Interview with Richard Nixon: Paying The Price

RICHARD NIXON believes he will always be known as the "Watergate man," the President who resigned the office, and expects little charity from history

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Q. That in 1969 you could have gotten just about what you got in the end -- a kind of a decent interval, the North Viet Nam army's forces in place in the South, POWs -- and that therefore the price in American lives was way too high.

A. I know that argument, and I don't agree with it. Kissinger and I have often talked about that. And there, we have to look at the intricacies of the peace agreement of '73. Had that agreement been implemented as it was, it would be a very different situation than it is at the present time.

But as you know, there were two aspects of the agreement. One has been totally forgotten. The two aspects were: one, that the U.S. would continue to support South Viet Nam, just as the Soviets would be expected to be supporting North Viet Nam. The other was that the U.S., in the event that the North Vietnamese complied with the terms, would also support them economically. In other words, there was the economic package.

Naturally, this is self-serving, but everything I say is self-serving. But had I survived, I think that it would have been possible to have implemented $ the agreement. South Viet Nam would still be a viable non-Communist enclave or whatever you want to call it. But because I think that I had enormous credibility with the North -- because of what I'd done on May 8 ((ordering the mining of North Vietnamese ports)), because of what I'd done in December ((ordering the bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong)) -- they thought, Well, this unpredictable so-and-so, we can't be sure if we attack. You've got to remember, too, that the peace agreement worked for two years.

Q. If you'll pardon me, this is the theory according to which you were a madman acting, or gambling, or whatever you want to call it.

A. You know, they all talk about the difference between Eisenhower and Dulles and Nixon and Kissinger. Eisenhower was the very reasonable fellow, he loved peace and all the rest, and Dulles was a hawk who was talking about the peaceful liberation of Eastern Europe.

And then the point is that they say that in Nixon's case and Kissinger's case, it is just the other way around. Kissinger is the reasonable fellow, he's from Harvard and all the rest, he'll be reasonable working these things out. But he's got this guy back there in Washington whom he just has to control. And if his warlike instincts prevail here, you'd better watch out. You see?

Now as a matter of fact, let me tell you, Dulles didn't do anything without Eisenhower's support. Eisenhower was really a hands-on President, particularly in foreign policy. And Eisenhower, he could be very curt at times. He'd just cut them short, his Cabinet members. He said, "Listen, I'll make the decisions regarding what the defense budget is going to be." He could be so genial, yet so cold.

And I would say the same was true with me and Kissinger. We would disagree politically at times. For example, a major disagreement we had was with regard to the war, but it was before the elections, you remember, in 1972. And Kissinger politically felt very strongly that it was important to get an agreement before the elections.

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