press conference Wednesday. But that indicates that we’re in some trouble, I think, on this one.
President Kennedy: That’s what I’m concerned about, that it’s going to be interpreted as a licking. I think—as I say, I think where we went wrong was my statement [condemning the coup]. I think I should have kept out of it unless we were sure of success. That was a mistake, but that’s in the past now. Now the problem is how to see about getting these fellows to do this in a way that we want them [to].
And I think that we can just say to them, we’ve got to go ahead on recognition. Because just about everybody’s going to recognize them, and we’re going to have to.
On economic aid and so on, then we’re not going to be cooperative. But even that, we don’t play too many cards with because they can give us a screwing that way—American profits, and so on.

ExComm meeting, October 27, 1962

George Ball: . . . Turkey creates more of a problem. We would have to work it out with the Turks on the basis of putting a Polaris in the water, and even that might not be enough, according to the judgments that we’ve had on the spot. We’ve got one paper on it already and we’re having more work done right now. It is a complicated problem because these [Jupiter missiles] were put in under a NATO decision and to the extent they really now are . . .
Paul Nitze: The NATO requirement involves the whole question of whether we are going to denuclearize NATO. I would suggest that what you do is to say that we’re prepared only to discuss Cuba at this time. After the Cuban thing is settled and these things are out, we’re prepared to discuss anything.
President Kennedy: No, I don’t think we can . . .
How much negotiations have we had with the Turks this week? Who’s done it?
Unidentified: No, we have not.
Dean Rusk: We haven’t talked with the Turks. The Turks have talked with us.
President Kennedy: Where have they talked with us?
Rusk: In NATO.
President Kennedy: Yeah, but have we gone to the Turkish government before this came out this week? I’ve talked about it now [in ExComm meetings] for a week. Have we had any conversations in Turkey, with the Turks?
Rusk: Well, we’ve asked [US ambassador to Italy Thomas] Finletter and [US ambassador to Turkey Douglas] Hare to give us their judgments on it. We’ve not actually talked with the Turks.
Ball: We did it on a basis where, if we talked to the Turks, I mean, this would be an extremely unsettling business.
President Kennedy: Well, this is unsettling now, George, because he’s [Khrushchev’s] got us in a pretty good spot here. Because most people would regard this as not an unreasonable proposal. I’ll just tell you that. In fact, in many ways—
Bundy: But what “most people,” Mr. President?
President Kennedy: I think you’re going to have it very difficult to explain why we are going to take hostile military action in Cuba, against these sites, which is what we’re thinking about, when he’s [Khrushchev’s] saying, “If you’ll get yours out of Turkey, we’ll get ours out of Cuba.” I think you’ve got a very touchy point here . . .
Bundy: It isn’t as if we’d got the [Jupiter] missiles out, Mr. President. It would be different. Or if we had any understanding with the Turks that they ought to come out, it would be different. Neither of these is the case.
President Kennedy: Well, I’d just like to know how much we’ve done about it; because, as I say, we talked about it—
Bundy: We decided not to, Mr. President. We decided not to play this directly with the Turks.
Rusk: Our own representative is—
Ball: If we talked to the Turks, they would bring it up in NATO. This thing would be all over Western Europe, and our position would have been undermined.
Bundy: That’s right.
Ball: Because immediately the Soviet Union would know that this thing was being discussed. The Turks feel very strongly about this. We persuaded them that this [stationing of missiles, in 1959] was an essential requirement, and they feel that it’s a matter of prestige and a matter of real—
Bundy: If we had talked to the Turks, it would already be clear that we were trying to sell our allies for our interests. That would be the view in all of NATO. Now, that’s irrational and it’s crazy, but it’s a terribly powerful fact.
Tommy Thompson: Particularly in the case that this is a [Soviet] message to you and [UN General Secretary] U Thant.
Alexis Johnson: It seems to me we ought to get word to [UN ambassador Adlai] Stevenson that, if this is put out up there, he should immediately saw we will not discuss this question of the Turkish bases.
Bundy: The problem is Cuba. The Turks are not a threat to the peace. Nobody tells the Turks as—
President Kennedy: I think it would be better, rather than saying that, until we get some time to think about it, just saying: “Well, the fact of the matter is that we received a letter last night from Khrushchev and it’s an entirely different proposal.” So, therefore, we first ought to get clarification from the Soviet Union of what they’re talking, at least to give us a . . .
As I say, you’re going to find a lot of people who will find this is a rather reasonable position.
Bundy: That’s true.
President Kennedy: Let’s not kid ourselves.President Kennedy and Air Force general Curtis LeMay, ExComm meeting discussing how to respond to Soviet missiles in Cuba, 19 Oct. 1962

Curtis LeMay: There’s one other factor that I didn’t mention that’s not quite in our field. But you invited us to comment on this at one time. And that is that we have had a talk about Cuba and the SAM [surface-to-air-missile] sites down there. And you have made some pretty strong statements about their being defensive, and that we would take action against offensive weapons.

I think that a blockade and political talk would be considered by a lot of our friends and neutrals as being a pretty weak response to this. And I’m sure a lot of our own citizens would feel that way, too.

In other words: you’re in a pretty bad fix at the present time.

President Kennedy: What did you say?

LeMay: You’re in a pretty bad fix.

President Kennedy: You’re in there with me. [Slight laughter.] Personally.


Johnson’s first foreign policy crisis came in Panama, in early January. His instinct: avoid anything that could appear as concessions (despite the trivial nature of the issue), lest doing so make him week at home. Few of his advisors shared such a hard-line view, so he turned for support to his Senate patron, Georgia senator Richard Russell, in these excerpts from January 10 and 11.

President Johnson: I was cold, and hard, and tough as well, so far as—

Richard Russell: That is exactly right.

President Johnson: —so far as this is concerned. Then I went back in and told our group here, that I thought we had to remember that a week ago—two or three weeks ago—I had to tell ‘em in Bolivia I’d send whatever aid I needed in there, to make them release one of our people there.

A few days earlier, they had someone else locked up in another place, and I was damn tired of [them] attacking our flag and our embassy and our USIS [United States Information Service] every time somebody got a little emotional outburst.

Russell: I’m so pleased.

President Johnson: So they better watch it.

Russell: I’m so pleased. That’s a great President. That’s a man that will go down in history.

[The conversation resumes the next day.]

President Johnson: And this fellow [Panamanian president Roberto Chiari]—every damn one of them is running against us, for re-election.

Russell: That’s right.

President Johnson: Six hundred of them stood outside and said, “Get out of here, gringos.”

Russell: Yeah, they’ve been doing that, and the one that denounces the Colossus of the North the most vociferously is the one that wins. That’s been true of the last three elections they’ve had.

On the surface, we haven’t got a friend there, but if we wasn’t there, they wouldn’t have anything. They’d be living out there half-naked in those swamps.

Johnson and Richard Russell

About a month later, On February 8, 1964, Johnson again turned to Russell to validate a hard-line response to a minor foreign policy problem, in this instance the arrest of Cuban fishermen off the Florida coast—which prompted Castro to cut off the water to the U.S. base in Guantanamo and led the United States (ultimately) to fire all Cuban workers on the base.

President Johnson: [Robert] McNamara feels like the sentiment in this country is such that we’ve got to do more than that. And that even though we would stand acquitted in the eyes of the world, and maybe some of the liberal papers in this country, that we probably ought to do two things: declare the independence of that base [Guantánamo] by saying we’re going to furnish our own water, and we don’t want your damn water, and to hell with you.


President Johnson: Now, that’s his feeling. He’s about the only one that feels that way. That’s my feeling. I think we ought to rap them.


President Johnson: USIA thinks it [the plight of fired Cuban workers on the base] will get a good deal of sympathy from the rest of the nations—

Russell: That’s their professional attitude. These nations ain’t as silly as we attribute ‘em to be, as we seem to think they are. And while they’re envious as hell of us, when they get down to where their self-interest is involved (and when we get hurt, their self-interest is injured), they’re not nearly as bad as everybody makes out like they are.

This Panama thing will demonstrate that beyond any doubt, if our people will just sit tight, and give them the facts. Say, “Here it is now; you’ve got a stake in this.”

Same thing’s true here in Cuba. They don’t want Castro to prosper—none of the leaders do. There’s thousands of the little people who are Communists [that] do. But they’re not going to raise any hell about it.

Khrushchev will blow up like hell. Comrade Mao Tse-tung will come in with a prolific of some kind. But the world as a whole will say, “Well, that’s right.” They don’t know just exactly what to do—they’re not in favor of any war, I don’t think; I don’t believe 10 percent of them would vote for that right now, under these circumstances.

But they are just tired of Castro urinating on us and getting away with it. They don’t like the smell of it any longer. And they just want to sort of show that we are taking such steps as within our power, without involving the shedding of a lot of blood.

That’s my analysis of the sentiment in the Congress.

President Johnson: Mm-hmm.

Russell: And I think in the country.

President Johnson: You think a lot of a lot of people are going to think [speaking of himself in the second person] you’re hotheaded when you just fire a lot of innocent Cubans?

Russell: No, sir, I don’t think so. I don’t believe that even the [New York] Times and the [Washington] Post could stir up 5 percent of the people about this.

I would make it perfectly clear that this is regrettable. That our association with these people [Cuban workers] has been pleasant and mutually profitable over a period of years. But they were within the power of Castro, and not in our power, and we had to make this base independent.

And we hope that in happier days that our pleasant relations with them could be renewed. I’d sure throw that in there. You’d get every one of them—why, he’d be a potential assassin of Castro.


These hard-line responses, ironically, only generated domestic criticism—the very outcome they were intended to avoid. Two days after his conversation with Russell, Johnson vented to his aide Walter Jenkins, expressing his frustration about his political vulnerability on foreign policy issues.

President Johnson: I’ve been trying to keep these little tinhorn ambassadors out of here ever since I’ve been in here, and you come in here and present it. If you do, it just gets in the newspapers, and all this will be in the papers somewhere. It’ll be in a [William] Haddad story, or [Douglas] Kiker, or somewhere. Or the Washington Post.

I think if you start seeing one ambassador, I don’t know how you’re going to avoid the other 113. I just honestly don’t know how.

Walter Jenkins: I agree with that.

President Johnson: I don’t know how you’re going to say that you’re willing to see the ambassador from Germany . . . Hell, I’ve had four state meetings, and I’ve been in here 60 days! I’ve had all kinds of meetings with ‘em, and every one of ‘em had their picture made with me, and sent back home. I just don’t understand it.

It looks like to me that one [negative] article on foreign policy—of course they’re going to make foreign policy the issue! If we could find out how to handle Vietnam, or what to do about Cuba, or how to handle the Republican National Committee, or what to do with these mean newspapers, maybe we’d know how to answer it.

But this is no more answer to it than it is for us to see all the reporters about Bobby Baker. As I see it. I don’t see what mileage we get.

Suppose they do go out and say, “Johnson’s seen 80 African ambassadors.”


LBJ and William Raborn, on the Dominican coup, 1965

President Johnson: What do you think we ought to do about it?

Raborn: Well, sir, I think it’s clear we ought to take more positive action to clean these people out. Otherwise, it’s liable to drag on and on, and eventually these other folks—the Castro types—will get the top hand, and we’ll have a mess on our hands.

We’ll restore order, and try to turn it back over to the [military] junta. You know, we had a member of the junta [Donald Reid] that requested—that begged us—to do this.

President Johnson: [Burps.] Well, that’ll put us in pretty much trouble internationally with all the international organizations, the OAS and the United Nations, won’t it?

Raborn: Uh, it could, sir. And I notice that the OAS is meeting this morning.

But there’s no question in my mind that this is the start of an expansion of Castro’s—

President Johnson: How many Castro terrorists are there?

Raborn: Well, we have positively identified eight of them. I sent a list over to the White House about 6.00. Real sure on them, in your office, in the Situation Room—who they are, and what their training has been.

President Johnson: Have we—what has been our problem with intelligence down there? Have we known this thing was in this shape?

Raborn: Uh, from my review of it, sir, I think we’ve been pretty much on top of this. Yes, sir.


This clip between LBJ and Minnesota senator Eugene McCarthy (then a Johnson ally) occurred during the Fulbright hearings of 1966, and showed LBJ expressing frustration at the nature of his congressional opposition on Vietnam.

           President Johnson: What they [adherents to the Bull Fulbright line on Vietnam] really think is that we oughtn’t to be there, and we ought to get out.

Well, I know we oughtn’t to be there, but I can’t get out. I just can’t be the architect of surrender. And don’t see—I’m trying every way in the world I can to find a way to . . . thing.

But they [the North Vietnamese] don’t have the pressure to bring them to the table as of yet. We don’t know whether they ever will.

I’m willing to do damn near anything. If I told you what I was willing to do, I wouldn’t have any program. [Senate Minority Leader Everett] Dirksen wouldn’t give me a dollar to operate the war. I just can’t operate in a glass bowl with all these things. But I’m willing to do nearly anything a human can do, if I can do it with any honor at all. But . . .

They started with me on Diem, you remember?

          Eugene McCarthy: Yeah.

          President Johnson: That he was corrupt and he ought to be killed. So we killed him. We all got together and got a goddamned bunch of thugs and we went in and assassinated him. Now, we’ve really had no political stability since then.

          McCarthy: Yeah.


LBJ sympathized with Israel’s position after the Six-Day War. But in this conversation with Minority Leader Everett Dirksen, the President expressed frustration with Jewish Members of Congress taking an excessively high-profile pro-Israel stance.

         Everett Dirksen: They read me a long cable tonight, that covered that Faisal meeting.

         President Johnson: Well, I have that. We got that in our intelligence. It was very good. His people told it to us, too. And the Kuwaits [sic] have been pretty good.

         Dirksen: Yeah. So they have.

         President Johnson: The Arabs cannot unify behind anything ever except the Jews.

         Dirksen: Well, now—

         President Johnson: And if the goddamn Jews would behave, and be quiet, and let you talk for them or let [Majority Leader Mike] Mansfield talk for them, or let somebody else—instead of [UN ambassador Arthur] Goldberg and [New York senator Jacob] Javits and all them . . .

That just sets ’em afire when they get up—

        Dirksen: Yeah.

        President Johnson: They just get afire.

       Dirksen: By the way, you didn’t forget to tell Nick [Katzenbach] to get on Jack [unclear], did you?

       President Johnson: I told Nick to come talk to you, and get your judgments on it. He’s not for the resolution.

       Dirksen: No.

       President Johnson: He thinks we oughtn’t to have any resolution.

       Dirksen: Yeah. Well, Jack [Javits] was working like a goddamn eager beaver, you know.

       President Johnson: Well, he wants to, and I can understand his concern. I’d be worried if it was Texans. But he just—it’s not wise. That’s not the best thing.

       Dirksen: Yeah.

       President Johnson: Because somebody else . . . You know, it’s a man that’s a fool that is his own lawyer.

       Dirksen: Yeah. But the hell of it is you can’t talk him out of it when he gets these ideas. And then he just scours that goddamn [Senate] floor.

       President Johnson: Yeah.

       Dirksen: Saying, “Will you join with me in this resolution?”


LBJ and GOP nominee Richard Nixon, discussing the politics of foreign policy, late Aug. 1968.

Nixon: As a matter of fact, let me say this, that on this—that I don’t give a goddamn what the politics is, and I hope, I’m sure Hubert [Humphrey] will feel the same way. But . . . And I know how you feel about the whole peace issue. But we’ve got to stand very firm. And I won’t say a damn word that’s going to embarrass you. You can be sure of that . . .

Let me ask you this: can you keep—just talking very candidly—can you keep your Vice President and others to keep them firm in this thing? Because, you know, to hell with the goddamn election, we must all stand firm on this.

President Johnson: That’s right.

Nixon: You know, I don’t think we’re going to go to war, but we’ve got to stand firm.

President Johnson: Very frankly, I don’t know. That’s the honest answer. I just plain don’t know.

Nixon: OK.

President Johnson: I have—

Nixon: Well, I stand firm.

President Johnson: I have done it up to now. I think it would be the best thing for the country, and I have said to them [the Humphrey campaign] that. And I have furthermore said that, in my judgment, if they didn’t do it, that you would murder them with it. That you would say—

Nixon: I think that’s true.

President Johnson: That you would say, “There’s a time—here in a time of crisis, you goddamn fellows tried to suck up to these folks.” And when you look at the polls this morning, it’s 61 to 24—

Nixon: I—

President Johnson: —against stopping the bombing. And I look at my two son-in-laws out there [serving in the military in Vietnam], and I tell ‘em to lay down your plane, keep it grounded, we won’t let you use it, and they say, “OK, what are you going to take away from them [the North Vietnamese]?” And I said, “Nothing; we haven’t talked about that.”

Well, they’ll say, “Screw ya’.”

Nixon: That’s right.

President Johnson: And these boys are coming home someday.

I got 32 applauses in 41 minutes last night [in his Detroit speech]. And I had a standing ovation when we went in; I had a standing ovation about halfway through my speech. I had a standing ovation at the end. I had 31 applauses.

And, by God, there wasn’t a paper in the United States that mentioned it.

Nixon: Well, the bastards, you know, like the goddamn New York Times—they don’t print the truth. That’s all.

President Johnson: That’s right. That’s right.

Nixon: They don’t print the truth.


LBJ and Richard Russell, 1968, on Nixon efforts to scuttle the Vietnam negotiations

President Johnson: Well, I’ve got one this morning that’s pretty rough for you.

We have found that our friend, the Republican nominee—our California friend—has been playing on the outskirts with our enemies and our friends, both—our allies and the others. He’s been doing it through rather subterranean sources here.

He has been saying to the allies that “you’re going to get sold out. Watch Yalta, and Potsdam, and two Berlins, and everything. And they’re [the Johnson administration] going to recognize the NLF. I [Nixon] don’t have to do that. You better not give away your liberty just a few hours before I can preserve it for you.”

One or two of his business friends divulged it first a couple of days ago, about the time he [Nixon] made the statement that he had rumors that the staff was selling out, but he did not include me in it.

President Johnson: Now, when we got that (pure by accident, as a result of some of our Wall Street connections), that caused me to look a little deeper.

Richard Russell: I guess so.

President Johnson: And I have means of doing that [i.e., FBI wiretaps], as you may well imagine.

Russell: Yes.

President Johnson: Mrs. [Anna] Chennault is contacting their [South Vietnamese] ambassador from time to time—seems to be kind of the go-between, the Chiang Kai-Shek deal. In addition, their ambassador is saying to ‘em that “Johnson is desperate and is just moving heaven and earth to elect Humphrey, so don’t you get sucked in on that.” (He is kind of these folks’ agent here, this little South Vietnamese ambassador.)

Now, this is not guesswork.

Russell: I just . . . I didn’t exactly understand how Taiwan got in it.

President Johnson: Well, Mrs. Chennault, you know—

Russell: I know that, but I didn’t understand just what Chiang has to do with it—

President Johnson: Well, I don’t know that he has anything, except just generally that lobby. It may be [former Minnesota congressman] Walter Judd. I know it’s her.

Russell: Uh-huh. Uh-huh.

President Johnson: Mrs. Chennault, you know, of the Flying Tigers.

Russell: I know Mrs. Chennault.

President Johnson: She’s young and attractive. I mean, she’s a pretty good-looking girl.

Russell: She certainly is.

President Johnson: And she’s around town. And she is warning them to not get pulled in on this Johnson move.

Then he [the ambassador], in turn, is warning his government. Then we, in turn, know pretty well what he [Thieu] is saying out there. So he is saying that well, he’s got to play it for time, and get it by the next few days.


Nixon and White House aide Henry Kissinger discussing then-California governor Ronald Reagan.

President Nixon:.. . we learned a lot from Mr. [Ronald] Reagan.

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

President Nixon: Oh, I know.

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

President Nixon: Jesus.

Kissinger: And the conservatives are just saying—

President Nixon: Henry, let me tell you part of his problem, of course, is that he’s in a very, very poor position in California, you know.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Kissinger: Well, that too.


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

Kissinger: Inconceivable.

President Nixon: No, but it could have happened.

Kissinger: It could have happened.

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

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

President Nixon: That’s right.

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

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


President Nixon: Back to Reagan though. It shows you how a man of limited mental capacity simply doesn’t know what the Christ is going on in the foreign area.


President Nixon and Henry Kissinger, 3 Aug. 1972

President Nixon: Let’s be perfectly cold-blooded about it. If you look at it from the standpoint of our game with the Soviets and the Chinese, from the standpoint of running this country, I think we could take almost anything, frankly, in my view, that we can force on [South Vietnamese president Nguyen van] Thieu. Almost anything; I just come down to that. You know what I mean?

Because I have a feeling that we would not be doing, like I feel about the Israelis, I feel that in the long run we’re probably not doing them an in—a disfavor due to the fact that I feel the North Vietnamese are so badly hurt that the South Vietnamese are probably going to do fairly well.

Also due to the fact—because I look at the tide of history out there, South Vietnam is probably never gonna survive anyway. I’m just being perfectly candid. I—

Henry Kissinger: In the pullout area—

President Nixon: There’s got to be—if we can get certain guarantees so that they aren’t . . . as you know, looking at the foreign policy process, though, I mean, you’ve got to be—we also have to realize, Henry, that winning an election is terribly important. It’s terribly important this year.

But can we have a viable foreign policy if a year from now or two years from now, North Vietnam gobbles up South Vietnam? That’s the real question.

Kissinger: If a year from now or two years from now North Vietnam gobbles up South Vietnam, we can have a viable foreign policy— if it looks like as if a result of South Vietnamese incompetence. If we now sell out in such a way that, say that in a three- to four-month period, we have pushed President Thieu over the brink, we ourselves—I think there is going to be—even the Chinese won’t like that. I mean, they’ll pay verbal—verbally, they’ll like it—

President Nixon: But it will worry them.

Kissinger: But it will worry everybody. And domestically, in the long run it won’t help us all that much, because our opponents will say we should have done it three years ago.

President Nixon: I know.

Kissinger: So 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.


President Nixon and Douglas MacArthur, II, 8 April 1971

Ambassador-at-large Douglas MacArthur, II: A strong Iran, sir, in terms of your conviction (which I share, 200 percent) that we must not see the basic balance between East and West altered radically . . . A strong Iran—

President Nixon: Yeah.

MacArthur: You know, the Soviets have been able, through their polarization of this Arab-Israel conflict—they have been able to gain increasing influence—

President Nixon: Oh!

MacArthur: —in these places, no question about it. A strong Iran helps to counterbalance that.

President Nixon: That’s right.

MacArthur: It’s one friend there.

President Nixon: Face it, Iran is not of either world, really, in a sense. I guess. But the point is—if I felt, if we can go with that, we can have them strong. They’re at the center of it, and a friend of the United States. I think [unclear] more, it’s something.

Because if you look around there, it just happens: Who else do we have except for Europe? The Southern Mediterranean—it’s all gone.

[King] Hassan will be here—he’s a nice fellow, but Morocco, Christ, they can’t last [against the Soviets].

Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria. Sudan. Naturally, the UAR. All those little miserable countries around—Jordan, and Lebanon, and the rest . . . They’re like—they’d go down like ten-pins, just like that.

Some of them would like to be our friends. But central to every one of those countries (even as far off as Morocco) is the fact that the United States is allied with Israel. And because we’re allied with Israel [bangs the desk for emphasis], we are their enemy.

MacArthur: That’s right.

President Nixon: That’s what it is.

Now, this doesn’t mean that we let Israel go down the drain—because that would play into the Soviets’ hands, too. But it does mean that right now, we’re in a hell of a difficult spot. Because our Israeli tie makes us unpalatable to everybody in the Arab world, doesn’t it?

MacArthur: It does. To varying degrees.

President Nixon: Yes, some are like—but the Shah—the Shah—

MacArthur: Not wholly—

President Nixon: He’s awfully good with that stuff, you’d have to say.

MacArthur: That he is.


President Nixon, with congressional leaders, 29 Feb. 1972

President Nixon: Looking in the future, of course, speaks in terms of our common interests and normalization of relations; and our common interests in starting to build this long process of better relations between the two countries.

Now, let me get down to some cold turkey. What brought us together? Uh, some rather naïve reporters have indicated that—observers—have indicated that what brought us together is that—well, mainly, both China and the United States, the People’s Republic of China and the United States, realized that we really didn’t have a—that really that despite their philosophies they weren’t all that far apart, and that if we’d just get to know each other better, that everything would be a lot better.

Not true at all.

Getting to know each other better will reduce the possibility of miscalculation and that we have established, because we do have an understanding. And I know them, and they know me. And I hope that would be true of whoever happens to be sitting in this office in the future.

That means that there will be talking and rather than having that inevitable road of suspicion and miscalculation, which could lead to war. A miscalculation which, incidentally, led to their intervention in Korea, which might have been avoided had there been this kind of contact at that time.


President Nixon: It was not our common beliefs that brought us together. But, frankly, our common interests and our common hopes.

What are those common interests?

One is the interests that both us have in maintaining our integrity and our independence. And second is the hope that each of us has to try to build a structure of peace in the Pacific, and going beyond that, in the world. And on that point, that means that despite a total gulf—a gulf that will continue to exist as long as they’re communist, and as long as we’re basically a free country—a total gulf in beliefs that people of different faiths, of different beliefs, have got to find a way to live together in this world.

And to, in the case of the People’s Republic of China and the United States of America, the most powerful nation in the world, and the most populous nation in the world—if we do not find a way to, despite our differences, to have discussions, we are on a collision course years ahead, which would be very, very serious. If we do find a way to have discussions as we have started in this instance, there is a better chance that we will not have that collision course years ahead.


President Nixon and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 7 Oct. 1971

President Nixon: I think you may have heard me tell of my conversation with [former Puerto Rico governor Luis] Muñoz Marín—who, incidentally was capable of governing.

UN ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan: Yes.

President Nixon: You know—I think you think well of him.

In ’58, after Lima and Caracas, I stopped there. And he and I talked all night—and he, drinking his scotch and, you know, and really lived it up. And I, trying to keep up with him—practically dead!

But he made a very interesting point, very late, early in the early morning hours. He said, “Look,” he says, “I shouldn’t say this.” He said, “But Mr. Vice-President, my people have many fine qualities. I mean, they’re courteous, they’re good family people, in the arts, and you know, philosophy, etc.”

But he said, “I will have to admit, my people”—speaking of Latins generally—“have never been very good at government.”

Moynihan: Yeah.

President Nixon: Now, let’s look at that. The Italians aren’t any good at government. The Spanish aren’t any good at government.

Moynihan: Yeah.

President Nixon: The French have had a hell of a time, and they’re half Latin.

And all of Latin America’s not any good at government. They either go to one extreme or the other. It’s either a family—well, three extremes: family oligarchy, or a dictatorship, or a dictatorship on the right or one on the left.

Moynihan: Mm-hmm.

President Nixon: Very seldom in the center.

Now, having said all that, however, as you compare the Latin dictatorships, governments, etc., and their forms of government, they are—they at least do it their way. It is an orderly way, which works relatively well. They have been able to run the damn place.

Looking at the Black countries . . . Of course, there are only two old ones—Haiti is an old one, and Liberia is a very old one.

Moynihan: Mm-hmm.

President Nixon: Ethiopia is a very old one. But they have a hell of a time running the place.

Moynihan: It’s a pretty miserable world.

President Nixon: Now, now, now . . . you look at Asia, and you can say, “Well what about out there? You don’t have democracies.” Of course you don’t, except Japan—where we imposed it, and the Philippines, and it’s a hell of a mess.

But on the other hand, Thailand, with its oligarchy, has the right kind of a government for Thailand. And we have to say, too, that Iran, with the benevolent Shah . . .

Moynihan: [Interrupting] – works pretty well?

President Nixon:. . . with the benevolent Shah, that’s the right thing for those folks.

Moynihan: Yeah.

President Nixon: I think.

Now, what I’m getting back at, a long way around, is this: I think something, I think something could be—is eventually going to come out here is this—and it’s right beneath the surface, this whole black-white deal, is going to come out the fact that Asians are capable of governing themselves, one way or another. That we Caucasians have learned it after slaughtering each other in religious wars and other wars for many, many years, including a couple in the last, this century.

Moynihan: Sure.

President Nixon: The Latins do it in a miserable way, but they do it. But the Africans just can’t run things.

Now that’s a very, very fundamental point, in the international scene. See my point?

Moynihan: Oh boy, you sure see it around this place [at the UN]!

President Nixon: Yeah. Yeah, of course you do, you see them . . . You know, I have mixed feelings. I receive their ambassadors, they change all the time, and I’ve had them here. I love ‘em, they’re so kind, and so nice—and they’re children!

Moynihan: Yeah.

President Nixon: Children . . .

Moynihan: [Laughing] Yeah.

President Nixon: Huh? You know?

Moynihan: And they always want something like children.

President Nixon: Oh god yes, they why . . . Well, what can you do? But what I meant is, it’s so childlike, the childlike faith, and this and that. And of course a lot of them are crooks—but we have crooks too!

Nixon & Kissinger, about the excessive influence of Ivy Leaguers

President Nixon: Henry, let me tell you about the Ivy League presidents. And Time, Newsweek, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the [TV] network leaders.
They’re finished.
And, incidentally, that includes the business elite.
Henry Kissinger: Time has been a little better—
President Nixon: [unclear] yeah, but that’s—
Kissinger: [Editor Hugh] Sidey has been a disaster.
President Nixon: That’s right. He’s—
Kissinger: Life is a disaster.
President Nixon: That’s right. But my point that I’m making is this: they’re finished for this reason. That if, when it’s tough, they aren’t there, we don’t want them.
Now, we’ve got to build a new Establishment. We’re going to. And it isn’t going to come out of the Ivy League, you know. Let me say—I’ve already given instructions: you know, there’s never going to be another Harvard man hired in our staff? Not any new ones. We’ve got plenty already. No more.
It’s too bad—some good men will be missed. But why do we take people that have had their minds poisoned by the . . .?
Kissinger: We can’t.
President Nixon: Never, never, never.
Kissinger: We’ve got to put them to the sword, Mr. President.
President Nixon: I’m going to.
Kissinger: It’s just not—
President Nixon: I don’t mean that we’d get much better out of Ohio State. But, God, there’s a chance. At Harvard, there’s no chance.
Kissinger: You’ll get better out of—
President Nixon: [continuing] Yale! The same. Columbia—
Kissinger: Yale is worse than Harvard.
President Nixon: Much worse. Princeton. But, you see, the whole bunch of people have no courage, no guts.

Nixon & Rev. Billy Graham, on Vietnam

President Nixon: Of course, we’re fighting a very tough battle here, you know; everybody wants to pull out. But I have to fight against the tide. I got to do the right thing.
Billy Graham: I’ve got a [sic] editorial in the New York Times on Friday, which I wrote this morning. They—
President Nixon: Good for you.
Graham: —asked for it yesterday—
President Nixon: Good.
Graham: And I’m putting all the blame for this whole thing on [President] Kennedy.
President Nixon: That’s right! He started the damn thing!
Graham: Well, I—
President Nixon: He killed Diem—
Graham: Right.
President Nixon: —and he sent the first 16,000 combat people there himself!
Graham: Well, I’m saying that the first time I ever heard of our involvement was four days before he was inaugurated, playing golf with him; he said, “We”—I quote—“cannot allow Laos [mis-pronounced] and South Vietnam to fall to the Communists.” [Nixon laughs.]
And then I said when President Johnson took over—
President Nixon: Good. Good.
Graham:— we had 16,000 troops there.
President Nixon: That’s right.
Graham: And I said the political climate in the United States—
President Nixon: Well, and Diem had been murdered. See, you see, Billy, the key thing here was Kennedy’s, and, I must say, our friend [Henry Cabot] Lodge’s agreement to the murder of Diem. Diem—that’s what killed the whole, that opened the whole thing.


Nixon & Bob Haldeman, on the UN Taiwan vote

President Nixon: I said [to UN ambassador George H.W. Bush prepare a memo entitled], “Proposed Reward and Punishment to UN Vote.”
There it is. It’s an historical note that will go in the files. By God, we’re going to do it. I’m—we’re going to do it.
Oh, boy, let one of those black bastards who voted against us ask to come in and see me. Never will they cross the threshold of this room again, one of those little countries. Botswana, some of those others. Screw ‘em! Never!
I’ll see Ghana, because they voted with us. But I ain’t going to see Botswana.
Now, of course, you’ve got to see England and France and the rest. That has something else to .. . but I’ll be goddamned cool to Italy the next time they park around in here, because they should have voted with us. They didn’t have a reason to vote the other way, except they decided that that’s where their fish were fried.
But George [H.W. Bush] wants us to screw ‘em? All right. But he doesn’t want me to say it, though, he knows I can’t say it. He agreed with what I said to these bastards.

President Nixon: Oh, ask Henry [Kissinger] to do this: I want Bush on a confidential basis to give to Henry the list of the countries he particularly wants to have shafted. You know, just give us a list. In absolute confidence. I don’t want it on a piece of—I just want it on a piece of blank paper. Or have him send it to me. And a list of those that he really feels we ought to do something for. Would he do that?
You can’t get that—State would never go for this. That poor [Ass’t Secretary of State for African Affairs David] Newsom—that poor son of a bitch is so soft in the head. But I’ve been sick of the African countries for so many years that I’ve—
Haldeman: Well, they’re a pain in the ass anyway.
President Nixon: Well, for chrissakes, do you know how many people Botswana’s got? It shouldn’t even be a country. They put it in there as a buffer to South Africa. As Henry [Kissinger] said, it’s a desert land. They’ve got 300,000 people. And Botswana! Botswana! We created the goddamn place!
Haldeman: How many people does [mis-pronouncing it] Qatar have? I didn’t even know there was a country called Qatar.
President Nixon: Oh, sure.
Chuck Colson: I’d say two or three hundred—
President Nixon: 250 thousand [people].
Haldeman: I had never heard of the country, and there they were.


Nixon and press secretary Ron Ziegler, on US ambassador to Chile Edward Korry, 22 Oct. 1971

RON ZIEGLER: Yes, sir?
PRESIDENT NIXON: What did you—have you said anything, Ron, with regard to the ITT and Chile . . . How did you handle that?
ZIEGLER: The State Department dealt with that today.
PRESIDENT NIXON: Oh, they did?
ZIEGLER: Yes, sir.
PRESIDENT NIXON: What did they do—deny it?
ZIEGLER: Uh, they denied it, but they were cautious on how they dealt with the [Ambassador Edward] Korry statement, because they were afraid that might backfire.
PRESIDENT NIXON: Why? What did Korry say?
ZIEGLER: Well, Korry said that he had received instructions to do anything short of a Dominican-type [military intervention]—alleged to have said that.
PRESIDENT NIXON: So, how the hell did that get out? He put that out?
ZIEGLER: Well, [investigative reporter Jack] Anderson received that from some source. Al Haig is sitting with me now.
[Haig passes on information to Ziegler in the background.]
ZIEGLER: It was a report contained in an IT&T—
ZIEGLER: —thing. But—
PRESIDENT NIXON: He was! He was instructed to.
ZIEGLER: Well, but—
PRESIDENT NIXON: I hope—But he just failed. Son of a bitch; that’s his main problem. He should have kept [Salvador] Allende from getting in.
ZIEGLER: In any event, State has [talking over the President] denied it today, and they referred to your comments about Latin America and Chile and—
ZIEGLER: And—so you just refer to that on that one.
ZIEGLER: Yes, sir.

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