THE TREASON OF RICHARD NIXON: FROM POSSIBILITY TO CERTAINTY
PART ONE PART TWO
THE AFTERMATH PART II
I did not begin this piece with the expectation that I would reach a point of firm conviction. I thought that the more I read on the subject, more and more uncertainty would pervade about what actually took place and what effect it had on the peace talks. Instead, I found only confirmation, and this was a conclusion that I reached with dread, and no doubt this is why this particulae episode is so assiduously avoided or why there is such an overwhelming momentum towards it having no consequence, that the horrors of Vietnam and Cambodia would have happened anyway – because this episode displays vividly how untransparent a democracy can be, and how much inhumanity you can get away with, just as long as you are a little deft at hiding it. That your transgression is so grievous may perhaps make it easier to hide, as there will be a concerted desire to deny that such a crime could take place – it couldn’t happen here. But it did!
Those looking for exculpatory evidence will have to settle for the possibility that the peace talks would have failed even without Nixon’s interference. I quote once again from Beverly Deepe Keever’s Death Zones and Darling Spies: Seven Years of Vietnam War Reporting for one such moment:
After the election, [Pham Xuan] An [a stringer hired to help with oral and written translations] and I gleaned a play-by-play of the final confrontations between Thieu and U.S. ambassador Ellsworth Bunker that revealed why the Vietnamese had backed out of going to Paris. A Vietnamese source close to the palace conversations shared with An an –d me his notes detailing what I described as “one of the most bizarre – if not scandalous – American diplomatic maneuvers in war-time history.”
In a nutshell the U.S. chief negotiator in Paris, Averell Harriman, made a proposal that Hanoi accepted on October 27 to begin peace negotiations starting November 6 – the day after the presidential election – for a four-power conference that would give the National Liberation Front equal status and legitimacy with the Saigon government. In Saigon, however, Ambassador Bunker had secured Thieu’s agreement to go to a three-power conference, with separate delegations representing Hanoi, Saigon and Washington, but with the NLF sitting as part of North Vietnam’s delegation. “Here is Bunker getting Thieu’s agreement to a three-way peace conference in Paris,” a stunned diplomat told me. “But Harriman had already sold out Saigon by giving away to Hanoi the most important thing of all – representation of the National Liberation Front.”
The only obstacle to finding such misdeeds as the major impediment to the peace talks, rather than Nixon’s machinations, is that Nixon would bring the NLF into the talks as well. As already pointed out, both Anna Chennault and Nguyen Thieu thought they would get a better deal with Nixon, and both felt they were ultimately betrayed. The possible reason for why there was no earlier withdrawal, why the war continued for another four years, resulting in a settlement on the same terms that would have been achieved in 1968, but now paid for with the dead of Laos, Cambodia, the collapse of the Cambodian government, which would lead to the genocide of Pol Pot – as well as more American and Vietnamese life thrown away – had nothing to do with realpolitik, or domino theories, or balance of power, but the domestic coalition necessary to win re-election. This cynical take was given, of course, by Henry Kissinger, and can be found in The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon by Anthony Summers:
There was something else, as grave a betrayal-if it is true-as the undermining of the peace effort. Henry Kissinger, soon to find fame as national security adviser and secretary of state, offered a cynical assessment of the administration’s position a few months after meeting Nixon. “I agree that the war is a mistake,” he reportedly told a visitor. “I think it is clear now that we should never have gone in there, and I don’t see how any good can come of it. But we can’t do what you recommend and just pull out, because the boss’s whole constituency would just fall apart; those are his people who support the war effort: the South; the blue-collar Democrats in the North. The Nixon constituency is behind the war effort. If we were to pull out of Vietnam, there would be a disaster, politically, for us here, at home.”
In looking for someone or something to contradict the narrative I’ve so far presented, I turned to Conrad Black’s Richard Nixon: A Life in Full, a near hagiography written by a fan and fellow conservative. Black is a man with some ability in research, who often writes with unrestrained venom, often directing it against his eternal enemy: the pious, weak, bleating liberal. I expected to find an entirely different story here, one that might deny entirely what others claim took place; instead, I found little or no dispute on the essential form of what happened, only disputes over its effects, implications, and a few of its smaller details. I wish to do justice to his argument, and do not want the reader to feel they are being manipulated into any agreement, as sometimes happens when a conspiracy theory is sold through a selective and myopic use of research, so I now give full excerpt of Black’s account. I have also left the book’s footnotes in, so readers might easily see which sources have been used for this history:
By October 20, his lead over Humphrey had shrunk in some polls to just 5 percent. Wallace’s vote had shrunk in some polls to just 5 percent. Wallace’s vote was evaporating outside his strongholds of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas, as disgruntled supporters of the main parties drifted back to their natural political abodes. A profoundly regional vote might give Wallace those five states in the South, but the northern Wallace voters were fading, not wishing to waste ballots in what was starting to seem like a possibly tight election.
In these circumstances, there was a real danger of a hung election, with the Electoral College not recording a majority, and the presidential election going to the House of Representatives and the vice presidency to the Senate where almost certain Democratic majorities would presumably elect Humphrey and Muskie. Nixon began challenging Humphrey to agree that in the event of such a development, both sides would support the candidate with the larger popular vote. Humphrey piously uttered and tiresomely repeated the humbug that he would abide by the Constitution; i.e., logrolling in the Congress, no matter what he had to give away to southern committee chairmen to get to the White House.
There was an inevitability of drama throughout Richard Nixon’s career. His second try for the presidency was shaping up to a gripping climax. The North Vietnamese presumably preferred Humphrey to Nixon, and in any case knew that any de-escalation by the United States would be almost irreversible in domestic political terms. The South Vietnamese, for the same reasons in reverse, preferred Nixon to Humphrey. For Johnson and Humphrey to have any chance of claiming progress toward a satisfactory settlement of the war, both Vietnamese sides had to be roped into the talks in Paris.
Most of the journalists who have written on the next phases of this minuet are not reliable, and there is no documentation, and interviews did not yield much, so the story must be pieced together cautiously. The co-chairwoman, with Mamie Eisenhower, of Republican Women for Nixon, was Anna Chennault, widow of Second World War Far East volunteer air force commander (of The Flying Tigers) General Claire Chennault. She was a friend of Thieu’s and served as a contact between Thieu and the Nixon campaign.
Anna Chennault and the South Vietnamese ambassador to Washington, Bui Diem, had gone to the New York to meet with Nixon and Mitchell in early 1968. The Chennault conduit to Thieu was established and Nixon impressed upon the ambassador that he would be a more reliable friend of Saigon than his Democratic opponent (who hadn’t been nominated, but the choice was Humphrey or McCarthy).
From here, it becomes very tangled. Anna Chennault was a strenuous admirer of Nixon, but was romantically involved with the former chief fixer in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first two terms, Thomas G. Corcoran. Corcoran was a longtime friend of Lyndon Johnson, and Corcoran’s law partner, James Rowe, was the co-manager of Hubert Humphrey’s election campaign. Corcoran listened on an extension to one of Mitchell’s telephone calls with Chennault, and cautioned her against any violation of the Logan Act, which forbids U.S. private citizens from conducting negotiations with foreign governments. Chennault spoke to Diem and to Mitchell very frequently29. Diem was a very educated and urbane man whose family owned the Saigon Post.
Some combination of phone taps on Chennault and Mitchell, cable interceptions and decoding on the South Vietnamese embassy (despite the status of Saigon as an ally now being defended by 565,000 American draftees), and possible advice from Corcoran to Johnson or Clifford apprised the administration of the Nixon effort to restrain Thieu from becoming an agent in Humphrey’s election campaign by being overly credulous or cooperative in an election-eve Johnson peace plan30. Mitchell changed his telephone number every couple of days and Diem complained to all sides about telephone and cable intercepts on his embassy31. At one point Chennault was overhead [sic] in a telephone call to a Saigon government official, urging against an early agreement to a peace plan. When asked if Nixon was aware of her call, she said the [sic] he was not, “but our friend in New Mexico” is. Agnew happened to be in New Mexico, so it was mistakenly assumed to be him, and Johnson ordered personal wiretaps on Agnew (who had dusted off the old claim that Humphrey was “soft on communism”). Agnew knew nothing of this and New Mexico was code for something else.
Thus, Hanoi had an incentive to agree to conditions, and Saigon to oppose conditions, that would lead to a bombing pause. Chennault went to Saigon in the midst of the campaign and was in frequent contact with Ambassador Diem. There is no doubt that Johnson was trying to give himself plausible cover for a peace move and deliver the election to Humphrey, and that Nixon was determined not to be robbed of the presidency by the Democrats again. To this end, Nixon, with no illegal dealings by him or his entourage, assisted Thieu in detecting his own self-interest. The allegations have been made, but not substantiated, that Kissinger played a role in this process in Paris. In the absence of any evidence or any need for what was already being otherwise accomplished, Kissinger deserves the benefit of the doubt his enemies have created about his behavior.
The Democrats were outraged at Nixon, but what Johnson was doing was equally questionable. Nixon’s desire not to be the victim again of Democratic electoral trickery is understandable, and there is no evidence that Thieu, a wily and tenacious Vietnamese political general, needed much prompting to discern which side he favored in the U.S. election. Kissinger was playing a fairly innocuous double game of self-promotion, and there was nothing very controversial, at this early stage, in his international contacts.
On October 26, sensing that it was time to interrupt Johnson’s inexorable progress toward a peace move, Nixon, who had used the Paris discussions as an excuse not to comment on Vietnam for seven months, decided to reveal a likely bombing halt. His source was a contact of Bryce Harlow’s, who was reporting from inside the White House that Johnson was about to make a supreme effort to pull the election out for Humphrey. Nixon asked Mitchell to check with Kissinger, but Kissinger had not heard of anything imminent. Nixon purported in his last statement to be confident that was afoot was not “a cynical, last-minute attempt by President Johnson to salvage the candidacy of Mr. Humphrey.” As was often the case with Nixon, what he claimed to disbelieve was what he believed. His suspicions were rarely unfounded and were not misplaced in this case.
The next day, October 27, at a luncheon speech in New York, Johnson denied that any such thing as Nixon had alleged had been agreed, and attacked Nixon as someone “who distorts history” and had made “ugly and unfair charges.”32 That evening, Nixon warned in a nationwide radio address against the evils of a coalition government in Saigon. He was firing blind, because there was no discussion of any such thing at this point, but it was a way of muddying the waters for Johnson and investigating Thieu’s always verdant suspicions.
The same day, Hanoi accepted Harriman’s conditions, provided the Viet Cong could also attend the Paris talks. Despite all the jockeying, nearly seven months had passed in Paris with nothing substantive discussed, and nothing, not even participants, agreed, except the shape of the table. It is indicative of American war-weariness and the jumpy nerves of the election candidates and campaign organizers that anyone imagined Vietnam negotiations would proceed quickly.
The American commander in Vietnam, General Creighton W. Abrams, who had replaced Westmoreland a few months before, as Westmoreland became chief of staff, was summoned home and met with the president at 2:30 A.M., October 29, in the cabinet room. He supported a bombing halt. However, by this time, Thieu was balking. He said he would not join negotiations with the Viet Cong. Johnson and Clifford blamed Nixon, via Chennault, but did not want to acknowledge recourse to illegal telephone intercepts or diplomatic cable cracking of the South Vietnamese, which would have been, to say the least, an unseemly admission a week before the election. Johnson told his ambassador in Saigon, Ellsworth Bunker, to put all the pressure he could on Thieu. Thieu would not move, but Johnson, when he felt he could wait no longer before trying to influence the election, made his big play. On October 31, he told the nation in a television address that Hanoi had promised to respect the DMZ and refrain from attacking South Vietnamese cities, and that both the South Vietnamese government and the Viet Cong were, as he delicately put it, “free” to attend the Paris peace conference as participants. This generated great euphoria, and according to some polls, Humphrey pulled ahead of Nixon. Showing iron nerves, fortified by his intelligence about Thieu’s likely lack of enthusiasm, Nixon briefly returned to his former policy of saying nothing that would compromise the peace process.
On November 2, three days before the election, Thieu publicly announced that he would not join the talks. Nixon had Finch issue a statement to the press expressing “surprise” that the players were not all in place prior to Johnson’s announcement, by which, of course, they meant that the bombing halt was a pre-emptive concession to the enemy to try to salvage the election for Humphrey.
There was great anger in the Johnson and Nixon camps at the skullduggery of the other side. But Johnson and Nixon themselves, two of the most worldly and cynical political operators in American history, were relatively philosophical. Unedifying though this great poker game seems, it was not completely discreditable. Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson, though no sane person would ever accuse either of them of taking political ethics to fault, were patriotic Americans. But their methods were unusually open to question at times.
Johnson had lost confidence in the military advice he had received, and as politically exhausted. He felt intensely the sorrow of bereaved armed forces families and could not sleep at night worrying about casualties. He sincerely wanted to move the war toward a solution before leaving office. That such a move would suit his political preferences was desirable and convenient, but to what extent domestic politics predominated in the president’s thoughts will never be known. It was nonsense for Thieu to claim that he would not sit at the same table as the Viet Cong. Most South Vietnamese disliked communism, but were more fearful of the VC and its North Vietnamese sponsors than of the Saigon government, which was still in place only because of the exertions of the United States. They needed reassurance that the anti-communists were likely to be the winning side.
On the other hand, Nixon, unlike Humphrey, Kissinger, McNamara, Clifford, and even, to a point, the beleaguered Johnson himself, still thought there was a possibility to salvage a durable non-communist regime in Saigon, and was prepared to try. Thieu could not be blamed for not wishing to facilitate the victory of those who were going to hand his country over to the communists, with or without an interval that might be perceived as decent from the comfortable perspective of Washington. There is no reason to believe that Nixon did more to motivate Thieu than to ensure that he was aware of what was obvious to anyone who carefully followed the 1968 U.S. election campaign.
On November 3, Nixon, after two days’ silence, ended his second “personal Vietnam moratorium” and responded to Johnson’s maneuver with escalated dissembling. Having approved Finch’s [Robert Finch, lieutenant governor of California, Nixon campaign manager, and a friend of Nixon’s] insinuation that Johnson had made a misleading and overblown announcement about progress in peace talks for partisan reasons, he said on NBC’s Meet the Press two days before the election that he and Finch did not agree on the subject, that Nixon gave Johnson the benefit of the doubt but Finch thought the bombing pause was a political trumpery.
Finch had not issued his statement as lieutenant governor of California but as Nixon’s joint campaign manager, and this was egregious flimflam by Nixon. Nixon took it a step further, by telling the interviewer that if elected two days later, he would be happy, if President Johnson wished to go to Saigon or Paris “in order to try to get the negotiations off dead center.” Though outrageous, this was magnificent effrontery, to offer to go to Saigon, once elected, and tell Thieu to accept what he now implicitly urged him to reject. Nixon carried it off with the expressionless sincerity of a consummate actor and poker player.
It was too much for Johnson, who telephoned Nixon and demanded to know who “Fink” was and what he was up to, and asked about Chennault’s antics also. Nixon said that Finch had the same freedom of self-expression as any other American, and whatever Chennault did was on her own account and not Nixon’s. Johnson persisted in referring to “Fink” – like the father of the narrator in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, refusing to accede to facts – but he had little option but to accept Nixon’s version of his role. He knew it was bunk, but he knew the vulnerabilities in his own official line too, and there was no gain to him in insisting publicly that it was really Nixon who was accusing him of cynical political manipulations. This would do more harm to the Democrats than the Republicans. Nixon had deftly claimed to believe in Johnson’s virtue while his aides did not, and stuck to this charade with perfectly confected earnestness.
In the last full day of the campaign, Nixon continually expressed confidence in Johnson’s motives but disappointment that the hopes for peace had proved chimerical. With a doleful expression, he lamented that Johnson had, with good but over-eager intentions, sold the country a false prospectus. Given that Johnson had set out to steal the election, it must be said that Nixon’s reply, labored though it was, was a political masterpiece, upon which he embellished to the last moments before the polls opened. In his memoirs, published in 1978, Nixon maintains the same air of simple and impenetrable innocence. Johnson, in his own memoirs, professes complete political disinterest, and adds, of the opposition, “People who claimed to speak for the Nixon camp began encouraging Saigon to stay away from Paris and promising that Nixon, if elected, would inaugurate a policy more to Saigon’s liking.”33
This is a book that was published in 2008, after The Arrogance of Power by Summers (published in 2000), after the opening of the ‘X’ envelope of Walt Rostow and the declassifying of its materials by researchers. Black, a one-time publishing mogul, was in prison for corporate fraud when he wrote the book, and this no doubt may have impeded his research efforts; however, neither the Summers book or the ‘X’ envelope are obscure sources, but are in fact very well known and easily available. The lack of any reference to either, that Arrogance is not even listed in the bibliography, gives this portion of the history the strange quality of a massive free floating castle, barely supported by a few haphazardly placed struts of the thinnest and weakest wood. Black, who has no difficulty using blunt language against his enemies, now uses a lexicon as soft as cottonballs and ice cream to describe this bit of sabotage; it was an “effort to restrain Thieu from becoming an agent in Humphrey’s election campaign by being overly credulous or cooperative”. We are also told that the basis for this story lies in some hypotherical haze, “some combination of phone taps on Chennault and Mitchell, cable interceptions and decoding on the South Vietnamese embassy” is how the White House learned of Nixon’s attempts to undermine the peace talks. Yet we’ve known very well for some time how the White House learned of this betrayal: the tip of Alexander Sachs to Eugene Rostow, who passed it on to his brother Walt, Johnson’s National Security Adviser. After this, a tap was placed on Chennault. Black footnotes his information with Nixon’s memoir, which is a slightly unusual choice of source, since Nixon makes no admission of the attempt, and makes no mention of the plot or Anna Chennault.
Black opens his writing of the episode as if it were still mostly ether: “Most of the journalists who have written on the next phases of this minuet are not reliable, and there is no documentation, and interviews did not yield much, so the story must be pieced together cautiously.” With this rather haughty dismissal, Black suggests a man who is used to effortlessly waving his hand to summon food, and has mistaken this gift with the ability to cook. He considers Anna Chennault a reliable enough source to cite her memoir for this chapter, so presumably, her interview with Anthony Summers is equally reliable. In Arrogance of Power, a book whose research appears vastly more thorough than Black’s work, Chennault is emphatic that she was employed by Nixon and Mitchell to foil the peace talks:
In the weeks that followed Chennault had several more meetings with Nixon and Mitchell in New York. They told her to inform Saigon that were Nixon to become president, South Vietnam would get “a better deal.” “The message,” she told the author, “was relayed.”
Asked if Nixon and Mitchell were trying to cut a deal to help win the election, Chennault nodded. “They worked out this deal to win the campaign,” she said. “Power overpowers all reason.”
Black also informs us, “Agnew happened to be in New Mexico, so it was mistakenly assumed to be him, and Johnson ordered personal wiretaps on Agnew…Agnew knew nothing of this and New Mexico was code for something else.” I find this to be a fascinating point, one which directly contradicts a major element of the Nixon-Chennault story. However, since Black provides no footnote, I have no idea what’s his basis for believing this. We know for certain that Agnew was in Albuquerque at the time Chennault called there, and that there were several outgoing calls from the plane at this time: two to New York City, where Chennault was expected to be, one to campaign headquarters, and one to Texas, where Nixon was holding a rally that night. Agnew’s phone on the plane was not bugged; Johnson was given the records of the locations Agnew called in this time period. From “Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968 Volume VII, Vietnam, September 1968-January 1969, Document 212”:
The next day, DeLoach called the President with a report on these calls. One of the phones on the plane had been used five times. The first call was made at 11:59 a.m., a personal call from Agnew to Rusk that lasted 3 minutes. The next call was made to Texas and another two calls were made by Agnew staffer Kent Crane to New York City. A fifth call was made to the Nixon/Agnew campaign headquarters at the Willard Hotel in Washington at 1:02 p.m.
The President verified that Rusk had talked with Agnew. He added: “We think somebody on the plane talked to the woman. We think pretty well that they talked to her and talked to Rusk, and talked on the same thing. And we think that they told Rusk-that they wanted to know what was happening in these relations. And Rusk made notes of it, he didn’t exactly know what time, but he estimated that it was about 2 o’clock. And hers, it was immediately followed by a call to her, we think. And what we want to know is what time that was and when it was.”
This was supplemented by the work of National Security Adviser Rostow, as discussed in Arrogance:
The most important discovery, though, was relayed to the president by National Security Assistant Rostow when all the facts were in, ten days after the Albuquerque stopover. In a brief memo, referring to Chennault as “the Lady” and to Agnew as “the gentleman in Albuquerque,” Rostow reported that there had been a call placed to Chennault.26
We are further assured in Life in Full that “allegations have been made, but not substantiated, that Kissinger played a role in this process in Paris,” and this, again, is flatly wrong given the available evidence. “There had to be secret communications between Nixon and the South Vietnamese, as we have seen,” writes Christopher Hitchens in The Trial of Henry Kissinger. “But there also had to be an informant inside the incumbent administration’s camp – a source of hints and tips and early warnings of official intentions.” Nixon reveals in his memoir who this source of information was, and from whom he learned of the bombing halt: Henry Kissinger. “Henry was the only person outside of the government we were authorized to discuss the negotiations with,” says the late Richard Holbrooke, a member of the negotiating team, in Trial. “We trusted him. It is not stretching the truth to say that the Nixon campaign had a secret source within the US negotiating team.” Though he makes a few polite noises about Johnson’s desire for peace, he ultimately presents Johnson’s fight for the peace talks as exclusively a political tactic: “Johnson had set out to steal the election” with this ploy. No mention is made of Johnson’s fight for the peace talks after the election, asking that he cease interference in the negotiations, so there might be a meeting of the two sides. Nor is it written anywhere that Johnson was upset with Humphrey as well for his speeches arguing for a bombing halt without demands, as that was also making it difficult to get the sides to the table.
Similarly, the only reason cited for not releasing the information is the illegality of the wiretaps. The major evidence against Nixon, however, was very much legal, an FBI tap begun after a reliable source had alleged Anna Chennault was sticking herself in a matter of national security. The problem wasn’t that their evidence was illegal, but that there wasn’t enough by the day of the election to credibly and ethically make a case. Johnson is upset about what’s taking place, but he’s also worried about what might happen if word got out: “This is treason.” This leads to the major reason why the information was not released then: it would have destroyed the future president, and possibly triggered impeachment proceedings while the country was in the midst of a war. It also suggests why the secret was held tight for decades; such a revelation would annihilate the trust of the public in their institutions and their servants. This was not a sexual affair, or a small piece of graft, but a presidential candidate tossing lives away so he might ascend the throne. Just as Black leaves out the phone calls after the election as Johnson continues to press for peace negotiations, he leaves out the Johnson inner circle keeping all these secrets under tight wrap, even though they could easily destroy their former opponent. Of Black’s argument that Nixon was somehow justified in his actions simply because he felt he was wronged in 1960 and deserved to win then, I will only say I think it carries a stronger reek of amorality than Black might imagine.
It is true that Johnson was relatively kind about Nixon in his memoirs, writing “I never shared the intense dislike of Richard Nixon felt by many of my fellow Democrats…I considered him a much-maligned and misunderstood man.” Though there’s also a very pertinent fact left out in Black’s mention of these memoirs: that Johnson believed Humphrey would have won the election had it not been for the interference of “people who claimed to speak for the Nixon camp” in the peace negotiations1. It also fails to convey the bitterness of many about what took place, not just over a lost election but that someone had so flippantly played with lives in order to pull off an election win. Some of this ill feeling is conveyed in the book, Indomitable Will: LBJ in the Presidency by Mark Updegrove, an account of the Johnson administration through the words of associates. “I thought the actions by those associated with the Nixon campaign,” says Tom Johnson (no relation), an adviser, “to convince the South Vietnamese government to wait until Nixon was in office were reprehensible.” Larry O’Brien, the head of the Democratic National Committee whose Watergate office was broken into by the Nixon burglars, quotes Johnson as saying, “What kind of a guy could engage in something like this?” I give full excerpt of Updegrove’s account of the scandal. Those quoted are Tom Johnson, O’Brien, Bryce Harlow, and Arthur Krim; Harlow and Krim were, respectively, advisers for Nixon and Johnson:
In mid-October, Johnson began setting the stage for a total bombing halt on the condition that the North Vietnamese de-escalate military operations, an action made as a Hail Mary to catalyze the fruitless Paris peace talks. Both sides also dropped objections to dealing directly with the Vietcong and South Vietnamese respectively. In Saigon, President Thieu gave every indication that he was willing to negotiate on those terms. Then, just before Johnson announced the halt in bombing, Thieu backed off unexpectedly. Despite pressure exerted on Thieu by the administration, he stood his ground, prompting Johnson to go ahead with the bombing halt anyway, a move he announced on October 31. By then, days before Americans went to the polls to determine their next president, the White House got a bead on Thieu’s sudden change of heart – and it pointed to the Nixon campaign.
Intelligence reports showed that Madame Anna Chennault, co-chair of Republican Women for Nixon and the wealthy widow of General Claire Chennault, the famed World War II aviator who attained hero status by leading the Flying Tigers squadron, had urged Nixon to reach out to the South Vietnamese to assure them that they would get more favorable terms from him than those Johnson was proposing. Though no evidence linked Nixon directly to Chennault, Nixon and she had broached the subject of Vietnam at a meeting in his New York apartment in which he asked her to be his “channel to Mr. Thieu.”
An October 27 wiretap revealed that Chennault had forwarded a message from “apparently authoritative Republican” sources urging “Mr. Thieu to abort or cripple the [Paris] deal by refusing to participate.” Johnson strongly suspected that Nixon had sanctioned the communication, which, in effect, hedged the Republican candidate’s bets against the probability of a galvanized peace process having a positive rub-off effect on Humphrey in the neck-and-neck presidential race.
Nixon, campaigning under the slogan “Nixon’s the One,” dangled the notion of his “secret plan for peace” in Vietnam compellingly before the American people on the hustings, with the candidate pledging to unveil its details after his election. As the contest wound down to its final days, the Johnson White House wrestled with what to do with potentially explosive implications that the Nixon campaign had, in fact, derailed the peace process.
ARTHUR KRIM: Nixon, on the record, was saying, “I have a plan [for peace] but I won’t announce it until after I’m president.” Now, as far as Nixon’s connection with that is concerned, I do not know how far it went. LBJ, of course, suspected it and probably knew more about it than he would tell me, but I’m referring to those famous cables.
Just before the weekend of the election, there was a lot of movement in Paris about their finally sitting down for serious negotiations with the South Vietnamese, at a time when the momentum was moving tremendously toward Hubert. The fact that they were going to have a real peace conference was a big factor in the momentum. The president told me very much off the record that they had this cable that Madame Chennault had sent to, I guess it was Thieu or somebody in South Vietnam saying, “Don’t cooperate in Paris. It will be helpful to Humphrey.”
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In a direct exchange with Johnson, Nixon denied any part in the Chennault affair. Johnson upon getting wind of the Chennault cables, called Everett Dirksen demanding to know whether Nixon was at fault. In turn, Dirksen phoned Bryce Harlow, a Washington power broker and adviser to Nixon, who placed an early morning call to Nixon while he was campaigning in California.
BRYCE HARLOW, senior adviser and counselor to Richard Nixon, 1968-71, 1973-74: I told [Nixon], “You’ve got to talk to LBJ. Someone has told him that you’re all over the South Vietnamese to keep them from doing something about peace and he’s just about to believe it. If you don’t let him know quickly that it’s not so, then he’s going to dump. At least he says so. Ev is just beside himself. He says that Lyndon is simply enraged and we ought to do something…you’ve got to do it.” And so he did. He called him. He got him on the phone and said there was absolutely no truth to it as far as he knew.
I’m not convinced it was not true. It was too tempting a target…
But at any rate, Nixon told him no and Johnson put down his pistol, except probably Johnson didn’t believe it. But he probably couldn’t prove it, I suppose.
ARTHUR KRIM: [Johnson] said at that time that he had no evidence of how much Nixon had to do with this but rather suspected that he had. And he said he was going to call Hubert and at least give him the information, let him decide what to do with it.
LARRY O’BRIEN: [W]hen this information finally developed into something assumed meaningful with the Anna Chennault situation, it was very late in the campaign. Should you go or not go? You don’t have the documentation, but it’s clearly beyond the point of thinking wishfully of being suspicious. There is clearly something there. We were convinced of that. But I didn’t focus on that until, I’ll have to say probably 48, 72 hours before the election.
What happened was I went to California. I had our close-out meetings with our California people, trying to utilize my time over those last couple of days as effectively as I could. Humphrey came into Los Angeles very upbeat. I’ll have to say I was upbeat because the reports I received on the Texas venture were upbeat. Humphrey was the old Humphrey with all his enthusiasm. This campaign was coming to a great upbeat climax. Now, in that atmosphere, there was a brief discussion on [the Chennault] matter. I recall it was hasty. He’s going somewhere, I’m going somewhere. It probably didn’t last more than a few minutes, and I must say that my focus wasn’t total. But it did penetrate enough for me to realize that Humphrey had sufficient evidence to consider going public. But it was clear that he really didn’t want to discuss it in detail with me. Not that he was keeping me out of the circle, but he was wavering and leaning toward leaving it alone.
He expressed deep concern, made a couple of references to Nixon personally: “What kind of a guy could engage in something like this?” He was, I guess you’d have to say, shocked.
But now, in the context of what knowledge he had, I think what came across to me was his concern about utilizing it – whether it was justified, whether there was enough evidence so he could hold his head high and not be accused of playing cheap politics at the end of a desperation effort to win an election.
* * *
In the late 1970s, after Humphrey’s death in 1978, Abe Fortas and Clark Clifford informed Mrs. Johnson about the Chennault affair, asserting that Humphrey sat on the information because he believed that the country had suffered enough throughout the course of the last several years, and that going forward would only divide it further. Mrs. Johnson’s only response was “Poor Hubert.”
TOM JOHNSON: I thought the actions by those associated with the Nixon campaign to convince the South Vietnamese government to wait until Nixon was in office were reprehensible. I remain amazed that LBJ and Humphrey did not publicize the actions taken by the Nixon side in this ultra-sensitive matter. It is my belief that Nixon would not have been elected if the public had learned of the efforts to sabotage, or at least to delay, the peace talks until Nixon was president. This was kept as a closely guarded secret.
* * *
Regardless of Nixon’s denials, Johnson remained convinced that he had been complicit in sabotaging the peace process toward his own political ends and the betrayal of his country. Chennault herself put the question to rest nearly three decades later, revealing in a 1997 interview with Nixon biographer Anthony Summers that Nixon had been in the loop on all of her exchanges with the South Vietnamese leadership. Nixon had been “conspiratorial” since asking Chennault for advice on Vietnam as he geared up for the campaign in 1967. “They worked out this deal to win the campaign,” Chennault said of the assurances she gave the South Vietnamese on Nixon’s behalf. “Power overpowers reason. It was all very, very confidential.”
I do not give this lengthy excerpt simply to convey the intensity of feeling about what took place, an anger over something much larger than who won or lost the election, and which Black does his best to downplay. I do so to give the reader a proper sense of the scandal, that this is no conspiracy theory kept alive like a weak fire by a few fringe dwellers and those with an animus for Nixon, but an event that a wide range of writers and researchers can confirm did indeed took place. It is a casual belief that no historical event of any magnitude can be concealed or become invisible by forgetting, and I think this belief false in general, and false in this specific case. This incident has remained largely unknown, thanks to the self-interest of Richard Nixon and his promoters, as well as those in Johnson’s circle who feared that it might have a devastating impact beyond the president who defeated them, and perhaps most importantly, the inertia of what might be called “the system”, which cannot imagine that such a great betrayal could take place and in plain sight.
Bryce Harlow, former Eisenhower White House staff member, claimed to have “a double agent working in the White House….I kept Nixon informed.” Harlow and Henry Kissinger (who was friendly with both campaigns and guaranteed a job in either a Humphrey or Nixon administration) separately predicted Johnson’s “bombing halt”: “The word is out that we are making an effort to throw the election to Humphrey. Nixon has been told of it,” Democratic senator George Smathers informed Johnson. According to Robert Dallek, Kissinger’s advice “rested not on special knowledge of decision making at the White House but on an astute analyst’s insight into what was happening.” William Bundy stated that Kissinger obtained “no useful inside information” from his trip to Paris, and “almost any experienced Hanoi watcher might have come to the same conclusion”. While Kissinger may have “hinted that his advice was based on contacts with the Paris delegation,” this sort of “self-promotion….is at worst a minor and not uncommon practice, quite different from getting and reporting real secrets.”2 Nixon asked Anna Chennault to be his “channel to Mr. Thieu“; Chennault agreed and periodically reported to John Mitchell that Thieu had no intention of attending a peace conference. On November 2, Chennault informed the South Vietnamese ambassador: “I have just heard from my boss in Albuquerque who says his boss [Nixon] is going to win. And you tell your boss [Thieu] to hold on a while longer.”3 In response, Johnson ordered wire-tapping members of the Nixon campaign.4 Dallek wrote that Nixon’s efforts “probably made no difference” because Thieu was unwilling to attend the talks and there was little chance of an agreement being reached before the election; however, his use of information provided by Harlow and Kissinger was morally questionable, and Humphrey’s decision not to make Nixon’s actions public was “an uncommon act of political decency.”5 Conrad Black agreed that there is “no evidence” connecting Kissinger, who was “playing a fairly innocuous double game of self-promotion”, with attempts to undermine the peace talks. Black further commented that “the Democrats were outraged at Nixon, but what Johnson was doing was equally questionable”, and there is “no evidence” that Thieu “needed much prompting to discern which side he favored in the U.S. election.”6
I admire this entry as I might someone who is able to carve the most elegant shapes out of the most meagre and cheap scraps of paper. It is not simply that it is very dishonest and wrong. Not simply that it is dishonest and wrong on the crucial element of the case, presenting Chennault as someone who was simply passing information from Thieu to Nixon, when the truth was more sinister, that Nixon was telling Thieu to delay participating in the peace talks until Nixon was president, at which point Thieu would get a better deal. It is that every footnote for this section, save one for Black’s book, is sourced to Robert Dallek’s Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power, and this book presents us the same narrative as we’ve seen in other books, very much consistent with the other surrounding evidence, with Nixon and Chennault playing an active role to derail the peace talks. The only qualifier is the same piece of comfort mentioned earlier, that these peace talks might have failed anyway. Christopher Hitchens would review Dallek’s book in Slate, where he scolded it for often taking the most lenient and forgiving attitude of each abominable incident in what he considered an abominable presidency. It is also, however, a kind of virtue, Hitchens believes, a point with which I agree, and for the same reason: that the lack of ideological fire, animus, or passion of the true believer, solidifies the events in the reader’s mind as indisputable.
From “Partners in Crime”, the review by Hitchens of Dallek’s book:
The effect of Dallek’s book is somewhat enhanced by the extreme mildness with which he presents his findings. Indeed, wherever he can do so, he awards the benefit of the doubt. For example, in one of the most appalling instances-the Nixon camp’s attempt to sabotage the Johnson-Humphrey Paris peace talks on Vietnam in 1968-he takes the most exculpatory line that it is possible for a historian to adopt.
I excerpt this book’s description of the act of sabotage, and the reader might contrast it with the wikipedia account now written, citing this very book as its near exclusive source:
How did Nixon use the information provided by Kissinger and Harlow? And more important, did Nixon’s response to Johnson’s peace campaign break any laws and bend accepted political practices? Convinced that Johnson’s bombing halt was politically motivated, Nixon had no hesitation in exerting pressure on the South Vietnamese government of Nguyen Van Thieu to reject Washington demands to begin participating in the Paris talks on November 2, three days before the U.S. elections. Everyone involved in the negotiations believed that progress in the talks partly depended on Saigon’s presence in Paris, and most everyone inside the Nixon and Humphrey campaigns, as well as outside political observers, thought that surging hopes of peace could affect the outcome of an increasingly close presidential election.
From early in his campaign, Nixon had seen a peace settlement or even substantial movement in that direction as crucial to Humphrey’s chances in November. Consequently, in July 1968, Nixon had begun discouraging Saigon from accepting a possible invitation to join the ongoing Paris discussions. During that month, he and Mitchell met in Nixon’s New York apartment with South Vietnam’s ambassador to the United States, Bui Diem, and Anna Chennault, a co-chair of Republican Women for Nixon and the widow of General Claire Chennault of China’s World War II Flying Tigers. Nixon asked Chennault to be “his channel to Mr. Thieu via Bui Diem.” She agreed and periodically reported to Mitchell that Thieu had no intention of attending a peace conference before Nixon, hopefully became president.
On October 31, after Johnson announced the bombing halt, Mitchell phoned Chennault to say, “Anna, I’m speaking on behalf of Mr. Nixon. It’s very important that our Vietnamese friends understand our Republican position and I hope you have made that very clear to them.” Despite Chennault’s assurances that Thieu would not agree to send a South Vietnamese delegation to the talks in early November, Mitchell said, “They really have decided not to go to Paris?” Chennault answered: “I don’t think they’ll go. Thieu has told me over and over again that going to Paris would be walking into a smoke screen that has nothing to do with reality.”
When Thieu continued to resist U.S. embassy pleas that he join the Paris talks, and Johnson heard that someone “very close to Nixon” believed he was encouraging “Saigon to be difficult,” Johnson blamed Nixon for Thieu’s uncooperativeness. At a White House meeting with diplomatic and military advisers on October 29, Johnson said, “It would rock the world if it were said [that] he [Thieu] was conniving with the Republicans. Can you imagine what people would say if it were to be known that Hanoi has met all these conditions and then Nixon’s conniving with them [the South Vietnamese] kept us from getting [a peace agreement]?”
Because he believed that Thieu might still be persuaded to join the peace talks and because he wanted to learn precisely what the Nixon camp was telling Saigon, Johnson instructed the FBI to wiretap Chennault and keep her under surveillance. He also ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to intercept cables between the South Vietnamese embassy in Washington and Saigon. Since the White House believed that violations of national security might be involved, it saw the bugging and surveillance as legal. But there were other risks: National Security Adviser Walt Rostow warned Johnson that the taps posed “real difficulties. She lives at Water Gate – a huge apartment. She is constantly seeing Republicans – the risk of discovery is high.” It was a warning that surely could have been useful to Nixon and John Mitchell in the future.
The intercepts and wiretaps, including taps on “the telephone connection in vice-presidential candidate [Spiro] Agnew’s chartered campaign plane,” confirmed that the Nixon campaign was discouraging Thieu from a part in the Paris talks. As Johnson described it later to Cartha DeLoach, the deputy director of the FBI, Chennault told the South Vietnamese ambassador on November 2, “‘I have just heard from my boss in Albuquerque [Agnew, who was campaigning in New Mexico that day] who says his boss [Nixon] says we’re going to win. And you tell your boss [Thieu] to hold on a while longer.'”
With only four days left in the campaign, Humphrey, who learned about Nixon’s activities from Johnson, wrestled with questions about whether to leak the information to the press or openly accuse Nixon of undermining the peace talks. Johnson was furious at Nixon. Aides recalled that Johnson described Nixon as guilty of “treason”: American boys were losing their lives in the service of Nixon’s political ambitions, Johnson said. The fact that Nixon frustrated Johnson’s hopes of getting a settlement before he left office also incensed Johnson, who wanted the historical record to show that he had made peace as well as war in Vietnam. Because they knew that they would have to disclose how they obtained their information if they revealed it and because they feared it might provoke a constitutional crisis and make it nearly impossible for a Nixon administration to govern, Johnson and Humphrey decided against revealing Nixon’s secret intrusion into the Paris discussions.
Nixon knew that Johnson was “mad as all get-out” over what he was doing to impede the talks. After Illinois Republican Senator Everett Dirksen told Harlow that Johnson had called in a rage, Harlow urged Nixon to speak to Johnson. “Someone has told him that you’re dumping all over the South Vietnamese to keep them from doing something about peace…If you don’t let him know quickly that it’s not so, then he’s going to dump” on you. Nixon denied any involvement, but Harlow never believed him. Stopping the peace talks “was too tempting a target. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some shenanigans going on,” Harlow said later.
On November 3, Nixon called Johnson and categorically denied that he was doing anything to disrupt the peace negotiations. Nixon’s call strengthened Johnson’s decision not to publicize the allegations, and according to a later story in the Sunday Times of London, “Nixon and his friends collapsed in laughter” after he and Johnson hung up. “It was partly in sheer relief that their victory had not been taken from them at the eleventh hour.” William Bundy says that Nixon’s “barefaced lie was his only tenable line of defense.” In 1997, Chennault revealed that Nixon and Mitchell knew everything: “I was constantly in touch with Mitchell and Nixon,” she said.
Did Nixon’s pressure on Thieu have an impact on the 1968 election? The popular vote favored Nixon by only .7 percent, 43.4 percent to Humphrey’s 42.7 percent; 13.5 percent of the votes went to Wallace. The Electoral College was a different story: Nixon had a decisive edge of 301 to 191. If Wallace had not been in the race, it seems almost certain that a majority of his votes would have gone to Nixon.
It is doubtful that successful peace talks or the likelihood of an early peace settlement would have changed the outcome. Humphrey was too clearly identified with Johnson’s unpopular administration. And though some voters might have concluded that Humphrey would steer the country on a new course, the majority saw Humphrey as likely to continue much of what Johnson had been doing in domestic affairs, where many Americans now felt he had overreached himself. And even if Humphrey ended the war, he would remain tainted with his earlier support of Johnson’s activities in Vietnam1.
Whatever my issues with this piece, we have here, indisputably, Nixon actively interfering with the peace talks via Chennault. “From early in his campaign,” Dallek writes, “Nixon had seen a peace settlement or even substantial movement in that direction as crucial to Humphrey’s chances in November. Consequently, in July 1968, Nixon had begun discouraging Saigon from accepting a possible invitation to join the ongoing Paris discussions.” I again take issue with the idea that Agnew’s place was tapped in this sentence, but the conclusion remains the same: “The intercepts and wiretaps, including taps on “the telephone connection in vice-presidential candidate [Spiro] Agnew’s chartered campaign plane,” confirmed that the Nixon campaign was discouraging Thieu from a part in the Paris talks.” John Mitchell, Nixon campaign manager, makes sure that a clear message is sent: “On October 31, after Johnson announced the bombing halt, Mitchell phoned Chennault to say, “Anna, I’m speaking on behalf of Mr. Nixon. It’s very important that our Vietnamese friends understand our Republican position and I hope you have made that very clear to them.””
I do not focus on the small space of this wikipedia entry because it is the final authority on this matter (though for too many people, it will be), and I am not surprised that a contentious incident from the life of a controversial president would be edited in a way to cast him in the most favorable light. I place focus here because for other contentious areas, the event would be well enough known that you could imagine both sides firing back and forth salvos of edits and re-edits. In this case, this historical moment remains sufficiently unknown that many readers would not know why it was in dispute, let alone what the elements of the dispute were.
This post might be ended in a contrast with the obsessiveness given over to the conspiracy theories dealing with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. There is the obvious distinction that here we were dealing with the actual killing of a beloved figure, and that of course this is going to take up more press space. What is astonishing, however, is that so many of these theories involve the military industrial complex or its representatives as the culprits in the assassination. This is an astonishing, incredibly disturbing claim, and were sufficient numbers to passionately and sincerely believe in such theories, I think it would be dangerous, even revolutionary. That the press gives such theories broad play is that ultimately there is no such danger, they are casually discussed as fantastic hypotheticals, where a few overimaginatives might throw out their ideas and the weight of evidence clearly points to the traditional solution, a disaffected rootless loner who sought fame through the great deed of killing a great man, followed by another rootless individual seeking heroic fame by killing the first assassin. To write of the Chennault-Nixon backchannel, on the other hand, we deal with something that is very real, and for which millions paid a price. If one insists that there was a very real possibility of another path in 1968, with a bombing halt a Humphrey election, and the two sides of Vietnam sitting down for talks, then one might imagine a massive drop in casualties, and afterwards, no Laos, no Cambodia bombing, no Cambodia genocide. Millions who are dead now might well be alive. That possibility is tangible enough that one can understand the avoidance of the subject, and one might even understand the long silence on the part of those who lost only an election.
POSTSCRIPT (13/07/2014): Yesterday, I glanced through Pat Buchanan’s account of the 1968 election, The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose from Defeat to Create the New Majority, where he gives a firsthand look of the campaign for which he worked as a speechwriter, a role he would hold on to for the two terms (or one and a half) of the Nixon presidency. His account of the Chennault incident affair is instructive in how insistently blind it is more than forty years later, adhering to a false vision without any acknowledgement of the massive trail of facts which annihilate this illusion. This insistence is educational as it is only possible through the astonishing lack of acknowledgement or discussion in the press of these very obvious, very substantial, and very discomfiting facts. From The Greatest Comeback:
Johnson had changed the debate five days before the election and shoved his whole stack in for Humphrey. If the country believed what appeared to be true—a deal to end the war might be at hand—this could swing it. But the White House did not have all its ducks in a row. Twenty-four hours later, headlines about a bombing halt had been replaced. In the New York Times, the new headline read, “Saigon Opposes Paris Talk Plans, Says It Cannot Attend Next Week.” If Saigon was not aboard, peace was not at hand. Suddenly new questions arose: Have we been had? Who fouled this up? Are we being played one last time by Lyndon Johnson?
Reports that Anna Chennault, widow of the Flying Tigers General Claire Chennault, had contacted Saigon and told Marshal Nguyen Van Thieu to sabotage the talks, as he would get a better deal from Nixon, and that our staff knew and condoned this if we did not orchestrate it, I did not believe then and do not believe now. Humphrey did not believe it. Nixon would never have taken the insane risk of opening a back channel through Mrs. Chennault to Saigon to torpedo a peace agreement negotiated to end the war in Vietnam. Such a revelation would not only have been ruinous to Nixon’s reputation, the revelation of it would have killed his candidacy or poisoned his presidency should he win.
The simplest explanation is often the right one. Saigon had to have concluded that Nixon, with his reputation as an anti-Communist since the 1940s, would be tougher on their Communist enemy than a Democratic candidate who, a month before, had promised an unconditional halt to all bombing of North Vietnam. Why would Saigon want Humphrey, when it was apparent Humphrey had given up on victory? On Saturday, November 2, my thirtieth birthday, I memoed Nixon, “LBJ has committed a major diplomatic blunder.”
THE TREASON OF RICHARD NIXON: FROM POSSIBILITY TO CERTAINTY
PART ONE PART TWO
(On April 10th, the citations for Robert Dallek’s Nixon and Kissinger were added. On July 2, 2014, this post received a long needed edit, which clarified far too many sentences that were made obscure through lousy grammer and lousy writing. Though I have long thought of adding a second conclusion to this piece, that material may end up instead in another post. On this same date I changed the header image to a composition made from stills of Hunter Thompson wearing a mask of Richard Nixon, taken from “Fear and Loathing in Gonzovision”, which can be found on youtube under the title, “Hunter S. Thompson Omnibus 1978”.)
FOOTNOTES FOR RICHARD NIXON: A LIFE IN FULL BY CONRAD BLACK
29 Anna Chennault, The Education of Anna, pp. 173-177
30 Nixon, Memoirs, pp. 326-27.
31 Chennault, p. 175.
32 New York Times, 10/28/68.
33 Johnson, p. 548.
THE ARROGANCE OF POWER BY ANTHONY SUMMERS
26 Chennault told both this author and another researcher that she did not remember having received a call from New Mexico. She speculated that if she had been overheard referring to New Mexico, she was probably meaning to refer to New Hampshire, home state of Robert Hill, one of those she had nominated to Nixon as go-betweens. The documentary record, however, seems to be more reliable on this matter than Chennault’s memory. (Other researcher: conv. Catherine Forslund.)
FOOTNOTES FOR THE WIKIPEDIA ARTICLE “PARIS PEACE ACCORDS”
3 Dallek, pp. 74-75. In 1997, Chennault admitted that “I was constantly in touch with Nixon and Mitchell.”
4 Dallek, p. 75.
5 Dallek, pp. 77-78.
NIXON AND KISSINGER: PARTNERS IN POWER BY ROBERT DALLEK
1 This book does not feature citations by footnote, but via page number and the relevant text. The excerpt is taken from the pp. 74-77, and I list the relevant citations here:
PAGE 74 How did Nixon: Dallek, Flawed Giant, 584-87; Bundy, 40-41.
PAGE 75 When Thieu continued: Dallek, Flawed Giant, 585-86.
PAGE 75 Because he believed: Ibid., 586.
PAGE 75 The intercepts: FRUS: Vietnam, September 1968-January 1969, 615-16.
PAGE 75 With only four days: Ibid., 687; Dallek, Flawed Giant, 588, 591-92.
PAGE 76 Nixon knew: Ibid., 590-91; Bundy, 43.
PAGE 76 Did Nixon’s pressure: For the vote and RN’s appeal, see Ambrose, Nixon: Triumph of a Politician, 220-22. The quote about “the Silent Majority” is on 222.
WASHINGTON – Lyndon Johnson charges in his forthcoming memoirs that Richard Nixon’s allies insured Hubert Humphrey’s 1968 presidential defeat by secretly persuading the Saigon government to stay away from the Paris peace talks.
The former President’s memoirs entitled “The Vantage Point,” are being kept under tight wraps. But we can quote the highlights.
Here, for example, how Johnson describes the GOP-Saigon skulduggery:
“People who claimed to speak for the Nixon camp began encouraging Saigon to stay away from Paris and promising that Nixon, if elected, would inaugurate a policy more to Saigon’s liking. “Those efforts paid off.
“On November 1, after previously indicating that they would have made him the talks [sic], the South Vietnamese leaders decided not to participate. That I am convinced, cost Hubert Humphrey the presidency, especially since a shift of only a few hundred thousand votes would have made him the winner.
“I am certain the outcome would have been different if the Paris peace talks had been in progress on Election day.”
Despite this, Johnson is surprisingly kind in his appraisal of Richard Nixon. “I never shared the intense dislike of Richard Nixon felt by many of my fellow Democrats…I considered him a much-maligned and misunderstood man. I looked upon Nixon as a tough, unyielding partisan and a shrewd politician, but always a man trying to do the best for his country…”
2 This entry would, thankfully, be revised to something that relied more on Robert Dallek’s account than Conrad Black’s. Those who want to read the entry as it was on April 9, 2014, when this post was first published, can go to the April 6, 2014 version of the entry.