Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Indexed Trove of Kissinger Phone Transcripts Is Completed

Richard M. Nixon and Henry A. Kissinger gave secret orders to record their calls, each evidently without the other’s knowledge.

Not at all a surprise that this pair recorded their calls; they were both so untrustworthy they did not even trust each other.

Nixon was a criminal: he broke the Constitution by usurping power, he broke laws by ordering illegal activities for the sake of his own political power, he lied, and then he was stupid enough to not destroy the tapes.

Kissinger was a manipulator, overly impressed with his own power and skills, and, in the end, has been proven to be not much more than a petty jerk: he recorded calls with the President of the United States (even if that was Nixon, it is still an amazing display of hubris, arrogance and distrust).

The words of these two are chilling, even 35 years later.

It was April 1972, and American B-52 bombers were pummeling North Vietnam. President Richard M. Nixon got on the phone with his national security adviser, Henry A. Kissinger, for an update on the air assault on the port city of Haiphong. The men struggled to persuade each other that the war might still be won.

Did they actually believe the war could be won?

“They dropped a million pounds of bombs,” Mr. Kissinger said.

A million pounds of bombs dropped on one city. A million pounds. It staggers the mind that this could be used as a statement meant to impress.

Nixon was pleased. “Goddamn, that must have been a good strike!” he said.

His own words reveal what a depraved human being Nixon was.

Then the president had a moment of doubt, recalling the dismal experience of his immediate predecessor, Lyndon B. Johnson: “Johnson bombed them for years, and it didn’t do any good.”

Exactly: LBJ had Viet Nam bombed for four years, and it did nothing to dissuade the North or the Viet Cong from pursuing their aims. LBJ and his advisers knew that. McNamara would, 30 plus years later, confess how own doubts (In retrospect: the tragedy and lessons of Vietnam is one of his books).

Mr. Kissinger reassured his boss, saying: “But, Mr. President, Johnson never had a strategy. He was sort of picking away at them. He would go in with 50 planes, 20 planes. I bet you we will have had more planes over there in one day than Johnson had in a month.”

Which accomplished absolutely nothing, to just bomb and bomb and bomb. That was no strategy, to simply drop more bombs. Bombing was the same tactic Johnson had used; to simply multiply the amount of bombs did not amount to a strategy.

What the two men said 36 years ago can be known with such precision today because they worked in what was, in retrospect, the golden age of White House taping. Both Nixon and Mr. Kissinger had given secret orders to record their calls, each evidently without the other’s knowledge.

A pair of twits, of criminals.

On Tuesday, the National Security Archive, a nonprofit research group at George Washington University, published an online edition of transcripts of 15,000 Kissinger phone calls from 1969 to 1977, fully indexed and searchable for the first time. A selection was posted on the archive’s Web site,, and the full collection is available to subscribers, which include many university libraries.

Hyperlinking to the NSA Archive website shows a page with this bon mot: "We can bomb the bejesus out of them all over North Vietnam.".

O, there is no doubt as to the historical import of these tapes and their transcripts; three and a half decades later my animus toward these two human beings remains intense.

The collection covers many serious policy matters, like Vietnam strategy, but includes a few calls memorable because they are so bizarre.

Nixon was bizarre; Kissinger? Ditto.

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